What is it like living in South Korea? If you have future plans to travel to South Korea for your studies or business, it is important to know more than just their pop culture trends and how to speak the language. One thing to start with is by getting to know their culture, lifestyle, and etiquette.
Don’t end up feeling like a fish out of water when you land in Korea! Avoid the culture shock by reading up on the country way before you go. To get you in the right direction, here are some nuggets of information about the South Korean way of living:
1. Politeness is taken seriously
The South Korean concept of politeness is extensive and highly regarded. Social relationships and age govern how you should address someone and the level of polite language to use with them. Typically, if you are meeting a stranger, elder, or someone of higher status than you, you should speak to them politely and respectfully, until you are given the go-ahead to speak informally.
You should also take note of the differences between how South Koreans greet each other, as compared to in your home culture. There, handshakes are not just done with one hand, but typically with the right hand, and the left hand supporting underneath the right forearm.
2. Drinking has a culture of its own
You probably know that South Koreans love their booze and soju. However, if it is your first time drinking in South Korea, you might be in for a surprise. The etiquette and customs for drinking are a whole other ball game.
For starters, you shouldn’t pour your own drink. Your drinking companions should serve the drinks to you, and you should pour their drinks for them. Next, it is considered polite to turn away from your companions when taking a swig of that drink. There are probably more things you should take note of, but that’s up to you to read up more on!
3. The two sides of public transport
The public buses and trains system in South Korea are super comprehensive and convenient, making day or weekend trips to any corner of the country quite possible. Yet, while the accessibility seems all and good, wait till you experience peak period crunch on a train or bus in South Korea! Don’t be surprised at people who push and shove their way through without an apology. This is pretty common – so don’t take it to heart, and you’ll soon learn to survive these trips just fine.
Another thing to remember is where the reserved seats are. Typically at the front of buses or at both ends of the train, these seats are reserved for the elderly and handicapped. Don’t sit there unless you want to risk having an angry 아줌마 (ahjumma) telling you off!
4. Taboos in South Korea
Every culture has its own taboos and superstitions. Even if you don’t subscribe to them yourself, it is often considered quite rude to break these taboos especially in formal or business settings. Some of these things you should avoid doing are giving gifts in fours, writing names in red ink, or sticking chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice, as these are associated with death and curses.
Of course, there are many more things to learn about living in South Korea that we can’t cover here, but this should give you a starting point for your research. One thing that makes things much easier when in Korea is also knowing their language. It helps you navigate better and communicate with the locals so that you can connect better with them. So, getting started with a Korean language course is highly recommended before you go.
At Sejong Korean Language school, our classes are taught by native Korean teachers, so not only will you enjoy authentic Korean language instruction, you will also be able to pick up some things about the Korean culture and way of living!