Observations, perceptions and interpretations of S. Korean culture based on my personal experience as an expat living and teaching English in South Korea. These pieces can be treated as a form of informal ethnography.
Every country has a host of social manners and etiquette that contribute to define its culture. This is no exception with South Korea. In fact, the Korean peninsula boasts plenty of these customs. Today, we take a look at some nuanced mannerisms that I’ve observed during my sojourn.
On this piece, guest writer Rob Defina looks into how South and North Korea came to be, why they’re able to coexist ~peacefully~ (but with constant tension), how the situation is perceived by Koreans and Westerners, and the uncomfortable uncertainty the future holds.
For the blog’s first guest piece, Rob Defina dives into the intricacies of romantic love, S. Korea’s obsession with coupledom, the superficiality that often accompanies these relationships, and SoKo’s conservative take on sex. This marks the beginning of a guest writer series in which a variety of topics will be explored.
The S. Korean Sojourn has already turned one year old! It seems like yesterday I was feeling helpless and clueless, but that’s not so much the case anymore. In part II of my living abroad reflections, I share six more important takeaways.
A year has gone by since I packed up my life and moved to S. Korea, in search of new adventures and self-growth. The past twelve months turned out to be full of rewarding challenges and invaluable learning. In today’s piece, I share six lessons I’ve learned along the way.
S. Korea and I have an all-or-nothing kind of relationship. But thankfully, we’re experiencing a happy, fight-free period. In the fourth installment of the ‘Love/Hate Series,’ I rave about S. Korea’s skincare craze, jimjilbangs (bathhouses/spas), convenience store culture and the superb delivery system. Bae can be pretty damn charming when she wants to.
For almost a decade, South Korea has had the highest suicide rate among industrialized countries. From teenagers to senior citizens, around 40 people commit suicide every day. The alarming statistics are merely symptoms of deep-rooted social issues. South Korea finds itself trapped between a past of Confucianism ideals and a reality where capitalism and competition reign supreme. Suicide is a grim side effect of living in a stressful & hypercompetitive society.
Picking up where I left off on my Korean love/hate drama, I voice some annoyances once again. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made great progress in our somewhat tumultuous relationship, but she still continues to irritate me here and there. I understand that my deep-rooted Western outlook is partly responsible for the frustration I sometimes feel. And I’m truly committed to Bae but for now I blow off some steam…
It’s been about 7 months of my teaching adventure in Korea and to celebrate, I am sharing some interesting facts I’ve discovered about Korean schools. The stuff noted here isn’t absolute whatsoever but rather what I have taken away while teaching in a public elementary school. These observations are based on my personal experience. Here are 7 differences between schools in Korea and the U.S.
You’ve heard the old adage: Age is just a number. Whether you agree or disagree with the statement, in Korea, that number is of significant importance. Based on Confucianism ideology, age matters. And it matters a lot in most facets of life, including among a group of friends. Unless two people are the same age, they can’t really be friends. Today, we look at the effects of Korea’s hierarchical culture on friendships.
I like to pretend that Korea & I are dating seriously. A few weeks ago, I vented and aired her dirty laundry, or what I think are some of her flaws. But being in a healthy relationship entails accepting a person (or a country in my case) for who they are, fully. And sometimes it’s good to focus on their positive qualities rather than dwell on the negative. Although, I haven’t experienced a honeymoon stage with the ROK, there are plenty of aspects that I do enjoy. In the follow up to the love & hate series, I share some of what I deem to be Korea’s virtues…
Welcome to part deux of my observations and interpretations of Korean culture. Hierarchy, collectivism and the hurry, hurry syndrome were explored in the first installment. Those were my initial impressions of Korea, the ones that were hard not to notice. In the months after that post, I have discovered and gained an interest in idiosyncrasies that are a bit more subtle. In this follow up, I talk about Korea’s academic rigor, its drinking culture and obsession with physical appearance.
I knew that living and working in Korea would be a challenge in many ways. When I told people about my plan to live in Korea for a year, I got a lot of puzzled looks. The common response was something like ‘but you’d fit in so much better in Vietnam, Thailand, anywhere in South East Asia.’ And they had a point. My personality would mesh a lot better in a country whose culture is less rigid. But my goals were clear. I wanted to focus on my writing and traveling while earning a decent income that would allow me to do the latter. I’m doing exactly that and it’s totally worth it. Nonetheless, I’ve felt homesick plenty of times. Here are some things that I either dislike about Korea or miss from the US.
According to Euromonitor, South Korean women spend more than twice of their income on makeup and beauty products than American women. And the men don’t fall behind. South Korean men spend more on skincare products than men in any other country. No wonder South Korea boasts a 10 billion dollar beauty industry. To better understand Korea’s beauty obsession, I explore how mainstream culture and the Hallyu Wave promote Korea's beauty obsession.
One of the many reasons that attracted me to South Korea is the prevalence of Buddhism. In a country of about 50 million inhabitants, 18% of the population identifies as practicing Buddhists. Although Buddhism is not the current most popular religion, the influence of this faith is still an important part of Korean culture. Recently, I had the honor of experiencing Daegu’s Dalgubeol Lantern Festival, which celebrates Buddha’s Birthday.
I’ve been exposed to Korean culture for a couple of months now and during this time, I’ve noticed certain qualities that are a stark contrast from American or Mexican cultures. Before getting on a plane to Korea, I did research on the country’s history and culture to gain basic knowledge of the new place I’d call home. Collectivism, Confucianism, nationalism and hierarchy are some of the words that can sum up this fascinating country. Since living here, these seemingly abstract notions have become my new reality. Before, I had an intellectual grasp of these ideas but witnessing them firsthand has led to greater understanding. In this post, collectivism, hierarchy and the hurry, hurry syndrome are explored. It should be noted that these observations are my mere perceptions and interpretations.
It’s been only three weeks since I’ve been in Korea but it feels like months. It must be due to the fact that so much has happened in the last 20+ days. I left home sweet home Chicago, flew halfway across the world, had an intense but rewarding week-long orientation, arrived at my new apartment in Daegu, met my school staff and started teaching! Just the way I like to live my life – as productively as possible.
I recently created a playlist with the theme of change because change is inevitable. We grow up, we become ‘adults’, we get new jobs, we move cities, etc. But changing circumstances can prove to be overwhelmingly difficult and stressful. Change can also be a source of excitement and fulfillment. I even have a tattoo on my wrist to remind me that impermanence is the only true constant in life. Isn’t it cool that everything around and within us is in a constant state of flux? That every living organism is always evolving, from the regenerating cells in our bodies to the cosmos...