South Korea is a popular destination for English teachers. It’s an excellent place to make and save money, but it’s also a land with a long history and rich culture. For the adventurous teacher, there are many elements of Korean culture to enjoy, even get involved in.
Just be aware that Korean culture in general is very insular, sometimes even xenophobic, and foreigners may not always be welcome participants. It’s important to be respectful of cultural practices and adapt to them instead of projecting one’s own views onto the situation. Having local friends and colleagues make introductions are great ways to get involved in local culture and get a much richer experience of the land you’ve decided to make your temporary home.
Probably the most accessible, Korean food is earning more international acclaim all the time. Rice is the staple of Korean cuisine and it makes up the foundation of many Korean dishes, though noodles and legumes are also common.
Various pickles used as condiments are a ubiquitous part of Korean cuisine, with kimchi reigning supreme. There are many types of kimchi, but they are generally fermented and pickled vegetables, often with a heavy dose of spice. Virtually all meals will be served with small dishes of pickled vegetables, at least one of which will be a variation on a traditional kimchi.
Meat and seafood play a prominent role in Korea food as well. Both are common components in soups and stews, especially during cold winter months. There’s also a strong tradition of grilling meat in Korea. This is often done at the table by the diners who cook the meat themselves.
South Korea has nearly a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites. These range from temples to monuments to past rulers. Korea’s religions – past and present – heavily feature Buddhism, Confucianism, and shamanism. Beautiful temples devoted to each religion are open to the public, as are many ancient palace complexes.
Korea also has a long-standing tradition in the arts. Traditional dance, both ceremonial and folk, is presented during many of Korea’s festivals. Likewise, fine examples of art abound in the various museums and exhibits around the country. Korean artists were once renowned for their painting and ceramics, and beautiful examples still exist today.
Martial arts are especially popular in Korea. It’s the birthplace of taekwondo, a fighting style based heavily on kicks and mobility. Taekwondo is an internationally practiced martial art and an Olympic sport. In Korea, though, the Korean people take a special pride in traditional taekwondo. Classes are available to the public in both “traditional” and “sport” taekwondo, whose techniques and fundamental philosophies can be very different.
Still practiced in Korea is also the precursor of taekwondo, taekkyeon. This martial art has been practiced for hundreds of years. At one point it was the official military martial art, and also developed into a ritualized or dance-like martial art. It’s still practiced today and one can take classes in taekkyeon, among others martial arts native to the region.
South Korea has a booming entertainment industry. It’s everywhere. Korea’s music, movies, and TV shows are wildly popular all over Asia, especially it’s style of pop music known as K-pop. And thanks to it being so ubiquitous, it will be easy for expats to get into it without offending locals.
Heavily influenced by American pop music, K-pop has recently become a global phenomenon. For years it’s been popular throughout the Pacific Rim for catchy tunes and infectious beats, and it’s more recently become popular in Western countries for the same reasons. It would be handy for the expat to learn a few favorites because KTV (karaoke in a private room) is a very popular pastime. There may be some English songs to sing along to, but local friends will be flattered if you can take the time to learn some of their favorite songs to sing with them.
Also very popular in Asia, but less so in the rest of the world, are Korean dramas. Comparable to a hybrid between sit-coms and soap operas, these dramas are wildly popular all over Asia.
For the expat living in Korea, there developing an appreciation of Korean pop culture will flatter your host country and make the stay much more enjoyable. Western media is around, but it often comes at a premium price.
As a culture, Korea is a hard-drinking place. The local rice liquor soju is a favorite, and many expats have been leveled by this strong spirit. There are many brands available, but they are all equally potent. It’s been compared to vodka in its kick, but it’s slightly sweeter. For those not willing to down shots of hard liquor with dinner, there’s also beer.
There is elaborate drinking etiquette in Korea, though. It’s important to always follow these steps:
– never fill your own glass; fill others’ glasses and they fill yours
– if you want your glass filled, hand it to someone else then fill it; if someone hands you an empty hold it in two hands to be filled
– never pour into a half-full glass; this is a handy way to stop drinking
Respect, Respect, Respect
Everything above just barely scratches the surface of Korean culture. As an English teacher living in Korea, it’s important to show respect at all times. Korean culture has a long and proud history and you’re a guest in that country. There are elaborate customs based on respect and politeness. Be open-minded and respectful of the culture you’ve surrounded yourself with, even if you disagree, and your stay will be that much more rewarding.
By algrin25 from Pixabay