Cultural Differences of South Korea

graves_photoEver wonder what it is like to move to a different country? Meet our NOVA Online Student Blogger, Lydia as she shares some of the cultural differences she has experienced taking NOVA online classes while living abroad:

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and moving to a completely different country is quite overwhelming and shocking. However, just as astounding, it can be an equally or even more intriguing, eye-opening experience.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I had never been to South Korea despite being Korean-American. However, while balancing American traditions, my family and I maintained a Korean lifestyle by following its culture. With all of this, though, my knowledge of the “real” East Asian culture was limited. Thankfully, my Korean perspective has dramatically changed ever since I moved to the *Kimchi-loving country in 2011. As I still live in Korea to this day, there are so many cultural differences that I have yet to discover, but here are just a few that fascinated me the most.

*Kimchi is a traditional spicy pickled/fermented napa cabbage side dish that is served with almost every Korean meal.

  • Education:

When I first arrived in Korea, I was completely shocked when I saw a group of students wearing their school uniforms walking so casually in the city at 11pm. Considering only the American education system, I did not understand why they were not at sleeping at their homes. Starting with the basics, education in Korea is significantly different than that in the United States. Korean education mainly focuses on memorization along with very long periods of studying. Generally, a Korean high school student would stay at school for about 8 hours, and spend another 3-6 hours at afterschool private cram academies called hagwons. Most students live this intense, rigorous lifestyle in order to receive a preferable score on the college entrance exam (offered only once a year); the results of the exam determine which university students will attend.

  • Beauty Standards:

Being beautiful or becoming beautiful is a little bit more important in Korea. Every time I sit inside a subway, browse a Korean website, or simply wander around the cities, I see at least one advertisement about plastic surgery. Most advertisements present before and after pictures of what really looks like two entirely different people. High beauty standards have made it very common for even young school students to get the double eyelid surgery. Also, skin tone and head size matter. Specifically, many Korean women prefer having light, pale skin tones and smaller sized heads. This surprised me because while I lived in the states, most of my American friends did not care too much about head size and actually wanted to be tanner.

  • Public Transportation:

Because I lived in suburban areas of the United States, I would always commute to places by car. Even though Koreans rely on cars, many more use the incredibly fast public transportation system. Public buses, taxis, subways, and trains are much more practical and easier to access in such a highly populated and small country (roughly the size of Kentucky). The best part of the system is that people can access it wherever they are and literally go anywhere in Korea. There are also free Wi-Fi services in many of these public areas!

Being a border dweller, I found myself growing as an individual who has been absorbing and living by both the American and Korean culture. In this day and age, I think it is essential to become more open-minded and willing to learn about the endless aspects of the world and its diverse cultures.Thankfully, living in Korea for the past five years has done just that. I am more than excited to further develop my multicultural knowledge as I continue to explore my Korean-American life.

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