Now that we’ve been living in South Korea for about five weeks, I’ve had a chance to experience some fun (and interesting) cultural norms that stray vastly from what we’re used to in the good old USA. Some of them have been a little baffling. Others have been easily welcomed. Honestly, this whole country is fascinating, and I thought it would be fun to write down these fun facts we’ve learned about South Korea so far, if only to look back two years and remember how foreign it felt at first!
11 Fun Facts About South Korea
1 // Koreans Are 1 When They Are Born – Unlike how we track Western ages, South Koreans count babies as 1 year old when they’re born. That means that Mieke is 3 here, Porter is 6, and Spencer is 7. Needless to say, I’m never going to remember their ages properly again.
2 // Wearing Shoes Indoors is a Big Nope – Honestly, this is one cultural norm I can 10000% stand behind! Most homes and apartments are built much like ours with a plethora of shoe shelving just inside, so you can shed your outdoor shoes and replace them with house shoes or slippers.
3 // South Korea is Very Mountainous – I’m not sure what I really expected from South Korea’s landscape, but I was surprised by its beautiful beaches like Daechon Beach, and I’ve learned it’s 70% mountainous, as well. Honestly, it’s too hot to hike right now, but I can’t wait to start hiking and exploring the mountains this fall!
4 // It is Extremely Safe – One of the biggest concerns people expressed when we shared we were moving to South Korea was potential danger. South Korea’s crime rate, however, is extremely low, and we actually feel safer here than we did at JBLM. I mean, people leave their cars in neutral so others can push them out of the way (like I shared on my instagram), and when my friend lost her purse in IKEA, someone turned it in.
5 // Academics Are Serious Business – We’ve been working to figure out the kids’ school situation for the coming year and, in doing so, we’ve learned that most kids (even at the elementary level) attend school, hagwons, academies, and add sports to the schedule, too. With COVID, things are a little different, but I’m interested to see how our kids fit in the mix.
6 // The Food is Incredible – There is something for absolutely every taste and palate here in South Korea. Their desserts are legendary, the Korean BBQ is out of this world, and even the most down-home comfort food would blow your mind. Also, don’t trust the snacks. What you’d think would be savory is sweet, and what’s supposed to be sweet is savory.
6 // South Korea is Known for its Plastic Surgery – One of the first advertisements we saw (on post, mind you) was for plastic surgery! Seeing “성형외과” around town is definitely not unusual, and as you drive towards the bigger cities, it’s even more common. Plastic surgery is also more affordable here than it is in the US. Who knew?
7 // Traffic Lights Are Really Long – Our new apartment in Sosabeul is just 8 miles from Camp Humphreys, but it takes us between 25 and 30 minutes to get to and from post. This isn’t so much about the traffic as it is about the stoplights, which average 2-3 minutes each…and there are a lot of traffic lights.
8 // School Zones Count on Weekends – Speaking of driving, it’s important to obey school zone speed limits on weekends, too, because many Korean schools attend more than five days a week. Oh, and there aren’t flashing school zone lights to remind you either, so good luck!
9 // Bowing is a Sign of Respect – This is something we’re still working on with Spencer (our hugger), but hugging is usually reserved for family members or close friends. In South Korea, however, bowing is more common. Kiddos bow to us with respect, and we bow to those we meet. It’s a cultural norm with which we’re quickly becoming accustomed.
10 // Modesty is the Name of the Game – While you may see shorter skirts, dresses, or shorts, they will often be high-waisted, and not nearly as short as those in the US. Showing cleavage, too much shoulder, and collarbone, however, is seen as promiscuous. While we get away with it somewhat because we’re clearly foreign, we do our best to try to maintain their standards whilst here – especially at temples.
Honestly, South Korea is wild. The temperatures are hot, the food is delicious, and the people are actually pretty friendly – even with a language barrier. We’re loving this opportunity to immerse ourselves in South Korean culture, and even our kids are learning to embrace it. We’ll keep working on the cuisine with them too.
Tell me – do any of these 11 facts about South Korea surprise you?