When people think of South Korea, the first things that often pop into their heads are Psy, Korean barbecue, or North Korea. However, there is a lot more interesting things about South Korea than you might think. After being almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, it quickly grew to become one of the most developed and advanced nations in the world. It's home to renowned companies like Samsung, Hyundai and LG…. and it even has the fastest internet in the world!
I discovered all kinds of useful information and quirks that make this country unique, almost always interesting, and sometimes a challenging place to live. So, without further ado, here's a list of things I've learned over the past year, whether they're good, bad, or just "weird":
Traffic lights are painfully slow.
Never in my life have I encountered traffic lights so slow to change colors as here in Korea. At first, I was confused to see people running to pass the green light at the crosswalk…. now, however, I run along with them….
Koreans will freak out if you drink tap water.
Okay, so do a lot of foreigners…..but government sources say tap water is completely 100% safe to drink although for some reason the locals will likely raise their eyebrows if they see you fill your glass with tap water. I've been drinking tap water for almost a year and I'm still alive to tell the story…
There are free public restrooms EVERYWHERE.
No matter where you are, it seems like you're never far from a clean. Since having to pay for toilets (I'm looking at you, Western Europe!!!!) is something that drives me crazy, I appreciate this Korean benefit with all my heart.
Things you didn't expect to be sweet, in fact, are sweet.
Oh, so you think the garlic bread or those chips you just bought were salty? South Korea will prove you wrong.
Are they salty?? Or are they sweet?? Only time can tell.
70% of South Korea is made up of mountains.
So, should you come, it would really be a shame not to explore them. There are even some mountains you can “climb” right outside Seoul!
Naturally, this means that the country is full of beautiful landscapes….such as Seoraksan National Park.
Trekking is the national pastime (as is shopping fortrekking clothes
expensive and colorful).
It seems like once you've hit the age of 40 or so, you're basically expected to go every weekend to one of South Korea's many national parks to go trekking…. but please, if you go and want to be a real korean, don't forget that you have to dress head to toe in bright and colorful outfits like the ones in the picture below (let's be honest here… although i can make fun of these outfits , deep down deep inside, I'm secretly jealous ).
Probably the number 6 has a big influence on this process. As I am someone who loves trekking, this is possibly one of the things I learned to enjoy the most during my time in Korea.
There is a free tourist telephone number in English.
It's wonderful and they can help you with everything you need, what to doto live translations. If you are in Korea, just dial 1330. If you are abroad, dial +82-2-1330 ….
If your Korean is as bad as mine, you never know when that might help.
You can get all kinds of “home-delivered” food wherever you are.
I've seen people getting fried chicken at the park, pizza at the university, and McDonalds (yes, McDonalds and all the other chain restaurants do home delivery!!) on the beach. Aaaah, if only I could speak Korean to find out how to do this!
Someday I'll figure out how to order food from home in Korean….or maybe it's better that I never learn.
You will often earn free gifts along with your purchases.
If you're at a restaurant, they'll usually give you something free and say “service”. If it's somewhere else, you'll get all sorts of things ranging from water bottles to detergent. They mostly like to give those wetto sanitize their hands…
South Korea hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics.
It will take place in Pyeongchang (no, not Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea), a city in the western part of South Korea…. and Ski Center is Yongpyongdefinitely worth a visit if you like snow sports!
For the ladies…short skirts are totally acceptable, but showing the “front commission” is no way!
I mean, I've seen short skirts in the US, but here the level is totally different…. even the ones they wear to work sometimes are outrageously short!
Despite this love for showing the legs, they are much more modest when it comes to any part close to the bust. I think I've barely shown a little more than my neck all year... and now I feel weirdly scandalous when I do!
But if you're a K-pop star, you can do anything. Photo by Republic of Korea, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Korea is much more than just the city of Seoul!
Naturally, when people come to Korea they tend to visit Seoul and its surroundings. Now, while Seoul itself could probably occupy you for weeks, don't forget to venture across the rest of the country! Climbing a mountain, visiting an island, going to a smaller town…..there is so much to do!
I really recommend the wonderful and ideal for your Instagram account, Ulleungdo Island.
Basically, wherever you go, the place will always be full of people.
Due to its relatively high population density, you will always find yourself surrounded by people in most places you go…. are be prepared for some jostling and some serious invasions of personal space.
Probably, people from other countries are much more concerned about North Korea than the South Koreans themselves are.
Of course, that's not to say that North Korea and its antics don't cross the minds of South Koreans (especially those with separate families). It's just to say that most people I know seem a little unmoved about their potential threat. For example, when the world started to panic about a possible North Korean H-bomb, the Koreans I asked about it basically shrugged their shoulders and didn't even care.
Kimchi and rice are everyday dishes.
Some of my students even told me that they eat these two items for all 3 meals of the day!
They really like Spam (American corned beef).
You can find them everywhere, including holiday gift kits. And I've been served fried Spam several times during lunches at the school where I work.
The pepper in some Korean spices is no joke.
I really think Koreans enjoy seeing foreigners eating their spicy food. I'll just say that their idea of “oh, it's just a little spicy” is very different from my idea of “oh, it's just a little spicy”!
I would probably cry if I tried to eat them.
Work and school life are intense.
Even though this is something I could probably talk a lot about, I'll keep it simple.
In addition to regular school, Kindergarten through High School, most of my students come to my English school as well as attend several other “schools” every week for things like math, science, etc…….which means that they basically study all day long. I mean, I had 8 year olds telling me they were stressed out!
It also seems that the normal working week, on average, is 10, 11, 12 or more hours a day…. plus minimal paid vacations….and don't even think about getting sick! For example, one of the teachers at my school had to stay and teach even though he went to the bathroom from time to time to vomit because he was sick.
Koreans probably beat you drunk.
I'm not sure he's Korean, but I love his shirt.
Koreans love karaoke (AKA: the noraebang).
Possibly influenced by the number 19…. you can even find karaoke rooms on trains!
Confession: Over the course of a year, I've only been in one noraebang (in honor of New Year's Eve)…. and I ended up falling asleep.
Who could have guessed that karaoke combined with trains? But yeah, there's karaoke inside trains in Korea!
You will be ignored if you a) ask if they know the Psy or b) start dancing Gangnam Style
As this seems to be the level of knowledge about South Korea that many people have, I think these are two questions that Koreans most listen…. especially when abroad.
Note: In case you didn't know (and I certainly didn't know before I came to Korea), Gangnam is one of the richest and most exclusive neighborhoods in Seoul.
South Korea is extremely safe.
Korea is without a doubt one of the safest countries I have ever been to. I feel safe walking alone at night anywhere, and if you lose your wallet, someone is more likely to return it to the police than to steal it. Of course, that doesn't mean you should start getting careless because bad things can always happen… but enjoy the extra sense of security because you won't find it in many other places around the world!
These are interesting fact about Korea but I have fallen in love with their movies and learn some of their languages as well.
Are you a Korean?