Oneroom is one of several Korean words for studio apartment, and probably the one most en vogue at the moment (or at least as of 2015; I am probably getting behind the times on Korea stuff alas).
Onerooms are a lot like long-term stay hotels in America, only smaller and without the bad carpet:
This is actually a pretty nice specimen – some I found on Dabang looked pretty ratty – but it’s also most similar to ones where I’ve actually spent time in real life, so there. This particular oneroom requires a 1000만원 (about US$8800) deposit, which is normal in Korea, plus 60만원 (about $528) in monthly rent and 6만원 ($53) per month in management fees. For this you get about 23 square meters (250 square feet) of furnished space and internet, TV, water, and building cleaning on the 9th floor (with elevator) on what I’d call the edge of central Seoul (성신여대입구역).
The word oneroom is, of course, from English. For some reason, pretty much all the Korean words for studio apartment – oneroom, officetel (오피스텔; office + hotel), oneroomtel (원룸텔; oneroom + hotel) – come from English. I don’t have any data to back this up, but my thought is that this is at least partly because living alone was, until relatively recently, really unusual in Korea – thus English words, representing modernity especially in 20th century, were brought in to describe this new sort of lodging.
These days, a ton of people live in onerooms, part of the huge increase in single-person households: According to Hyunjoon Park and Jaesung Choi (2015), 7 percent of South Korean households were single-person in 1985 but 24 percent in 2010, with increases seen among all demographics but particularly elderly widows and young unmarried men.
In searching BigKinds, first instances I found of oneroom were from the early 1990s. Officetel appears a bit earlier – in 1988 – and oneroomtel appears a bit later – 1998. Interestingly, as the graph above shows, the biggest rate of increase in young unmarried men living alone also happened around this time, from 1985-1990.
Historically, I believe, the biggest difference between oneroom and officetel was that an officetel was in a building that mixed commercial and residential space – some of the units were used for small businesses and people lived in others. (And maybe they were supposed to be nicer/newer than some onerooms? I’m not sure about this, they all seem similar to me…)
Unfortunately I guess, the word officetel has become sullied, as some of the business conducted there is now organized sex work. As I discovered while writing about baekma, officetel is now kind of a genre in the sex industry – “opi” 오피 – and also the theme of this giant sex work directory.
A note on romanization: Eff it, I’m just using Revised Romanization in this blog from now on. McCune-Reischauer, you’re great too, but I can’t keep spending my time accessing your special breve’d characters. Oh, and I also mostly use English for really obvious English-derived terms.