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Ten Things You May Not Know about South Korea

Updated on February 12, 2013

Things you may not know about Korea

Learn about ten things you may not know about Korea. By reading through this article you will get a sense of the culture and a greater appreciation for a country who has become one of the fastest growing economies over a period of four decades. It is my hope you can walk away after reading this and learn something new.

1. Crazy education in Korea

In Korea, you can pretty much say that Koreans are obsessed with education. Education is really pushed down student's throats like crazy. How hard do these students study? During their high school years and sometimes even during their junior high years, students go to school from 8 am until past midnight. This is because after their normal schooling, they attend special academies to try to boost their academic performance. They all prepare to take a very rigorous college entrance exam, which pretty much will solidify their future. In Korea, if you enter a prestigious university, you will have a good chance of landing a good job. A child entering a good University is not only economic security for the individual but it also reflects on the child's parents reputation. In Korean culture, the most important consideration for an employer is not so much the personality or working experience, but rather what University the person went to. Korea has a high school graduation rate of 97%, this is the highest recorded in developed countries. It is interesting to note that corporal punishment is allowed in 80% of schools in Korea.

2. 100 day (baek-il) and 1 year (tol) old birthday celebrations

For new parents there is great celebration when a baby becomes 100 days old and 1 year old. In both of these cases, there is a joyous celebration where friends and family are invited to a great party.

The 100 day milestone is celebrated as being a period where the baby has passed a critical period of survival. During the baek-il celebration, thanks are given to the Samsin, who are supposedly Gods who will take care of the baby while it grows up. While these were the origins of this celebration, most Korean parents now just celebrate it as a custom and as a symbol for others to rejoice with the family.

The 1 year celebration (tol) is much more involved. There is a great birthday party for the child complete with different types of rice cakes and fruits ornately decorated on a large table. The child (and often parents too) are dressed in traditional Korean clothing (hanbok). Just like a wedding, a banquet hall is usually rented and many guests are invited. These days there is also pictures shown in the background while lunch or dinner is given to the guests. The best and most fun part of this celebration is when the child is put in front of many different items such as a pencil, money, rice, thread, or even a computer mouse. The first item that the child crawls to and picks up will supposedly determine the outcome of his future. The following is a list of items and their symbolism:

  • Pencil - scholar
  • Money - Rich
  • Cake/food - Government related.
  • Thread - Long life
  • Mouse - Computer related.

You can pretty much put anything else you want but the above are some of the basic ones.

3. The Unique Korean Language

The Korean language is unique being spoken only in South Korea, North Korea, and a part of China called. The origins of this language date back to the era of the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, king Sejong the Great. The project was completed in January 1444. Prior to this Korean language being used, Chinese characters were used. King Sejong noted the difficulty for the common people in learning these characters, and therefore created this language. A quote from one of the early learning manuscripts states "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days." This is very true, the Korean language is easy to learn once you know the rules. Many linguists have praised the language because it is well designed from shapes of consonants based on shapes of the mouth and vowels having vertical or horizontal lines that distinguish it from consonants.

Basic word Korean language tutorial

So you don't get lost when you travel there.

4. Kimchi

Every country has their popular food, in Korea it's Kimchi (or kim-chee). Kimchi is not a main dish but rather a side dish. Just like some Americans can't eat sandwiches without a pickle, most koreans can't have their main meal without a side of Kimchi. You can think of it as fermented spicy pickled cabbage. Today there are many varieties of Kimchi with different vegetables being used, but the original is still my favorite. Here is a recipe for Kimchi if you are interested.

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sea salt

2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into quarters or 2-inch wedges, depending on size of cabbage

1 garlic - separate it and mash it

2 inch piece of ginger root

1/4 cup Korean salted shrimp sauce

1 Asian radish, peeled and grated

1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths

1/2 cup Korean chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

Sesame oil

1. Put salt in half a gallon of water, add cabbage.

2. In blender put in ginger, garlic, salted shrimp sauce and blend it.

3. In separate container put in green oninons, garlic mix from above, radish, chili powder and mix.

4. Drain cabbage from salt water, rinse. Take out as much water as bossible and stuff the radish mixture in between the leaves of the cabbage. Put in large jar squeezing out all the bubbles.

5. Let it ferment for 3 days in a cool place.

6. Refrigerate after opening.

Making of Kimchi video

5. Respect

In Korea, respect is a part of culture. If someone is even a little bit older than you, you need to respect the person. This makes it a hassle in school when someone who is in the same grade level yet older demands respect. Definitely respect must be shown to elders. Among some shows of respect are:

1. Must bow when greeting someone older.

2. when given something by an elder, you must accept it with two hands.

3. If an elder is speaking to you, you should listen, not make direct eye contact.

4. When someone older offers you a drink (alcoholic), you must accept it (you can put it on the table and take a small sip).

5. When you drink the alcoholic drink you must turn your face to the side and drink it. Never drink facing the elder.

6. Jejudo, A perfect place for Koreans to go on their Honeymoon

Jejudo
Jejudo

Did you ever wonder where South Koreans travel for their Honeymoon? If they can afford it they would go to Hawaii, but there is a paradise within South Korea called Jejudo Island, which is the most common destination where Koreans would go vacationing. There are many scenic beaches, beautiful waterfalls, and lava caves making this a paradise destination for many. The island is a volcanic island, much like Hawaii, it's main mountain is Halla Mountain, the highest mountain in South Korea at 1,950 meters high. Among some highlights of places to visit are the follows:

Hallim Park and "Yeomiji". - botanical gardens with caves. Yeomji has 2000 species of rare plants and is considered one of the best botanical gardens in all of Asia. There are also 10 endemic species.

Hiking in Mount Halla - Lots of trails both easy and challenging.

Iho Beach - with its unique dark gray sand and yellow sand.

Folklore and National History Museum - Focused on the island's history and wildlife.

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Norebang
Norebang

7. Norebang (Karaoke rooms)

If you could summarize Korean night life, it would be two words: drinking and singing. This will be clear to you once travel around any city. In every street corner, you will see a drinking bar and a norebang. A norebang is a place comprised of private rooms where a group of people can get together to sing karaoke. After a hard day's work, many come here with coworkers or friends to sing away their burdens. In these little rooms, you can sing along to your favorite title as well as order some food and alcohol. It's a grand fun time where everyone can pretend to be the next great singer.

8. Korean TV Dramas

Koreans love their TV dramas. These are short miniseries that always seem to have a feel good ending. These dramas have become so popular with fans in many Asian and Latin American countries (many dub them in their own languages). Some of the more popular TV dramas of all time include "Autumn Fairy Tale", "All About Eve", "Full House", "My Girl", and "Winter Sonata". There always seem to be some love story involved and definitely some conflict. As I've watched a few of these myself, I can tell you that there is conflict, some type of accident and then a feel good ending. They are really feel good stories, and they are very entertaining. These dramas have contributed to the hallyu movement, which is a popularity of Korean cultural things in the 21st century. Korean male celebrities are the highest paid outside of Hollywood. Some Korean stars: Bae Yong Joon, Rain, Boa,

9. Korean DMZ (demilitarized zone)

A buffer zone 4 miles (2.5 km) that divides North Korea 9 (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea). It is the world's most fortified border, with soldiers on both sides patroling the area. Between this short buffer zone, is the Military Demarcation Line (DML). If any person or soldier crosses this line from either South or North Korea to the other side without permission, they will be dead. THis was created in an armistice in July 27, 1953. Since there was no real peace treaty established, the two sides are still technically "at war". There have been several attempts by North Korea to create tunnels into the South. These were all found by the South eventually.

A brief look at the DMZ in South Korea

10. Christianity and South Korea

Christianity in Korea has taken a large foothold and now it comprises 33% of the population. Korean churches have the largest congregations than anywhere else in the world. Some people go to churches as a social gathering place and a potential place to meet a wife/husband. (In the process they end up being converted). The Christian movement became stronger in South Korea from 1905 through 1945 when Japan occupied the country and persecuted Christians. Today, Korea sends more missionaries than any other country other than the United States. Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest in Korea, had 780,000 members in 2003.

Poll on 10 things about Korea

What did you find the most fascinating about Korea

See results

BONUS: Gangnam Style - The dance sensation that swept the world.

Yes, there is one more thing that Korea will be known for: Gangnam Style. This is the most watched youtube video ever that will have you dancing like a horse.

Please post your thoughts on Korea

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    • Webcodes LM profile image
      Author

      Webcodes LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Get used to eating some kimchee and make sure you respect your elders.

    • Webcodes LM profile image
      Author

      Webcodes LM 4 years ago

      @anonymous: It's just a matter of respect and humbleness.

    • profile image

      oegukeen lm 4 years ago

      Really great lens and good info but I think you mixed up Korean language and Korean alphabet - Hangul.

      Korean alphabet was invented at the time of King Sejong, but Korean language is much older than that.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I THINK KOREA HAS AN INTERESTING CULTURE! I WANT TO GO THERE!!!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      korea is really great!!

      I like kimchi!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      crazy education!......... wow that's amazing they can survive??......

      if i where in their situation i can't do that.........

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm Yuki, me and my cousins have been learning Korean lately and we thought it would be fun to learn some facts. We knew that Koreans respect their elders but not like this.You can't look them in the eyes? How is that possible

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @LadyExpat: LadyExpat...is there any advice you could give an American teacher going to teach English in S.Korea? I want to make it a successful move.

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Very well prepared essay on South Korea. A friend from my childhood in US was from Korea, and reading this - especially about respect- brought back memories of her. My husband just returned from a business trip to S. Korea - very interesting.

    • profile image

      scar4 7 years ago

      Korea is a country, which is famous for kimchi, love it greatly!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is great Info, specially to me as I am visiting South Korea this May 2010. It has prepare quite a bit before I travel there...cheers...kamsahamnida....

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      @KimGiancaterino: surely...I has helped me know and prepare , as I am travelling to South Korea this may 2010

    • jp1978 profile image

      jp1978 8 years ago

      Very nice and interesting! I went to Korea once, spent a week on Mt. Sorak then a few days in Seoul. Beautiful country.

    • profile image

      LearnKorean 7 years ago

      I am learning Korean right now, thanks for sharing korean culture. It really help me to know more about Korean.

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 8 years ago

      Amazing! I love this lens, so much information and interesting topics. Very nice! 5* and congratulations on your purple star.

    • A RovingReporter profile image

      A RovingReporter 8 years ago

      I've been to South Korea once but I learned so much more from this 5* lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      rockycha 8 years ago

      Outstanding information and lenscrafting, new Squid Angel blessings today too! :)

    • profile image

      LadyExpat 8 years ago

      Nicely done. I've lived in Korea for the past 8 years.

    • TheInfamous7 profile image

      TheInfamous7 8 years ago

      A Superb Lens!!! Blessed and Favourited...ill hope to one day visit this beautiful country :-)

    • chefkeem profile image

      Achim Thiemermann 8 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Splendid lens, Brian. Tons of interesting info in a concise form. Can't help it but read everything from top to bottom. You do Squidoo "right". No, make that - "great"! 5*s and a hearty SquidAngel Blessing. :)

    • Teacher Adez7 profile image

      Teacher Adez7 8 years ago

      Nicely done, and blessed as well! :)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      Great lens... I learned a lot! Thanks for adding this to All Things Travel.