Both scary and exciting; no matter how much you prepare for your trip, culture shock is bound to happen, so embrace that uncomfortable feeling!
It’s important to bare in mind that everyone feels culture shock in varying degrees. Here are my top 5 things that you may experience in Korea.
1. Dining Out
Sharing is caring. Korea adopts a collectivist culture and this is certainly reflected in the dining experience. Dinner is a very social experience and often a dish will be placed in the middle of the table with lots of banchan (side dishes) for everyone to tuck into. There’s also a number of table manners to remember, which can be quite daunting, such as waiting for the oldest person to eat first, pouring a drink in the correct way or even waiting for the oldest person to finish before leaving the table. If that’s not enough to remember, just one more thing…there’s no need to tip as it’s considered rude, so save your change for soju!
Whilst showing public displays of affection is kept fairly reserved on the whole, Korean couples still take all things ‘lovey-dovey’ to the next level, particularly when it comes to clothing. Whether it’s matching bags, socks, shoes or even hanboks (so adorable); there are often couples who wear the same outfit to show the world how much they care about each other (awww)! There are even holidays to remind you of your relationship status: Black Day, White Day, Peppero Day – it’s all too much! It is also not uncommon for couples to download Korean apps that remind you of your anniversaries and counts the number of days (and hours) you’ve been dating!
3. Love Motels
One of the novelties of love motels is that you can rent rooms by the hour and they’re pretty cheap, which makes them a popular choice for travellers! Adorned with bright, flashing, neon lights, these motels are very hard to miss, and there’s plenty of them. One of the most bizarre and fun parts about staying overnight in a love motel, is that some have themed rooms; from a London skyline to soju bottles, there’s something for everyone.
4. Public Transport
In the UK, queuing (lining up) is a big deal. Everyone waits their turn and if you push-in, or mess with the system, it’s deemed impolite. That notion gets chucked straight out of the window in Korea. When getting on a bus or subway, it’s really a free for all, but it’s honestly something you’ll gradually get used to (don’t take it personally). One last thing, if there’s a priority section for older people, whatever you do, don’t sit there! Even if nobody needs to sit there, it’s an unspoken rule which may get you some funny looks.
5. Going to the Bathroom
Squatter toilets. There, I said it. It may seem a little funny at first, but they are actually much healthier for you to use and it becomes more comfortable with time! If you’re in a public bathroom, don’t be too surprised to see them. Also, remember to take toilet paper in with you – there’ll be a dispenser on the bathroom wall instead of inside the cubicle. When you’re finished, toilet paper will usually go into a bin/trashcan, rather than being flushed, to ensure the toilet doesn’t get blocked!