From 시 to 리: Deciphering Locations in Korean

During a recent translation project for a client, I repeatedly deciphered locations in Korean for an American English-speaking audience (and got pretty good at it). This article is for other non-natives trying to understand where things are in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Korea is divided into administrative regions. They have official names and official suffixes that designate the type of region. However, some places also have older or simplified names used colloquially that are similar to the official name. This can make it confusing when you’re trying to find Chungbuk (충북) on Naver Maps, but it keeps showing you North Chungcheong Province (충청북도)…

Tip: They’re the same place.

Let’s look at the most common suffixes that identify the type of region.

Korean Administrative Region Suffixes

~도province (do)
~시city (si)
~군county (gun)
~구district (gu)
~읍town (eup)
~면township (myeon)
~동neighborhood (dong)
~리village (ri)

You may also see the following special terms.

마을village, town (maeul)*
특별시special city (teukbyeolsi)
광역시metropolitan city (gwangyeoksi)
특별자치시special autonomous city (teukbyeoljachisi)

*Did you notice that there are two different terms for village? 마을 is natural Korean, whereas almost all other words are Sino-Korean, which means they’re hanja-based. The official administrative divisions all seem to use hanja-based terms, but you’ll frequently see places called [이름] 마을.

Add in the cardinal directions and you’ll notice these are common in the names of provinces.

Cardinal Directions in Korean


Remember I mentioned North Chungcheong Province (충청도)?

북 (buk) means north, and 도 (do) means province, which is why the official English name is North Chungcheong Province. Direction markers (동서남북/east-west-south-north) in a province name usually come right before the province marker.

Korean addresses and American English addresses function in opposite directions. In American English, it’s like we start with a selfie on Google Maps Street View and then zoom out to the stratosphere. We move from the most specific place to the most general or biggest region: Person’s First Name > Last Name > Street Number > Street Name > Town/City > State > Country.

Taeri Kim
123 Place Street
Somewhere City, Michigan
United States of America

But in Korean, we move from the most general or biggest area to the most specific: Country > Province > Town/City > Street Name > Street Number > Person’s Last Name > First Name. Imagine viewing Korea on Google Maps and then zooming in with each extra tidbit of information until suddenly you see yourself walking along Haeundae Beach in Busan, living your best life.


Q: Can we try a longer example? What if you’re reading about 충청남도 논산시 부창동? What’s that in English?

The first area given in this case is a province (도/do). Some people translate this as Chungcheongnamdo Province, others as Chungcheongnam Province, and others as North Chungcheong Province.

The next is 논산시. It ends in 시, meaning city: Nonsan City.

The third and final clue is 부창. The suffix 동 means neighborhood, so this is Buchang Neighborhood.

We can write the address by flipping the order: Buchang Neighborhood in Nonsan City, North Chungcheong Province.

We can also write the address and include the suffixes as well as the English descriptors (neighborhood, city, province): Buchang-dong Neighborhood, Nonsan-si City, Chungcheongnam-do Province.

When writing a South Korean postal address in English, I recommend writing it without the English descriptors. For example: Buchang-dong, Nonsan-si, Chuncheongnam-do.

Q: Why do I sometimes see places with multiple and completely different names? And why do other places have multiple ways of being expressed in English, like Han River, Hangang River, or the Han river?

While the South Korean government has a standardized romanization system, not everyone follows it. There are many romanization systems in use, and people often create their own based on how they think a word sounds (Note: Romanization is the term for expressing words from another language in the Roman alphabet). Some people want to include the full original Korean name, like 한강, along with the English word “river” to make sure their (possibly non-Korean-speaking) audience understands that it’s a river.

There’s also a lot of historical turmoil. Korea has gone through different iterations of place standardizations and also spent decades during the 1900s under forced Japanese imperial rule, during which there was a period of forced Japanese names. In that era, not just Korean places but also Korean people were forced to use Japanese names. South Korea also recently updated its official postal address system, which is good for long-term efficiency but nonetheless has confused non-Koreans trying to send postcards and packages.

It’s me. I’m the confused non-Korean trying to send postcards and packages.

Did you get my letter?

지금 재생 중

MAMAMOO, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for you, but I have the biggest girl crush on Taeyeon these days.


A Sea of Green Tea: Boseong, South Korea

Green. Everywhere, green. Green baked with South Korean sunshine. The fresh, clean scent of mountains clad with green tea bushes. And heat. Oh, yes. At ten in the morning, it was brutally hot in the green tea fields, and it was only getting hotter.

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Into the 시골

Rewind about twenty hours. It was midsummer in 2015. I was on a bus leaving Seoul, heading into the countryside in search of the famous Boseong Green Tea Fields (보성녹차밭). Continue reading

The 4th Chaillot Human Rights Forum 2014 in Seoul

A few weeks ago, I attended the 4th Chaillot Human Rights Forum 2014. My professor for my Politics and Society of North Korea class is a researcher at KINU, or Korea Institute for National Reunification, and he invited his students to attend the forum as guests.

And so it begins. And so it begins. 통일 합시다!

The forum was hosted at the Joseon Westin Hotel in Seoul, South Korea. It was packed with reporters (at least for the first session), ambassadors, researchers, and Continue reading

“Please Try” – Temple Stay at Myogaksa, South Korea

ais oo

I wrote a post for my Reach the World classroom this past weekend about my experience at a temple in Seoul (Reach the World is a program that I joined via the Gilman Scholarship which is supporting my studies abroad; it is designed to connect world travelers and exchange students from the United States with K-12th classrooms). While I am constrained by space and writing level for those pieces – because I am assigned 2nd graders – I really wanted to expand on my experience on my seouldream blog. The temple stay indubitably ranks as one of my top three experiences in Korea thus far. I cannot think of a better way to have spent my weekend than to have lived in a Buddhist temple for two days and one night, and I hope that after reading this, you’ll want to experience it too.  Continue reading

Seoul Sounds: Music Is Food For The Soul

Warning: this is rambling, a bit introspective, and entirely related to my experience of sounds in Seoul (If you want to read some points about concerts, albums and music stores, just scroll down to where it says Let’s talk about music).

How can NELL's CDs be so pretty?

How can NELL’s CDs be so pretty?

It took an unacceptable amount of time to rephrase the title for this post, so I hope you appreciate it in all its glorious simplicity and soul/seoul-iness. I am sitting here with three brand new albums (well, I was when I wrote this on October 16th) and feeling moderately victorious over surviving three of my four classes’ finals (let’s not talk about how they went, just acknowledge the fact that they’re over). I have multiple Korean exams and tests left of course, but I’ve studied enough today and I need to catch up on some blog posts!

Music is life for me. I listen to music almost constantly, although I have a deep appreciation for silence – both the kind where I am silent and I listen to the noises that the world around me creates, and the kind where everything is so silent that you can hear your own heartbeat pushing blood through your head. Silence is a beautiful thing, and in Seoul, it is rarely so silent that the latter is possible. The former, however, is a glorious thing to experience. I love sitting outside at night as the weather gets colder and listening to the wind twist through the trees and sends leaves scattering across the pavement for adorable ahjussis to sweep up in the morning. The night is crisp and alive in its own beautiful way. I don’t sit in the bustling downtown – no, I mean sitting outside near trees and buildings where people are sleeping or simply not there.

Continue reading

First Impressions: Public Transportation in Seoul

ais oo


Writing this from Seoul, South Korea! This is my first post from the Land of the Morning Calm.

I arrived in Incheon International Airport last Sunday afternoon, and now it’s another Sunday afternoon and I have a little bit of time before I go to 광화문광장 (Gwanghwamun Plaza) and 동대문 (Dongdaemun). I intend to use the coming week to share some things that I’ve seen or learned this past week. Today I’m going to talk about getting around the city.  Continue reading

How To Obtain A D-2 Student Visa For South Korea

So, you’ve been accepted to that awesome study abroad program. You’re looking at plane tickets (nothing new, probably) that you might actually buy (that’s very new, actually). You’re googling the best places to visit in Seoul, the best way to travel to Busan, the top tasty spots in Myeongdong. You’re reviewing your vocab lists. You’re wondering if you can work in a trip to Jeju Island during Chuseok. What’s happening? You’re going to Korea!

But first, you have to apply for a visa. And the process is a maddening, confusing, difficult process.

But it’s a necessary evil. That’s why I’m going to explain how I did it, what went wrong, and how I survived the process.

Continue reading

Nominated to Yonsei (and other achievements)

오랜 만이에요!

It’s been a while. You’ve gotten prettier….ah wait, those are the opening lines to Monster. Ahem. Life’s been busy! I mentioned this in a previous post but I applied to an exchange program with Yonsei University in South Korea. About a month ago, my university accepted my application and forwarded it with a recommendation to Yonsei. And so now I wait until April 30th for the official news – although everyone tells me not to worry because everyone who passes the initial application to the program through my university is accepted.

But still. 긴장! 긴장! I feel like I have little Running Man variety show subtitles floating about my head whenever I talk to someone about it. It’s not official until it’s official.

Continue reading

Dissecting Korean Quotes

사진 3 (2)


Recently, I’ve been particularly interested in dissecting famous sayings/quotes in Korean. Or not so famous ones. Any quotes in Korean, in general, are super interesting. I’ve always loved ‘collecting’ sayings in English – I absolutely adore Quotables and I even buy the cards just for myself. When I said collecting…I mean it. I do actually collect quotes.

20131026_225235 Continue reading

Bowing in Korea


If I were speaking in person to you rather than writing this, you would have seen me bow to you along with the greeting, “안녕하세요!” (For spoken greetings in Korean, see  this post.) This tradition is definitely something you should learn if you ever intend to go to Korea or talk with native speakers in person.

As there are all kinds of bows and they’re used for different situations or occasions – for example, you don’t bow the same way to a coworker as you do to your parents on New Year’s Day – it’s a good idea to know the difference. Also, there are some people you probably wouldn’t bow to at all – like your really close friends. Do you shake hands with your best friend each time you see them? Unless you have a super awesome secret handshake that involves dancing, eyebrow wiggling, and complex hand movements, you probably don’t. Koreans don’t usually bow to their best friends either (unless they have a super awesome secret bow…?).

There are lots of great resources on the web that provide pictures, videos, and explanations of what each type bow is, when to do it, and how. Why not greet people properly in Korea? Look at these articles and videos to learn how.


Great pictures and explanations of the do’s and don’ts

Scroll down and read the Etiquette and Customs in South Korea (Meeting Etiquette)

Also check out the other etiquette tips that Kwintessential mentions – they’re extremely useful for anyone going to Korea or interacting with Koreans!

Some extra articles to check out:



KoreanClass101’s explanation and demonstration video in Korean with English subtitles

Eat Your Kimchi’s Simon and Martina share a clip of Korean Car Bowing