Best Cities to Live in the USA for Korean Students

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By Kate Sitarz
Published on February 5, 2024

What are the best cities to live in the USA for Korean students who want to study abroad? As international education experts, we have several recommendations.

Images of four cities that are great for Korean students studying in the US - Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Chicago - sit side by side in a grid

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are around 2 million residents of Korean descent living in the United States. While those 2 million residents are spread across the country, there are certain cities that have larger Korean populations than others. The Pew Research Center reveals that the top five US metropolitan areas by Korean population are Los Angeles; New York City; Washington, DC; Seattle; and Chicago.

For Korean students looking to study in the United States, these cities can give you an amazing study abroad experience. Each of these cities is home to Shorelight universities that will make you feel welcome, both on campus and off, making your transition to the USA that much more comfortable.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to more than 300,000 residents of Korean descent, which makes it the largest Korean community outside of Korea itself

LA’s Koreatown, commonly known as K-town, is one of the few areas within LA where nightlife keeps going long past 2 a.m., thanks to 24-hour restaurants, clubs, karaoke bars, and more. There are, of course, plenty of Korean barbeque restaurants within the roughly three-square-mile area. (Visit California recommends Parks BBQ and Kang Hodong Baekjeong.) Rumor has it that the favorite spot in LA for K-Pop group BTS is Ahgassi Gopchang.

But while Korean culture dominates K-town, there is also a large population of Salvadorans and Oaxacans, giving the neighborhood a rich diversity that makes for some incredible dining options. Try the James Beard Award-winning Guelaguetza restaurant, serving up Oaxacan dishes.

If you prefer cooking to eating out, LA’s Koreatown is home to numerous Korean grocery stores, including H-Mart, the largest Asian supermarket chain in America. 

If, for some reason, you cannot find the products you are looking for, every October the four-day LA Korean Festival offers performances, food, a parade, cultural exhibitions, and more than 500 shopping vendors bringing products straight from Korea. And, at the Korean Cultural Center, you can find performances, Korean film screenings, and more year-round.

There are also plenty of Korean spas, like Aroma Spa and Sports, which combines a golf range with a spa. 

As an international student in Los Angeles, you can study with Shorelight at American Collegiate LA at UCLA Extension, Pepperdine University, or Whittier College.

New York City

International students in New York City benefit from not one but two K-Towns! There are nearly a quarter of a million Korean residents across New York City’s five boroughs. While Manhattan may be what everyone initially thinks of when they think of K-Town in New York, more than half the Korean population resides in the borough of Queens.

Manhattan’s K-Town sits largely on 32nd Street between Madison Avenue on the east side and where Sixth Avenue meets Broadway on the west. Here, you can find restaurants, bars, karaoke, spas, salons, and more, with plenty of neon signs in Hangul. Restaurants range from down-to-earth barbeque spots, like Jongro BBQ and Hangawi, to Michelin-starred eateries like ATOMIX. Interspersed, you will find karaoke spots like The Spot Karaoke & Lounge NYC and even a Korean-language bookstore, Koryo Books.

Manhattan is also home to New York’s Korean Cultural Center. Like its Los Angeles counterpart, the center offers performances, Korean film screenings, and more year-round. You will also find the annual Korean Parade and Koreatown Street Festival here.

In Queens, Koreatown largely began in the Flushing neighborhood and continues to expand east along Northern Boulevard. Along the Murray Hill train station, there is an American Meokja golmok. As in Manhattan, there are 24-hour spots in Queens, too, including Hahm Ji Bach.

International students can study at Shorelight universities including Adelphi University, St. Thomas Aquinas College, and Stony Brook University. The Long Island Rail Road connects you from Adelphi to Queens in minutes, while Stony Brook University is a bit further out on Long Island. St. Thomas Aquinas is just north of the city in Sparkill.

Washington/Baltimore Metropolitan area

Some of the best Korean food in Washington, DC, is actually in Annandale, Virginia, but DC proper cannot be beat for its museums and cultural centers. The Smithsonian Institute’s Natural History Museum has an entire Korea gallery, while the National Museum of Asian Art has both permanent and special exhibitions featuring Korean and Korean-American artists. The museum hosts events, too, such as the Chuseok Family Festival and the Korean Film Festival, screening some of the top Korean movies of the year. For additional events, Washington, DC’s Korean Cultural Center hosts film screenings, lectures, exhibitions, and more. 

Just west of the city is Annandale, Virginia, home to the area’s largest Korean population. And while you can find the Korean fried chicken chain Bonchon in DC, try the local spots in Annandale, including Choongman Chicken (go for the snow onion chicken) and Noori Chicken. There are numerous Korean bakeries, including Korean chain Shilla’s Bakery, and Nak Won Food Catering, a specialty shop for dduk, offering both spicy and sweet options. You can also experience a cup of tea alongside live music and theater at Soricha.

North of Washington, DC, Baltimore’s Little Korea neighborhood is home to a small but growing Korean population. Restaurants Kong (Poncha) and Jong Kak both have late-night hours on the weekends and The Crown Baltimore stays open until 2 a.m. every night, offering karaoke, DJ shows, and more.

International students applying via Shorelight can study at American Collegiate, DC and American University.


Living and studying in Seattle gives you access to numerous neighborhoods with a Korean influence. In Seattle itself, you can find Meet Korean BBQ, a traditional barbeque restaurant with seasonal banchan. Downtown’s picturesque Waterfront Park is home to the annual summer WABA Korea Expo & Festival hosted by the Korean American Chamber of Commerce. And to transport yourself to Korea, take a walk in Daejeon Park, named for Seattle’s sister city.

But the largest Koreatown in the Pacific Northwest is in Lakewood, Washington, located south of Seattle. The history of this Koreatown is very much tied to the military history between the United States and Korea, with many Koreans moving to the area due to its proximity to the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord. 

Highlights in the area include eateries Ho Soon Yi, specializing in tofu soups, and T-Town Cafe, offering sweets like shaved ice, sweet pancakes (hotteok), and fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste (taiyaki). 

In nearby Gig Harbor, you can find the annual ChuSeok Korean Festival hosted by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center. The event features Samulnori drum dances, paper lotus flower making, food, and more. 

International students can study in Seattle by applying via Shorelight to Cornish College of the Arts.


Chicago’s Koreatown is located in the Albany Park neighborhood along a section of Lawrence Avenue called “Seoul Drive.” (Do not confuse it with K-Town, located in the North Lawndale neighborhood and named for the four streets beginning with the letter “K” running through the area.)  

Every August, the area hosts the Chicago Korean Festival in Maggie Daley Park. The free event has food, K-Pop performances, and a hanbok fashion show.

Joong Boo Market is the go-to stop in the neighborhood for Korean groceries and housewares, offering fresh meat and seafood, ice cream, and more. There is also a food stall inside the market.

For prepared food, grab a corn dog from the popular Kong Dog chain, offering combinations like rainbow cereal on plant-based sausage or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on half-mozzarella, half-beef. Chicago magazine recommends an entire Korean-themed crawl a bit further in Northbrook. Start with barbeque at Pro Samgyubsal and end at Jurang, a karaoke bar.

And for wellness, visit Choc Choc Cosmetic or King Spa & Sauna, a Korean bathhouse and sauna.

For international students looking to study in Chicago, Shorelight schools include University of Illinois Chicago, Lewis University, Roosevelt University, and Trinity Christian College.

Beyond the US: Dubai

Looking to study abroad in the Middle East? Dubai may be of particular interest for Korean students. Home to more than 200 nationalities, Dubai is a city with a diverse mix of cultures, much like its counterparts in America. Of all the Korean expats living in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates is home to about half of them. 

In Dubai, Hyu Korean Restaurant offers do-it-yourself barbeque, while Kimpo offers chimaek, fried chicken paired with beer. If you want karaoke with your dinner, check out Kung Korean Restaurant & Karaoke. And for sweets, there is Sarang Bakery, offering milk cake and more.

1004 Gourmet is the go-to market for fresh produce, seafood, skincare products, and make-up. For a bit of self-care, KSPA is a spa-salon with massages, pedicures, and other pampering services.

International students can study at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, a Shorelight university.

No matter where you choose to study, you will find a warm and welcoming community of people from across the globe. But Korean students opting to study in these particular locations will find they are never far from the taste and feel of home, which can make transitioning to living in another country that much easier. 

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