Teaching in Korea: About the Korean Culture

Korean culture is very intricate and fascinating.  From addressing elders with different spoken language to using two hands when pouring alcohol in your boss’ glass, Koreans take tremendous pride in their traditions and cultural mannerisms.  The origins of Korean culture stem from Confucius ideology, based on social hierarchy and age.  Older generations however, are becoming increasingly concerned with the modernization and Westernization of younger generations, fearing that they will lose certain embedded traditions.

With a long history of struggle and war, Koreans are very patriotic and passionate about maintaining their culture, traditions and ideology.  Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, with forty-five percent of the population having the surnames Kim, Lee or Park. This homogeny is a result of Koreans, for years, fearing the elimination of their people, their language and their culture at the hands of ruthless invaders.

The Korean sense of pride and patriotism is definitely worthy in many respects: South Korea has evolved from a once war-torn and developing nation into a developed nation that is recognized internationally as a world leader in technological advancements. It is also one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Koreans are focused on high standards of education for their population as a means of intellectual and technological advancement.  Being a nation of limiting physical geography, having to share 70% of its land with imposing mountains, Korea has focused on industries such as technology, automation and electronics (to name a few), in lieu of agriculture. Their educational focus has left the nation with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, which has resulted in the demand for native English speakers who are employed in teaching jobs across the country.

High school students in Korea study very hard for their entrance exam for university (comparable to the SAT in the US).  Children also often go to 1-3 different private schools (called ‘hagwans’ in Korean), at a time for additional lessons in a variety of subjects. This is standard for children and most enjoy this as it is a means of seeing their friends and not as a punishment.  Private English schools are the most popular type of private school.

Koreans are generally very friendly and hospitable people.  They will express enthusiasm and excitement when any foreigner makes an effort to speak Korean or partake in any of their traditions.  Although warm in many ways, Koreans can also be blunt and to the point, which can sometimes be insulting.  Do not mistake this for poor manners or rudeness; it is simply a difference in cultural norms.

Korea has two major religions, Buddhism and Christianity. Its official language is Korean, which is one of the only phonetic languages in the world, like Turkish, which also helps in maintaining a high literacy rate nationwide.

There is no such thing as tipping in Korean culture. Doing so would be seen by Koreans as a sign of ‘pity’ for the work that they are doing.  Although it might be considered rude in Western culture not to tip, it is not considered the same in Korean culture.

Bowing is considered polite and a common greeting/acknowledgement.  Bowing is more commonly used over shaking hands and especially hugging, so do not be insulted if your version of a warm greeting is not well received.

Plastic surgery is quite the rage in Korea and many Korean girls especially will be enticed to get surgery to look more ‘western’; double eyelid surgery, or nose enhancements are common.  The affordability of plastic surgery in Korea has also contributed to its popularity.

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