Coming to Korea is definitely a culture shock. I always thought it was a small world – until arriving here. My first impression was that I was on a different planet but it was exciting. Learning about a new culture has only made me a stronger, more worldly and open minded person. It was here, that a lot of growing was done.
Below, a list of things to expect/ prepare for your life in South Korea.
1. There are 4 distinct seasons. Extreme summers and winters, which usually last much long than autumn and spring. There is a month or so of unbearable humidity in summer.
2. Finding larger clothes and shoes is difficult. You will be able to go to American owned stores in Seoul (Forever21/h&m) etc to find clothes slightly bigger. Otherwise, it may prove difficult for bigger people. Shoes usually go up to a size 6 (for girls) boys, I am not too sure, but also quite small. You can, again, travel to Seoul for those things.
3. Koreans will share food. You will hardly ever get your own plate of food unless you are at a western style restaurant (more expensive). You will eat with chopsticks, order some kind of meat or soup usually that comes with many side dishes (radish, onion, kimchi).
4. Koreans will not smile at you as you pass them by. A nod/bow is a sign of respect/hello/goodbye. They also tend to stare at foreigners quite a bit.
5. The level of English is appalling, so be prepared to use google translate, pictures, hand signals and to learn some Korean. The Korean alphabet is very easy to learn.
6. Students spend many hours a day studying. After regular school, they attend after school programmes – such as English and Taekwondo lessons. They usually get home very late. If you are teaching at an English academy, you will most likely work long hours as opposed to at a Public School.
7. The transport is fantastic making it easy to travel. The buses, subway, train and taxis are great. However, taxi drivers are usually quite rude.
8. Koreans don’t wear swimming costumes but will swim in their clothes. They also do not appreciate women to show their shoulders in public and cleavage.However, short shorts are appropriate.
9. I would suggest you bring your own towels (size wise), toothpaste, deodorant (very expensive and hardly any brands), clothes for a year if you’re larger and medication that you’ll need for the year.
10. Internet speed is amazing and you can pick up wifi just about anywhere.
11. Koreans will drink soju with meals and is seen as a great bonding tool, especially with business men. It is a type of alcohol similar taste to vodka but less percentage of alcohol. It is drank in shot glasses in copious amounts. You’ll often see drunk men walking home at night. Soju is very cheap and can be bought at any convenience store. A typical summers night is spent drinking Soju outside a convenience store among foreigners.
12. There are convenience stores EVERYWHERE.
13. Shops usually open around 10/10:30am and are open late (8-10pm).
14. The foreigner part of Seoul is Itaewon, and you can find two South African restaurants there (Braai Republic and Twiga), that sell all sorts of South African food and drinks.
15. Try and keep your personal life to yourself because Koreans like to gossip a bit, especially at work.
16. It is very safe and you can leave your doors open/unlocked, walk around the street at night and take transport by yourself anytime.
17. Foreigners are always up to make new friends, there are many Facebook groups for different cities etc and they have regular meet ups etc.
18. The apartment given to you will most likely to be quite small, and there is usually not a closed off shower but rather a shower head in the middle of the bathroom to shower.
19. The women make use of squat toilets. Most restaurants will make use of those but otherwise, you should be fine finding a western toilet. Koreans do not flush the toilet paper down the toilet, but throw it into an open bin next to the toilet.
20. The men spit on the streets, a lot.
21. Koreans are crazy for fried chicken, beer, kimchi, rice and Kpop.
22. During your holidays, most foreigners will travel to other South East Asian countries as it is quite cheap.
23. There are private karaoke and DVD rooms which are very popular. You can get a group of friends together and go singing, or go watch a movie on a big screen with a couch and have drinks and snacks. These can be found almost anywhere.
24. It is more expensive to live here. If advice bringing R6000-00 to R10 000-00 ($600- $1000) for the first month in Korea.
25. It is not rude to use your cell phone during dinner or social events, or any time, in fact.
26. Drinking in public is legal.
27. You do not wear shoes inside the house you will take them off at the entrance and walk in your socks or in ‘inside shoes’. ‘Inside shoes’ applies at work.