Culture Shock in Korea
1. So much touching!
When you first visit South Korea you may be surprised at how often you see those of the same gender touching one another. This isn’t particularly common in North America, particularly among men. In Korea however, it’s not uncommon to see older men with their arms around each and younger children hanging off one another. Korean women often hold hands or link arms with their friends. As a teacher in South Korea, prepare to be treated like a human petting zoo. Particularly if you look even remotely different from Asian – different coloured or curly hair, arm hair, beards – the kids will want to touch it all!
2. Sharing food
If you’re used to ordering a meal for yourself and it being only for you, you’re in for a surprise in Korea. Typically, food is shared. It is set in the middle and you may or may not have your own side plates or bowls. It is not uncommon for you to eat out of the shared bowl – this means double and triple dipping (if not more) or your personal cutlery. Hope you’re not a germaphobe!
3. The lack of trashcans
Speaking of trash cans – there are very few public trash cans. They’re found more frequently in tourist areas like Hongdae. But for the most part, you’re just stuck holding on to your garbage until you get into a place with a public bathroom, or you see a business garbage like at a 7-11. I got to the point where I was keeping a Ziploc bag in my purse to hold my garbage! Despite the lack of trashcans, Seoul is surprisingly clean for the population.
4. Blatant Discrimination
This one was an odd one for me. Although discrimination obviously happens everywhere in the world, I have never been to a place so up front about it. You’ll see some bars and restaurants that say “No Foreigners” – even if you go with Koreans you may not be let in, but you have a better chance if you do, or if you speak Korean. There are jobs with very discriminatory in their ads stating things like “English Teacher wanted – white, American, female only.” This is something you’d NEVER see back home in fear of getting sued. There simply aren’t discrimination laws here. They’re not always negative towards foreigners, though, you can get discount tickets at Lotte World or Everland and into some museums and such just for being foreign!
5. Public Bathrooms
This was the biggest culture shock for me. First things first, squatter toilets. I had never seen one of these in my life. They’re super awkward to use for the first couple times but you eventually get the hang of them. Thankfully they’re not everywhere! Secondly, make sure you grab your toilet paper BEFORE going into the stall. It’s often not in there and on a big roll by the sinks. There are far too many times I didn’t do this and have been out of luck. After using the toilet paper, it will usually go in a garbage can, not the toilet. Personally this part I find the most irritating as it makes the bathrooms STINK! Especially if they’re not cleaned regularly. I mean, you probably could put it in the toilet, but I don’t want to be that person that clogs the toilet when there are clear signs (often in English and with pictures) that say to put in the trash. Lastly, when you’re washing your hands, having a communal bar soap is common. Sometimes it’s even on a stick!
What gave you culture shock in Korea? Let me know in the comments below!