It is good to know a little something about foreign culture, especially if you are planning to go there for a trip or longer stay. Many people travel to South Korea as it is a popular tourist destination and also a hotspot for education, career opportunities, and more.
If you know anything about South Korea, is that it is a pretty modernised and high-tech country – and we’re talking about the big cities here like in Seoul. However, South Korea is still quite deeply rooted in certain traditional values, stemming from Confucian teachings. So, don’t be surprised that South Koreans place a lot of emphasis on social hierarchy and filial piety, amongst other things.
Whether you intend to travel to Korea soon, or just love to learn more about another culture, here are some tidbits about the Korean lifestyle today you should know about:
South Koreans love their soju
Drinking culture is huge in South Korea. If you make any South Korean friends there, you will soon find yourself being invited to round after round of drinks. Some people think that South Koreans love drinking as a social activity because it helps people open up and is a great avenue to get to know one another better. Of course, soju is also extremely accessible – a bottle of soju hardly costs more than the price of mineral water.
However, drinking in South Korea also comes with its own set of rules. For one, it is rude to reject a drink that’s being offered by someone who is a senior to you. When you drink, it is polite to turn your head away from your elders. You should hold the bottle or glass with both hands when pouring or receiving a drink. And take note: You should never pour your own drink.
Not all South Koreans can converse in English
This is despite English being a language of study in schools there. Most students in South Korea learn English in school as a foreign language. But for many of them, English remains as a foreign language. Without frequent usage, many South Koreans will find it a struggle to hold a coherent conversation in English.
So, if you travel to Korea and attempt to strike up small talk in English, count yourself lucky if you manage to find someone who can respond to you. If you want to get around Korea and speak to the locals, your best bet is to learn basic Korean language before you go. But of course, there will be certain groups of people (e.g. university students) who are more proficient in English, as Koreans do increasingly see the relevance of the international lingua franca.
Brace yourself for the Seoul subway system
You are likely to spend some time in Seoul when you visit South Korea, and one thing to note is that Seoul is an extremely densely packed city. If you think anything can match up to your morning MRT commutes, try the Seoul subway. About 20% of South Korea’s population reside in Seoul, and add to that the countless tourists and locals who travel there for work, and you get sardine-packed public commutes.
While the subways may be chaotic at times, we can’t deny that this density adds to the vibrancy of the Korean capital. At every turn of the corner, you’ll find pedestrians, shopping malls, buskers, food stands, and more. For a view of less-congested South Korea, you should also consider getting out of the city and visiting some of the more rural areas.
Of course, there is so much more about the Korean culture and lifestyle that hasn’t been mentioned, but hopefully, these give you a glimpse into what to expect when you head to South Korea. If you want to prepare yourself for that trip to Korea, why not get started by attending a Korean class at Sejong Korean Language School? Who knows, our native Korean teachers will be able to share a thing or two about life and culture in Korea as well!