What you should know before coming to South Korea
I don’t hate the food itself. I love Korean food. I just hate the fact that there is so little diversity. Of course, the variety of choices are conditioned by the culture. Korea is very mono-national so all of the restaurants are skewed towards meeting the taste requirements of an average Korean. Or maybe it’s Koreans lacking imagination.
2. Summer and winter.
Summers are humid and hot. It feels like a sauna all the time. I go out fresh and clean from the shower, and after 5 minutes rivers flow under my shirt.
It is pure hell outside when the heatwaves come. Last year the heatwave was so massive that fish started to die in the waters of fish farms in the east of Korea. I usually just hide under air-conditioners as it is impossible to stay outside for long periods of time.
One of the most annoying things is cicadas. These little bastards are sitting and ‘screaming’ from every tree from early June to late September. Excruciatingly disturbing noise pollution.
Winters are cold and windy. Starting November the winds are severe, they can reach up to 60 km/h. They are just crawling under your clothes stealing the last traces of warmth and freezing your soul.
3. The Korean system.
Personally, for me, Korean employment system is inconvenient.
I consider myself a person with full professional proficiency in English, moreover learning English as a second language myself, gave me the knowledge of the methodologies that are working and not working when it comes to studying a foreign language.
Korean schools and private academies only hire native speakers with a background which is not even in education.
I understand that this is the best system that they have come up with as it is still filtering off many professionally incompetent people.
Korean education system is another pain.
Students start studying English starting from elementary school which is around the age of 7, but when they graduate high school and enter universities they can’t speak at all. Something is terribly wrong with the way they teach. I have found many flaws and many ways to improve the teaching methodology. Teaching English in Asia is quite a future-proof job at least for a couple of decades.
When I first arrived in Korea I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that people that live in another country can seem like people from another planet. The fact that we all live on tiny Earth still keeps me surprised because Koreans are like aliens for me. The funniest thing, of course, is that I realize that I am an alien for them as well. I am another level of weird for them having a Korean body but different operational system.
There are some exclusively cultural things that I still cringe at:
I think all of the Koreans should once in a life visit Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea because this is how borders look like.
Korean people are way too curious. They have no sense in asking personal questions that in the Western and Middle-Eastern world would be considered rude. There are some people who just want get under your skin, and that is both consequence and prerequisite of another quality. Koreans are
Korean people have their own merits of success, and they constantly try to match them and compare themselves with each other.
They try to demonstrate some external attributes of what they convinced themselves to believe is an image of a successful person.
They earn money on the jobs they hate to buy things they don’t need to impress people they despise.
They spend a lot of money on clothes to look good but eat ramen not because they love it so much but because they are broke.
They really care a lot about how they look and what kind of impression they make in the eyes of others.
They take credits for fancy and expensive cars and mortgages for apartments in concrete boxes sentencing themselves to years of slavery.
They give a shit about so many things that an average western millennial will never understand.
The funny thing is that if you ask any Korean what they don’t like about their own culture this judgmental mind would be the first thing they will mention.
I hate being judged, but I judge others all the time. This is our culture.
One Korean fellow
Another thing that he might not understand is why Koreans are so
This nation might be 10 years ahead in terms of technology, but their social skills are the same amount of years but backward.
They are too shy and some people might find it cute (like Koreans themselves).
I find it annoying. I don’t like when people are not direct and don’t say what they want waiting for you to guess their intentions. I am not a mind reader.
I understand that for the big part it is conditioned by language. Language shaped the culture in this way because in Korean people start their sentence with details and then bring you to the point in the end. In English (and in Russian) we start with the point and then we expand on details as we find necessary.
Outside of Seoul, in smaller cities, you can still see awkward reactions when Koreans see black or white people. They want to take pictures together. They pay so much attention to it that some people might find it racist.
I see guys holding hands on the streets. It is normal here. They are not gay, this is just a sign of friendship. Fortunately, God saved my eyes and I don’t see it too often.
Guys are too physical in general, they touch each other to the extent that would Western and Russian (straight) people consider as too much.
I was once in the gym, and there were only two guys with me doing squats. After each set, they were touching each other’s butts and to all appearances and sounds, they were quite delighted with each other.
One word. Horrible.
Clothing and shoes are overpriced and the quality is extremely low. The demand is defining product proposition. It is incredibly hard to find some truly unique and good looking clothes of decent quality.
6. Music. K-pop
K-pop is a weapon of mass destruction. Mass destruction of people’s brains.
It is everywhere — it finds me on the streets, on TV, radio, in every restaurant or cafe, cinemas, playrooms, from the phones of people around me. It is hard to escape this stupefying, mind-numbing, zombifying music.
I am not surprised that it is so supported (or should I say initiated?) by the government. It is easier to control people if you keep their intellectual ambitions at a level of K-pop. Plus it is a massive billion dollar industry which I believe keeps government very financially satisfied.
Starting from horrendous tasteless billboards on the streets and finishing with commercials on TV and in cinema, everything is screaming at you.
Serving same mission as K-pop, Korean advertisements are highly effective brainwashing campaign raising new generations of dull consumerists.
I have seen many tastefully shot and directed commercials in my life. Dominating majority of Korean commercials are seemed to be produced by a team of habitual glue sniffers. Please turn off the TV!
8. No individuality
That is probably the biggest thing I just can’t stand.
My home country is Kazakhstan. I love it.
A country that hosts more than 120 ethnic groups. Logically such multiculturalism defined the diversity of minds, worldviews, tastes, hobbies, and philosophies.
Korea is severely mono-national country. The absence of diversity is just slowly killing me. Koreans are all SAME.
Same taste for food. Everyone loves rice. I love rice too, but I can’t eat it all the time 24/7. I miss the ability to eat out Russian salads, or Jewish sandwiches with falafel, or Georgian grilled food, or a decent American burger, or anything back home, you name it.
They drink domestic beer and soju. Universal drinking taste.
Same taste in music. Everyone listens to K-pop and EDM (electronic dance music). People don’t know much about what other cultures have to offer.
Same tastes in movies. Everyone is watching deuramas. Everyone is following the lives of the idols — normal food for thoughts for an average Korean.
Same taste in clothes. There is almost no diversity in style. People look the same. I am no fashionist but seriously they wear pajamas and Crocs everywhere. I see people in pajamas in a library and in downtown, and I am under impression that Crocs is an ultimate all-season footwear and has a status of a national heritage.
Many young people have never been outside of Korea, and surprisingly have no or very little interest in what is going outside. Being so technologically advanced gives them the chance to learn anything about the rest of the world, but the saturation with domestic information cuts any desire in it whatsoever.
Problems with English language and attachment to their culture make them reluctant in consuming of the YouTube and any other kind of content in English sticking to the Korean one.
Korea is in the state of cultural isolation — they cook their own food, listen to their own music, watch their own TV, and overall it is an isolated pot standing aside from others and gurgling occasionally.
It’s bloody difficult to learn. Maybe I am stupid, of course, I never focused on language in a first place, but after years in Korea, I still don’t speak the language. All of the foreigners agree on one thing — the language is tremendously hard. The phonetic content is not like anything I have learned before. The logic of the language is distorting the logic that we are used to.
Hear me out.
The logic of languages that I learned before is something that I assume as a natural way of speaking:
Whereas in Korean people speak like that:
S O →.
The verb is in the end. It’s breaking my brain.
The funniest thing I observe is when I start speaking in Korean with Koreans. They start talking to me like I am retarded. I am not retarded. Not that I know of. I just don’t speak this language.
Korean women are beautiful and mesmerizing but there are some things that I had a very hard time with first when I arrived.
They are socially awkward.
For a westerner or a person with my cultural background, the reactions of women directly approached on the streets seem inadequate and can be quite discouraging.
Women are scared when you start talking to them as it is very not normal for them when guys initiate the conversation with a purpose of a flirt.
This is not their culture.
Koreans have “meetings” and “sogetings” with the former being a gathering in large groups of people where everyone can meet each other and the latter is essentially a blind date where two male and female friends introduce their male and female friends.
Here is the thing that I find odd.
They do “the talks”.
When a guy and a girl know each other for some time and become friends they do “the talk” where one or another suggest starting dating.
In western and Russian cultures we do talk sometimes, but for the most part, we let the relationship dynamics unfold naturally without finding serious conversations necessary.
Nothing to talk about.
This is the consequence of lack of individuality.
Culture defines personality.
All girls are obsessed with their looks. They all take hundreds of selfies everywhere they go. Everything from the car air-freshener to the phone case has to be cute. K-pop, drama idols are all what they care about.
I am not generalizing, I met many girls that are doing interesting things in their lives. But as a big picture, this is what I observe.
Korean girls hesitate to date guys from another country. Although the things are changing, the society is still very judgmental of girls who date foreigners.
You can’t kiss a girl outside. Cultural thing. They are very cautious of what other people might think of her.
Some minor things that poke my eye are:
- They don’t know how to wear heels.
- They wear hair curlers on their fringe in public.
- They care more about the clothes and face than the body and health.
This is the list of some things that I, personally, don’t like about Korea.
I just wanted to point out the things one should keep in mind before arrival to Korea, as they will probably never let you feel like at home no matter how long you live here.But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t have any intention to sound negative. I am not a hater. I love Korea. This is my historical motherland and the pros of living here far outweigh the cons.
Here is another essay on things that I absolutely love about Korea.
And why you will too.
Anyways, don’t trust me. I am biased. I lived in Korea way too long.
Come discover this beautiful country for yourself.