South Korea is a truly fascinating country, and we defy anyone to spend time there and not fall in love with it! And, just as with people, where it’s the crazy quirks that you fall in love with, you’ll probably find that it’s the quirks of South Korea, and its people, that you end up loving the most!
We’ve put together a list of the Top 10 Crazy and Fun things we know about South Korea that will (hopefully) give you even more incentive to hop on a plane and discover this Southeast Asian gem. Trust us – you won’t regret it!
1. You’ll age more quickly!
No, it’s not in some sort of time-warp. Along with several other Asian countries, South Korea uses a different way of calculating age than the Western world, meaning that your ‘Korean age’ will be either one or two years (depending on what month you were born in) older than your ‘Western age’. Using the traditional system in South Korea, babies start life at 1 year old, as you are considered to be one in your first year of life, two in your second year of life, three in your third year of life, and so on. However, in South Korea, everyone ages up on the Lunar New Year (Seollal) in February, and not on their actual birthday. For example, a baby born in January would be one year old when they were born, and would then turn two on Seollal in February, even though they would only be a few days old according to the Western system!
It can be confusing so, hopefully, those years you gain when you land will give you extra wisdom, and not extra wrinkles!
2. It’s Kimchi, not Cheese!
Don’t make a fool of yourself when you’re asking people to smile for a photo. You need to make sure your instructions are, ‘Kimchi!’(the national dish, based on fermented vegetables and spices – seriously delicious!) and not ‘Cheese!’, to avoid being met with a blank set of expressions (or being provided with some cheese)! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
3. Beards are bad!
Sorry guys! It doesn’t matter how much grooming you do or beard oil you use, unfortunately, all beards are considered pretty dirty and unkempt in modern day South Korea. So, you’ll have to have a close shave if you want to make sure you’re not avoided in the streets!
4. This number is very unlucky!
Every culture has their own superstitions, and the ones in South Korea are no stranger than most! They are, however, worth knowing to make sure you keep your South Korean friends happy and stop you assuming that no one there knows how to count from 1-10! The number 4 is considered very unlucky in South Korea, as the words for ‘death’ and ‘four’ have the same pronunciation in Korean. When you get in a lift the button for the fourth floor will often be F, instead of 4, or sometimes skipped altogether, and you should never give sets of 4 as a gift! It isn’t just the single number 4, the numbers 14 (which sounds like ‘time to be deceased’ in Korean) and 44 (which sounds like ‘died and deceased’ in Korean) are also given a wide berth.
5. No red ink!
Another South Korean superstition centres around the use of red ink in pens, especially if you’re writing people’s names. Basically, AVOID AVOID AVOID! In South Korea, writing someone’s name in red ink means the person is about to die or is already dead. Definitely don’t try it in your TEFL class, as you’ll incite a slow-motion style ‘nooooooo’ from the students, as they dive to take the pen out of your hand!
6. Dates are anyone’s guess!
While American English uses the month-day-year format, and British English uses the day-month-year format, Koreans usually (depending on their education) go for year-month-day. So 10/9/12 could be October 9th 2012, September 10th 2012, or September 12th 2010! Keeps life interesting at least! Especially when it comes to sell-by dates…..
7. Shop ‘til you drop (literally)!
South Koreans LOVE to shop, so much so that most department stores are open until 4AM! Just for context, most restaurants and bars close at 11PM! So, if you prefer to shop after your evening meal, South Korea is the place for you!
South Korea also houses the largest department store in the world, the Shinsegae Cetumcity, which can be found in Busan. It has everything that you could ever want to buy (no, really!) and it even has an amazing spa, a calming roof garden, and a massive 60 tee golf driving range, in case you need a break from all that shopping!
8. No tips!
Be careful when you’re paying for your meal in South Korea (especially if you’re from the USA) to make sure you pay the exact amount, rather than leaving a tip on top, as tipping the wait staff is often seen as an insult! This is because the staff are well paid, so they don’t depend on tips to boost their wages. Great news! You’ll be able to save money, so you can eat out more often! Win-win!
9. Magic buildings!
The rate that buildings appear and disappear in South Korea is nothing short of astonishing. One week you’ll walk past a hairdresser, and the next week it will have morphed into a fully refurbished restaurant. It’s like living in some sort of video game that is constantly being redesigned and it’s great as you’ll constantly have new places to explore! Life will never be boring!
10. Couples match!
In South Korea it’s super common to see a couple dressed in exactly the same outfit as each other. And we’re talking down to the same socks here! So, if you’re heading over there with your other half, make sure you’re stocking up on the same clothes before you leave!
And there we have it, 10 fun and interesting quirks about South Korea that make it a truly brilliant place to TEFL! If you’re looking to travel and teach in South Korea, then why not take a look at our 12-month TEFL internship? You’ll be fully supported the whole way through, get to earn an amazing wage, and you’ll be with a group of like-minded individuals (aka ready-made travel buddies)!