I have long been a fan of these cultural tips for foreen-ers to Korea. Recently I shared them with a group of (mostly international) students. Their responses were interesting. They agreed with some and disagreed with others and noticed a bias towards (against?) Americans in tips. I was very pleased with their thoughts and decided to collect some tips from them. Most of the students had been in Korea for less than a month, while a few had been here for around a year. Out of 45 students there were maybe 5-8 of them that were Korean by nationality or ethnicity. I asked the students to share tips they’d like to share with friends from home or things they wish they knew before they came to South Korea’s fair shores. I enjoyed the tips they came up with and thought I’d share them here:
(Please note, I made a few changes on the English but tried to preserve what they’d written so I included a fair amount of non-standard English. What jumps out at you in terms of English usage or anything else? Do you think the advice is good? Do you agree with their perceptions and observations? Comments of any sort very welcome.)
Language and culture
Learn basic phrases in Korean, Koreans like foreign people speaking Korean.
Learn hangul before you come.
Try to immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible.
Get to know about transportation before you come to Korea.
Some subway stations have express trains which will skip some stations.
When the subway train arrives there is always a song or signal to inform the passengers onboard.
Buy a T-money card.
There are more staircases (compared to escalators) in public places than back home.
There are some selected seats reserved for the elderly, children, people with disabilities and pregnant women. Don’t sit in these seats.
The starting price of the bus and subway is 1150 won and it gets higher by distance. You can transfer to other transportation within 30 minutes (with no additional charge).
The streets and roads are steep.
Pedestrians do not have priority.
Download the subway app and other transportation apps if you have a smartphone.
The lights to cross the street take a really long time.
Taxis are cheap.
Black taxis are more expensive.
Be careful of taxi drivers, they might take you the long way or try to rip you off.
Be careful of motorcycles and buses.
Be careful when you cross the street.
Cars don’t stop for ambulances.
Get used to walking a lot.
Foods are cheap and there are lots of restaurants.
Meat is expensive.
Get used to not eating much meat.
Get used to spicy food.
If it is red, it is spicy.
If you can’t eat spicy food, just eat bulgogi.
Get used to using chopsticks.
Get used to using metal chopsticks.
Koreans don’t have a full meal for breakfast.
When you order, point to the menu.
Not all Koreans eat dog.
Don’t be a vegan! Eat only vegetables is going to be hard.
You can find vegetarian food in Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae.
Drinks and drinking
Paper cups are used for drinking from public water dispensers.
Soju is a common (strong?) alcoholic drink in Korea.
When elderly people serve drinks to you and make a “sign” or eye contact you have to consume it as a form of respect.
Be aware of the heavy drinking culture.
Drinking in the streets in legal.
Water is available for free in many places like restaurants and retail stores.
The taste of coffee is different from what Brazilians have (so bring your own!).
There is no eye-contact when you are drinking.
Many stores are on the street.
Shopkeepers are more likely to alter prices to make them more expensive for foreigners.
Products are sold with a lot of packaging.
When you are shopping you don’t need a pin number on your card.
Supermarkets are open all day and all night.
If the price is no displayed you can negotiate, if it is displayed you shouldn’t.
Do not hesitate to hardly negotiate the price.
Bring bags for the supermarket, they are not free.
Clothes in stores are small compared to Western countries.
It is so humid in the summer.
Always bring an umbrella with you.
Korean clothes are really cheap.
Fun, entertainment and cultural experiences
If you want to go out for fun, you’d better go out after 12:00 am.
Try out the public bath houses.
Go to the Han River by bike.
Baseball is a famous sport in Korea.
Technology and Communication
They have really fast internet.
They have lots of gadgets.
Koreans use smartphones a lot.
Koreans love their smartphones.
There is free wifi in most cafes in Seoul.
Most grass fields are forbidden to enter.
Get used to attention on you as a foreigner.
People are asked to walk on the right side.
Watch Korean dramas to see how Koreans interact with each other.
Sarcasm is hard to understand.
Medical care can be expensive or confusing if you are not fluent in Korean.
Don’t be afraid to go out, people will help you.
Make sure you have toilet paper and don’t throw it in the toilet.
Don’t be surprised to see Koreans walking outside the hospital.
In Korea “niga” (니가) means “you’re” so don’t confuse it.
Smoking is allowed in specific areas.
Korean age is different from international age.
It’s not easy to speak English with Korean on the street.
Get familiar with the exchange rates and know what is a good rate.
Exchange rates at the airport are pretty good.
The number 4 is the same as the number 13 back home.
Couple clothing is a thing.
Koreans don’t make eye contact.
Alien registration number is used and required.
Never user your left hand when passing something to someone.
It is hard to find a trashcan on the streets.
You don’t need to worry too much about your belongings (there are not many thieves or pickpockets)