Korean’ness: the Korean Life

Korea is a unique and intriguing society. It’s always interesting to see their take on the world we share, as well as the language we share. There is never a shortage of goings-on that surprise me when I see and hear a Korean’s point of view. Sometimes it makes me snicker, sometimes, well, I’m baffled. But in the end it’s all “Korean’ness.”

From quirky t-shirts to sincere attempts at English on pencil cases and notebooks, Korean’ness will be all around you because you’ll be in the thick of it.

Just when you think there’s a lull, something in the news will pop up. Whether it be the infamous Kim Jong Un chumming it up with Dennis Rodman, or a new take on the utter craziness of the plastic surgery wave you’re gonna’ experience Korean’ness live and in living color.

As one popular travel blogger once said, you’ll feel “all covered in waygook” as you see vividly how unique Korea is compared to back home.

(Newest experiences are featured at the top)


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  1. Avatar Isabelle Byrnes says:

    Dear Tom,

    Thanks for your interesting web site. I’ve just watched your video clip: “DO NOT Teach English in Korea if You Are These Types of People,” and have a few suggestions to make. I’m a career language teacher and, like you, have taught English in Korea, three years in the EPIK program in Jeollabuk-do and then half a year at the local university, Chonbuk National University. I’m teaching in Vietnam now.

    I had experience studying abroad (France and Russia) and volunteering abroad (Peace Corps in Ukraine) before I came to Korea and also had experience teaching ESL to foreign students, largely Korean, in the U.S. I found Korean students a pleasure to work with in the U.S. and the choice to come to Korea wasn’t difficult. And, all in all, it was a good experience.

    However, I did have some struggles with the culture and would like to mention a few things that you didn’t. I understand from your site that you are partly of Korean origin, so perhaps you learned some things at home about Korean culture that most Americans don’t know or know only superficially. Worth pointing out:

    1) Korean culture is extremely hierarchical. Your boss does not want discussion of his decisions. It’s rare for a boss to change his mind after making a decision, no matter how it works out in practice. Higher-ups expect and get deference.

    2) Korean culture is conformist. If you go out with a group of Korean people, everyone is expected to do the same thing. (If you go to a singing room, everyone must take his turn and sing.) Other people want you to have a good time, but they expect you to go along with the group.

    3) Korean culture values reliability, procedure, and deadlines. An excellent teacher who breaks minor rules is less valued than a mediocre teacher who follows policy to the letter.

    4) Korean culture is ceremonious. People stand up and give speeches on occasions that seem quite informal to Westerners.

    5) Koreans have had all kinds of experience with guest English teachers. If you work hard and usually give good lessons, your colleagues will notice that and respect you. On the other hand, school teaching is different in Korea from the U.S. Korean public-school teachers have passed difficult exams to get their jobs. School teaching pays well and is respected (and Korean teachers tend to stay in the field until they retire). Your colleagues in Korea won’t view you as an equal from the moment you step off the plane. But hard work will take you a long way.

    (I suspect that this story from Japan is true of Korea: )

    6) Korean cities and towns tend to be ugly. They are built-up, crowded with unattractive buildings, and have pavement everywhere. It is easy to feel cut-off from nature. However, newer city neighborhoods are being planned with more trees and greenery. And the Korean countryside is lovely.


    7) Koreans respect their jobs. The man who comes to your apartment to repair your washing machine will be impeccably dressed and do his job well. The post office is run by people who are honest, efficient, and polite. I frankly miss that now, living in Vietnam.

    Best wishes,

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