Living in Korea

Korean Culture Shock: 3 Things that Surprised Me

For me, coming to South Korea as an international student was exciting yet a little bit scary! Living in a foreign country for the first time ever was accompanied by a sense of uncertainty, and it has been challenging at times. The fact that I didn’t know anything about the Korean language or culture when I first arrived gave me a lot of anxiety. However, as time went on, I overcame my fears and gradually began to adapt to the culture. In this article, I’ll outline some of the biggest areas of Korean culture shock I experienced when I arrived in Korea.

The Biggest Culture Shock: Respect Towards Seniors

Koreans respect their seniors to an extreme extent! Even with modernization, it’s so deeply ingrained into their custom that it has been ingrained in every aspect of society.

This custom started with Korea’s adoption of confucian teachings over 1,500 years ago. According to confucius’ teachings, people’s interactions should always be based on hierarchy. Seniors should always be respected, even if they are your elder by just a small margin.

The indicators of seniority itself are job positions, age, positions in the family, and so forth. Showcasing respect is done in a variety of different ways in Korea, in nearly all social situations. From how to pour drinks, greet, and linguistically refer to seniors, standard etiquette is extremely complex.

Least Loved Culture Shock: Drinking With Colleagues

Usually, people in Korea will go drinking with their colleagues after work or evening classes. It’s a unique and inseparable part of Korean culture. Refusing to go will be interpreted as extremely rude. When you go to bars or restaurants in Korea, you will see groups of colleagues drinking all the way into the early morning hours. I have no idea how they go to work the next morning!

Ongoing Culture Shock: People are Really Fashionable!

One of the things that surprised me a lot when I came to Korea was how the people dressed up – of all ages. Everyone looks very fashionable!

Their clothes, which are mostly neutral-coloured, always perfectly mix and match. The women look pretty with heeled boots, short skirts, and blouses (sometimes with cute outer outfits). Plus, the men look very cool with their stylish hair, shirts or baggy T-shirts, and sneakers. Even babies have better style than I do!

As a result, I have tried to improve my fashion sense while I’ve been in Korea. I need to keep up as everyone is so well-dressed! However, despite being fashionable, most of them only wear neutral colors such as black or white and dress very similarly. Very few people have a personal style.

Interested in learning more interesting facts about Korean culture? Click Here to read 14 Superstitions Koreans Still Believe Today!