The "Living In" Series:

by Rob Whyte and Kyoung-Mi Kim

First Edition

Introduction 1

1. First Steps 5
1.1 Money and Banks 6
1.2 Food 7
1.3 The Eating Style 10
1.4 Restaurants 10
1.5 Coffee Shops and Tea Houses 11
1.6 Tipping 11
1.7 Drinking and Smoking 12
1.8 Short-Term Accommodation 13
1.9 Long-Term Accommodation 15
1.10 Mass Media 16
1.11 Internet Services 16
1.12 Telephones and Pagers 17
1.13 Mail and Faxes 18
1.14 Transportation 18
1.15 Street Addresses 20
1.16 Shopping 21
1.17 Health and Safety 22
1.18 Electricity 23
1.19 The Environment 23
1.20 The US Military in Korea 24
1.21 Pyung Conversions 24

2. Country Facts 25
2.1 People 25
2.2 Geography and Climate 27
2.3 History 28
2.4 Japanese Colonial Rule 29
2.5 The Korean War 1950-53 30
2.6 North Korea 32
2.7 The South Korean Military 33
2.8 South Korea's Economic Miracle 34
2.9 Government 35
2.10 Education 39
2.11 Holidays 41
2.12 Religion 43

3. Customs and Values 45
3.1 Confucius 46
3.2 Group Culture 47
3.3 Nationalism and the Concept of 'We' 48
3.4 Names and Titles 49
3.5 Time 50
3.6 Personal Space 51
3.7 Family Life 51
3.8 Public Baths 53
3.9 Public toilets 53
3.10 Singing 53
3.11 Games and Leisure 54
3.12 Alcohol and Tonics 56
3.13 Eating Dog 56
3.14 The Arts 57

4. Manners 61
4.1 Invitations 61
4.2 Bowing and Handshaking 62
4.3 Displays of Emotion 64
4.4 Eye Contact 65
4.5 Shoes 66
4.6 Dress 66
4.7 Drinking Customs 66
4.8 Eating Customs 68
4.9 Gift-Giving and Thank You's 70
4.10 Humor 71
4.11 Silence 71
4.12 Business Cards 72

5. Employment and Immigration 73
5.1 Teaching English as a Foreign Language 73
5.2 Opportunities for Teachers 74
5.3 Other Employment Opportunities 76
5.4 Employment Visas 76

6. The Korean Language 78
6.1 Basic Information 78
6.2 Pronunciation Guide 80
6.3 Substitution Sounds 82
6.4 Adopting New Words 82
6.5 Regional Dialects 83
6.6 Important Words and Phrases 84
6.7 Counting Money 85
6.8 Restaurants 86
6.9 Signs 87
6.10 Studying Korean 88


When most people are asked to name one or two Asian countries, China and Japan usually come to mind first. And why not? Both countries possess long and colorful histories, they are major players on the global political and economic stage, and each has produced a unique set of well-known cultural icons. Chinese cuisine, the Great Wall of China, and Tiananmen Square are recognizable Chinese icons. Sushi, Sony, and Toyota are globally recognized symbols of Japan. China and Japan define Asia for many Westerners.

Hidden under the China-Japan Oriental blanket is South Korea. In the West not much is known about this gem of a country except that it served as the backdrop for the popular American TV show MASH. Korea's relative obscurity is unfortunate because it compares favorably with its two Asian neighbors. It has a long, fascinating history; it has many well-preserved ancient sites and relics, and it is a thriving modern society based on a 2,500-year-old system of beliefs.

The purpose of this book is to give Westerners a brief introduction to South Korea. It doesn't try to provide colorful descriptions of all things Korean, nor does it guide tourists to the most popular attractions - a number of books already on the market do that fairly well. Instead, this book is designed for students and teachers, tourists and business travelers who want information that will make surviving, living, and working in Korea easier and more interesting.

We use the word "survive" in recognition of the fact that life in Korea is not always easy. Visitors should not expect a few weeks of rest and relaxation on balmy beaches; Thailand and the Philippines are much better equipped for that kind of Asian experience. On the contrary, Korea will take you out of your comfort zone. Running headlong into Korea's often fascinating, usually bewildering, two-millennium-old culture will challenge the way you think about the world and yourself. For the adventurous, this is a place where Westerners can intermingle with a vastly different culture.

Westerners who come to Korea are sure to encounter culture shock. From the historical forces that shaped the belief system to the organization of contemporary society, every important aspect of Korea is unlike Western life. The unique and challenging quality of this country should not deter anyone from coming. After all, the hallmark of any truly memorable trip is the opportunity to experience something new and, in doing so, to learn something about oneself. Seen from this point of view, Korea can be a great trip.

Getting you ready for a fascinating adventure is what this book is about. Chapter 1 sets the stage by explaining the basic information every visitor to Korea needs to know. Banking facts, an introduction to the food, and a description of the different kinds of housing are three examples of the topics covered in this chapter.

Chapter 2 provides the reader with important country facts. One of the main themes of this book is that first-time visitors to Korea will experience culture shock, and that knowledge is one way to overcome this potentially negative experience. For this reason, Chapter 2 includes a snapshot of Korea's tumultuous 20th century. By understanding a bit about modern Korean history, it is possible to appreciate, however modestly, the why and how of modern Korean society. Chapter 3 highlights the important aspects of Korea's customs and values. Continuing on the theme that knowledge is power, this chapter includes a brief overview of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher whose ideas have shaped Korean thinking.

Chapter 4 describes various forms of polite behavior. All countries have standards for good and bad manners, and Korea is no different in this regard. What sets Korea apart from the rest is that proper social etiquette entails a complex web of rituals coupled with an astute awareness of one's circumstances and the social position of other people. In most cases, visitors will not be expected to know or follow these rituals. However, foreigners who want to develop long-lasting relationships should learn and follow these codes of conduct.

Chapter 5 provides information regarding employment and immigration. Each year, thousands of foreigners come to Korea in search of work. Some leave after a short time, utterly frustrated by what appears to them to be a strange sense of right and wrong. This is unfortunate because a number of problems might have been resolved through a combination of patience and an appreciation of how Koreans see the world.

Chapter 6 provides a simple Korean pronunciation guide. Though the Korean language is complex and takes years to master, the alphabet is quite simple and can be learned in two or three hours. Knowing how to read Korean will greatly enhance the quality of one's time in this country by simplifying daily tasks. A selection of words and phrases commonly used for traveling, shopping, and eating are also included in this chapter.

Finally, a few notes about terminology. This book uses a variety of terms to describe non-Koreans. The term "Westerner" is meant to describe people from Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, regions and countries founded on the principle of liberalism or the idea that individuality should be regarded highly in society. As any visitor will discover, the concept of individualism is foreign in Korea. The term "expat" means expatriate and describes people from one country who live in another. The word "foreigner" describes people who are not from Korea.

All monetary amounts expressed in dollars refer to U.S. dollars. For the sake of brevity, we use the words "Korea" and "Koreans" when referring to South Korea and its people. As most readers know, there are two Koreas. The other one is officially called the People's Democratic Republic of Korea. Throughout this book, we refer to it by the common name "North Korea."


Rob Whyte and Kyoung-mi Kim wrote this orientation to Korean culture while living in the city of Pusan, South Korea. After four years of exploring and getting to understand Korea, Rob felt that his was an adventure that exceeded all his expectations. He holds a Masters of Science from the University of Toronto and has co-authored five EFL textbooks. In Pusan he worked as an English conversation instructor in both private language schools and at a university. His wife Kyoung-mi was born and raised in Pusan. Fluent in several languages, she is an
experienced English teacher and co-author of several EFL books published in Korea. A graduate of Pusan Women's University, she holds a BA in Child Psychology. They currently live with their family in Ontario, Canada.

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