General Facts About Korea - Republic of Korea (R.O.K.)
System of Government: Unitary Multiparty Republic
Peninsular Landmass: 84,565 square miles
Area: 98,488 Sq Km (38,026 Sq Miles)
Population: 48.3 million
Religions: Confucianism, Shamanism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Chondokyo
Currency: South Korean Won (KRW)
Main Trading Partners: USA, Japan, the EU, and the Middle East
Major Industries: Agriculture, Cement, Chemicals, Engineering, Iron and Steel, Machinery, Textiles
Koreans are very proud of the fact that their country goes through four distinct seasons every year. In the springtime, flowers abound throughout the peninsula. Leaves seem to sprout on trees and bushes over night. The weather begins to warm, birds are singing (you get the picture.
Summertime in Korea is characterized by heat and humidity. The rainy season occupies most of the summer, so it's a safe bet to make an umbrella a standard addition to your bag or purse during for a few months. If you happen to forget one, don't fret: umbrellas are sold by many stores and street vendors in the summertime. Also, you will be using your air conditioner, something to keep in mind when your electricity bill arrives. Swimming pools, water parks, and beaches offer relief from the summertime heat. The beaches on the eastern and southern coasts are the cleanestand most popular, and can be reached by train or bus from most towns and cities.
Fall is widely considered to be the most beautiful time of year in Korea. The sky is clear, blue, and cloudless. Leaves go from red to bright orange to yellow, and the air is crisp. Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, kicks off the season, usually sometime in September (varies according to the lunar calendar).
Winter in Korea begins in December and ends in February. The average temperature range is app. 21-38 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow is common, especially in the more mountainous areas. Skiing is also common, and a popular winter sport.
Aspects of Korean Culture
The Korean Hanbok The hanbok is the traditional form of Korean dress. Until western fashions took over, Korean men, women, and children wore hanboks on a daily basis. Hanboks are still worn today, but usually only on special occasions, such as weddings or holidays. There are many tailors that specialize in making hanboks, and the garment has become a popular souvenir among tourists.
Korean Society Korean society is based on the teachings of Confucius, the Chinese sage. Confucian hierarchy venerates age and wisdom, thus age is the single most important indicator of respect in Korean culture. One must show respect to his or her elders in the form of body language and actions, and must even use a special form of language when speaking to an older person.
Family A Korean’s family is perhaps the most important factor in his or her life. It is not uncommon for children to live with their parents until they are married. Also, grandparents commonly reside with their children and grandchildren. Nursing homes are nowhere near as common as they are in Western countries. Parents are very affectionate with their children, and families are generally close knit.
Korean society is traditionally patriarchal, thus the father tends to be viewed as the head of the household. However, one must not underestimate the power and spirit of the Korean matriarch. A married woman, especially an older one, may have considerable influence over her husband and family.
Korean Food Korean food is typical of other Asian cuisines in that it is comprised mainly of rice, vegetables, meat, and fish. It is thought to be very healthy, light, and low in fat. Korean cuisine encompasses a large variety of foods. However, the one food that you can find at any Korean meal is kimchi. Kimchi was developed as a way to preserve vegetables during the cold Korean winters. It consists of pickled radish, cucumber, or cabbage, and is typically spiced with ground chili pepper. You will find that eating kimchi can be almost an addiction, and most Korean people prefer to eat kimchi at every meal. Foreign reactions to kimchi run the gamut from adoration to intense dislike…to each his own.
Other popular Korean dishes include: daeji galbi (grilled, marinated pork), kimchi jjigae (spicy kimchi stew), kim bap (rice and seaweed rolled with meat and vegetables), bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables, meat, and spicy bean paste), and naeng myun (cold buckwheat noodles).
Korean Nightlife Korea is similar to most other cultures, in that its young people enjoy going out and having a good time. As a result, nightlife opportunities abound in Korea. The most common choices include: karaoke rooms, or “no rae bang,” nightclubs, bars, tent bars, known as “po jang ma cha,” and hofs, small drinking and snack establishments.
Tent bars and hofs typically serve beer (domestic brands, such as Hite or Cass), and soju. Soju is the classic Korean alcoholic beverage—it’s a clear liquid, with a taste described as either bitter or sweet, depending on whom you’re speaking with. Soju is mass-produced, inexpensive, and may be found at bars, restaurants, and even convenience stores.
In Korea, eating and drinking go hand in hand. Bar and night club patrons frequently snack on fruit, French fries, or dried squid and peanuts, while sipping away at beer, cocktails, or soju. Consequently, most nightclubs expect, and even require, that customers seated at tables will purchase drinking snacks, or “anju.”
Depending on your area, nightclub musical styles can vary wildly. The Hongdae area of Seoul is popular with young hip-hop lovers, while other nightclubs offer a mixture of popular Western dance music and Korean pop music. Salsa dancing is becoming more and more popular, and Latin clubs are popping up around Korea. Keep in mind that the main ingredient in Korean nightlife is alcohol. So, future teachers be warned: moderation is key.
In Korean culture, education is the key to success in life. The school one graduates from can determine whether one will be a success or failure. To many Korean parents, the education of their children outweighs all other considerations, and they will make tremendous sacrifices to let their children get the best education possible.
The Korean education system consists of six years of primary school, three years of middle school, then three years of high school. Those who pass the national exam go on to 4-year colleges or universities. Others go to 2-year junior colleges, while the rest enter the work force. Until recently, most middle and high schools were segregated by sex. However, because of complaints about differences in education levels between the boys and girls schools and socialization problems later in life, most schools have gone co-ed.
Religion Korea has been influenced by four major religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, and Shamanism. Additionally, a very large mosque in It'aewon-dong holds services for those of the Islamic faith. Many Koreans follow more than one religion as many new Christian converts continue to practice ancestor worship and perform Buddhist rites.
The standard English teaching contract includes two weeks of vacation (one week in the summer, one in the winter), along with approximately 14 Korean national holidays:
New Year (Jan. 1-2)
Family members dress in "hanboks" (the traditional Korean dress), make ceremonial meals, and bow to their elders and ancestors.
Lunar New Year (varies)
This family holiday is also known as "Seollal" and is celebrated in a similar way to the Jan. 1 New Year.
Independence Movement Day
Honoring the anniversary of the March 1, 1919 Korean independence movement against Japanese rule.
Trees are planted as part of Korea's reforestation plan.
Buddha's Birthday (8th day of the 4th lunar month)
Known as the "Festival of the Lanterns," lanterns are lighted throughout Korean cities and in temples to celebrate Buddha's birthday.
A fun day for children: trips are planned to parks and other exciting places.
A day to honor those who died in war.
Constitution Day (July 17)
Commemorates the 1948 proclamation of the Republic of Korea's constitution
Commemorates the Japanese acceptance of the allied terms of surrender in 1945
Chuseok (15th day of the 8th lunar month)
Literally translated as "Harvest Moon Day," this is the most important holiday in Korea. Almost without exception, people travel to their hometowns to spend the holiday with their families. As a result, roads are congested, and trains, buses, and planes are packed to the gills. If you plan on traveling during Chuseok, be sure to make your arrangements well in advance.
National Foundation Day (Oct. 3)
Commemorates the founding of the Korean nation (as the Gojoseon Kingdom) in 2333 B.C.
Christmas (Dec. 25)
There is a large number of Christians in Korea. Therefore, Christmas is recognized as a national holiday, as it is in Western countries.