Korean culture is as one might expect fairly different from the German one. And when I started my semester abroad, I had no idea how much it would actually intrigue me. So, here are some brief cultural aspects that astonished me the most about Korea to give you an insight.
Koreans will always be a year older than you. The difference is that in Korea, everyone is already one year old at birth. What is more: on New Year’s, everyone simultaneously turns a year older. That means, in turn, that in Korean age, you could already be two years older than you are in an international age.
There is a certain hierarchy among the people in Korea. Hierarchy can be determined by different aspects. For example when meeting a new person, it is inevitable to get asked about your age. Older people are higher in the hierarchy than juniors and therefore by asking the age or also your college year, people try to classify the relationship, e.g. which title to use (and there are many, e.g. the suffixes -shi or -nim similar to the English Mr. and let’s not even get started on the family tree) or what type of speech to use (Banmal as informal language or Jondaetmal as formal language, both entailing various sub levels of politeness). Age, experience, status, etc. establish hierarchical roles for identifying the appropriate types of honorifics and respect.
Korean society is a highly networked society and perception by others is regarded as important. One’s position, occupation and level of education is an indicator of status. So, it’s no surprise that the someone-I-know-factor comes in handy frequently. That’s because one’s association has higher social significance and someone giving your reference plays an important role when contacting or making a request. So, because of these valued connections between people, be prepared for a sharing culture. Most Korean dishes are intended to be shared or to be eaten in a group. For example, Samgyeopsal (three layer pork belly) is being prepared on a grill on the table and everyone takes the prepared meat from the grill. Also the side dishes are served for multiple people together and you take the side dishes from the same bowl. So in turn, it is not common for Koreans to separate for example a dinner bill. Always, one person bears the whole cost and another time the other person will pay. This is because of showing Jeong, which means bonding or attachment. Therefore, preparing the food well or paying the bill for your friend is always an expression of appreciation. In turn, if you fail to equally act considerate for your friend or never take care of a whole dinner bill, it will give the impression to the other person that you do not value the relationship with them since you do not show any effort in maintaining the connection. Thus, cultivating your connections is very important in Korean society.
I could go on and on and on about what had me in awe during my stay in Korea. Luckily, I was able to get myself exposed to this stunning culture and I’m grateful for the wonderful semester abroad experience. So if you also want to discover a culture that is totally different from yours I can only recommend getting out there and experiencing your Korea for yourself!
Julia Zitzelsberger is a Business Economics student who joined DIT in October 2020. Having a constant growth-mindset she likes to try out new things, like participating in the DIT blog. She spent the winter semester 2021/22 abroad in Seoul, South Korea.