Korean culture is very interesting and full of wonderful traditions. It is a magical place where you find both perfect peace and harmony, but unfortunately wars and tragedies as well. Korean culture rarely falls short of amazing. Use the table below to quickly jump to the section you are interested in.
Korea is a small penninsula on the far East side of Asia. It is between China and Japan. It is connected to mainland Asia in the North. It is separated from China and Russia by the Yalu River and the Tuman River. Between Korea and Japan is the East Sea. To the West between Korea and China is the Yellow Sea. The size of Korea is roughly 1,000 kilometers in length.
Korea is a divided country. At the End of World War II in 1948, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel. This resulted in North Korea and South Korea. North Korea became communist, while South Korea did not. (This was based on the deal at the end of the War, dividing the country in two just as Germany had been). North Korea is also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and South Korea is also known as the Republic of Korea. South Korea, or the Republic of North Korea is slightly larger in physical size, while South Korea's population size is about twice as large as North Korea's population size. The fact that this division occurred has left both North and South Korea on the bridge of war.
The Korean language is shared between both North and South Korea and is part of the Altaic language family. There are various dialects but the language is generally understood everywhere. 65 million people speak the Language, with 45 million speaking it in South Korea. The language is considered one of the best and most well planned languages in history. Hangul is the Korean name of the language. The alphabet was created by King Sejong in 1446. The alphabet is extremely easy to learn, which gives Korea one of the highest literacy rates in the World.
I once heard this childrens story about the language.
Story of the Language
You can also read up - in more detail, about the history of the language below.
Hangul on Wikipedia
Many Koreans also study English. It is taught from very early on in school. Many signs will be in both Korean and English. If you visit Korea, do not be worried if you do not know much of the language. You will learn what you need quickly and many Koreans will be able to speak some English.
Seoul is the capital and most important city of South Korea. It is very city-like and could be compared to New York City. There is plenty to do there, especially at night. Shopping stands are open during the night and it isn't a quiet place at night either! There is always something to do anytime of the day.
For more information on Seoul, click here.
There are also five other major cities; Pusan, Inchon, Kwangju, Taejon, and Taegu. Seoul is a highly populated city with 11 million people. Within a very small area near Seoul and surrounding cities, there is approximately 20 million people.
Although South Korea is modernizing extremely fast, it still holds on to many traditional values and the old way of life. Where there are not highly populated cities, there are rural area's which are still relatively poor, and still follow traditional ways of life. In cities, millions of people live in apartments, but in the rural area's you will find traditional housing. Also, even though the cities are headed toward very modern times, people still hold onto some traditional values. One thing that guarantee's this is the language. The language has traditional values of social status and respect built directly into it. Words change depending on who you are speaking with. This will keep traditional values always present.
is one of the older religions in South Korea. It comes from the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, similar to China and Japan. It's influence in society has declined recently, but there are still many Korean's that practice Buddhism. The pictures above are of various temples that followers will visit.
Christianity has become more and more popular in recent years in South Korea. Christianity was introduced to Korea by the Jesuits in China. Catholics spread very quickly, but were persecuted by the King who perceived it as a threat. Protestants began to enter Korea in the late 19th century. Some of the world's largest churches will be found in Korea.
Korean New Years
There are actually two Korean New Years. This is because Koreans go by two calenders; one being the same people use in the West, and the other being the lunar calender.
The Korean New Years based on the Western calender is similar to our New Years in the United States. It is a big national holiday in Korea as well, and occurs on January 1st just like it does here. During this holiday, many relatives get together to share time together and talk. In Korea, there are some old traditions that some people will still follow. One is to visit the oldest member of the family and bow toward them to show respect and to wish them a long life (this would occur on New Years Eve). The following day on January 1st people will pay respect to ancestors by offering food and wine. This ceremony is called Jaesa. At the beginning of the ceremony, the names of the ancestors are pinned to a board. The oldest family members bows and offers the wine to the ancestors who have passed away. Then, the names are burned. Later in the day, relatives talk about old times and eat food. The traditional food usually eaten on New Years Day is Duk Gook, a type of soup. Kimchi is always present.
The other New Years Day is the Lunar New Years. It is usually around February. People wear the traditional clothes called Hanbok. It also is a day relatives may get together. People will exchange gifts, and the children will definitely be happy because they are usually given money on Lunar New Years. Sometimes the Lunar New Years and the Solar New Years are pretty common and involve similar traditions. The main idea behind it all is to wish everyone a happy new year, good luck in the new year, same as everywhere else in the world, as well as pay respect to those who have passed away.
If you plan on visiting Korea during either of these times, book ahead!
Similar to our July 4th Independence Day, the Korean Independence Day represents when Koreans declared themselves independent from Japanese rule. It is on March 1st every year, and began in 1919 when the declared themselves independent from Japanese rule. Japan had taken over Korea in 1910. For the next 9 years, Koreans would live a hard life under Japanese control. Since they declared independence, every year they proudly stand for their independence from all foreign rule, just as we do here in America on July 4th.
Chuseok is the same as our "harvest moon." It takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month going by the lunar calendar. It is a day where the full moon appears larger and may look orange. This holiday is celebrated in many asian countries.
Since Christianity took hold in Korea, Christmas has been a growing holiday there as well. It is a little different than here in the west though. Many young people will use Christmas as a day to go out and party and then will spend New Years with their family, which is just the opposite of many Western families.
I just thought I would list this holiday because it is a holiday that should be introduced everywhere! On Children's Day, May 5th of every year, children are given money for free and taken on outings.
Hangul Day, also known as Hangul Proclamation Day and Korean Alphabet Day, is on October 9th in South Korea and January 15th in North Korea. It is just a day to celebrate the creation of the language!
Valentines Day, White Day, and Black Day
All of these are related!
Valentines Day is on February 14th, as it is here. On Valentines Day, girls will give chocolates and other gifts to the guys. It is similar to our Valentines Day but is more one-sided.
So, what should be done? White Day was created. On White Day, one month later on March 14th, guys will give more expensive chocolates and gifts to the girls. These chocolates come in white boxes. This way it isn't so one-sided!
But what about the people who feel left out on those days because they have nobody to give chocolates to? That is what Black Day is for! On Black Day, another month later on April 14th, people who have nobody all get together with their friends and eat JaJang Noodles, which are black in color. It is not as popular as Valentines Day and White Day, but it is still celebrated by some people!
Korean society places great importance on obtaining a solid education, and as such everyone strives to be as educated as possible. For the school system, it consists of 6 years primary school, 3 in middle school and high school, and 4 years at a college. After that, there are post-graduate degrees just like we have here in the US. Because education is of such great importance, parents will try to get their children into the best school possible. This leaves some schools in Korea nearly impossible to get into (i.e. similar to trying to get American kids into private schools and ivy league schools, but even more sought after). With the school system, it is somewhat opposite of our system in the United States. In the United States, it is fairly easy to make it through High School but many people struggle in college. In Korea, students work like crazy in high school trying to get into a college. Colleges are much more difficult to get into (And one other reason for this is they aren't quite as abundant as they are in the US). Once in college, life is a little easier, but students still study more than the majority of students in America. For Koreans, their whole early education is based around getting into a good college. That is what the parents want, and once you do that, parents will be extremely happy.
Education in the English language has become quite common in Korea in recent years. Students begin studying English in elementary school and continue for the rest of their education. Many educated Koreans will know at least some English now, so do not be worried if you visit Korea and only have limited Korean knowledge :) You should be able to find someone who can help you.
A few basic facts about Korean people. They are generally known for their darker complexion and high cheek bones. As a race, they can be extremely nice as long as you treat them with respect. However, just keep in mind that some cultural differences are involved so you may consider what they do as rude but they do not mean anything personally by it, it is simply thousands of years of tradition. One example of this may be with the older Koreans. Everywhere older people are respected, but in Korea they are highly respected. Sometimes they may appear to be pushy or rude to you, but it really is nothing personal :) Just a different place. The people truly are nice and helpful. If you need help and understand little Korean, they will help you. They love when you want to learn the language and will help you with that as well.
Some Koreans may still be stubborn and independent (I mean no disrespect!). Some are still very grouped (independent, but grouped.) What I mean is it hasn't been long since Korean's came out of the whole dynasty deal. You may find a lot of generalizations about each 'dynasty', such as the Lee Dynasty, Park, Kim, etc...and most of them are true! There are distinct characteristics that hold true, so older Koreans will ask a lot of questions about family backround.
If you travel there, you may get looks and feel awkward sometimes, but this is only natural because most people there are Koreans and asians, so any other race may stand out. That is nothing personal either :) I promise! You really should go sometime and enjoy it! It will definitely be worth the visit.
One common fact that many people never understand properly deals with birthdays. If you speak to an Asian online, you may get confused when discussing ages and what grade in school and everything. This is because birthdays are a little different. Korean people will generally have an age of 1-2 years older than someone elsewhere who was born in the same year. When a Korean is born, they are automatically considered one year old. Many Koreans then consider themselves one year older on January 1st.
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