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A Photographer Shows the Harsh Reality of Living in 43-Square-Foot Rooms in South Korea

Korea is widely known for its diverse culture, magnificent skyscrapers, delicious food, and highly developed technology. But South Korean photographer Sim Kyu-Dong shows us the other side of the coin by telling us about “Goshiwon” — a tiny, cramped, cheap housing unit where South Korea’s poorest people live. Turns out, it also serves as a home for people who end up living on the streets or who are dealing with mental or physical issues. And in cases like this, Gosiwon becomes a beacon of hope, not despair.

Bright Side interviewed Sim and he explained what people think about such conditions, who usually can afford such rooms, and most importantly, why people choose to live in these rooms at all.

Goshiwon is built for examinees preparing for various tests.

“The rooms are pretty small, only for sleeping and studying,” explained Sim. But the current Goshiwon has become a low-cost living space that doesn’t require a deposit for anyone willing to live there. Even if you want to rent a small studio in Seoul, you’ll need to come up with an expensive deposit and the rent is very high. That’s why some people who don’t have a lot of money live in Goshiwon for a while.

Living in this place has advantages and disadvantages.

The rooms in Goshiwon usually have a bed, a desk, and a closet for your things, but everything else is shared with other residents. First of all, sleeping in a very small bed makes you feel inconvenient. Even if you close the door and stay alone, you don’t feel like you’re alone. The noise from other rooms and the popularity of the corridor are impossible to ignore. “However, my first time living in Goshiwon was better than what I expected. I could live a simple life with few pieces of clothing and luggage in a small room. It was a place that made me feel the charm of a minimalist life unintentionally,” added Sim.

Goshiwon is a good start.

Sim stated that Goshiwon may seem like a type of housing that emerged as an alternative to high rent costs in Seoul, but without it, he couldn’t think of going to Seoul from his home town. “For this reason, some young people, who have just taken their first step into the real world, live in Goshiwon until they save up enough money to rent a house.”

The cost varies for each room.

The cost depends on the quality of the facilities. The Goshiwon in Sim’s photos is the cheapest and its rent is about $200. Others have slightly better facilities and cost about $500. A room including a bathroom is more expensive and is typically an additional $5. And a room with a window is more expensive than those without one. The rent is also different according to whether or not the window is facing toward a corridor or outside.

Can you imagine living in such a small room? Have you ever been to Korea? What was the biggest cultural shock for you there?