Culture shock in South Korea

I have lived in a couple of different countries teaching English and one of the strangest places was South Korea. I moved to South Korea from Vietnam just before new years to teach at a winter camp for 1 month during January ’08. Not only was it a big culture shock it was also a huge adjustment to move from the tropical weather of Ho Chi Minh to Jeonju in the south of South Korea.

It snowed for my first 3 days a shock to the system coming from hot and humid Vietnam but the whole place looked picture beautiful covered in white. I sat in my new dorm room watching the snow fall and the mountains in the distance, wondering if I had made a mistake coming here.

The school where I was working was not in town, it was a couple of miles outside of Jeonju. A quiet little place with not much going on. I stayed on school property and got 3 meals per day in the school canteen. Most Korean food is spicy and hot and that is something I really can not stomach. They love this very spicy cabbage that’s been fermented in chillies, named kim chi. Unfortunately they loved to mix this in with the fish or chicken and even with the rice sometimes. So some evenings I would only be able to have rice or veggies, so I was quite hungry by the end of the month.

There was a local bus I took in and out of town a couple of times although it was not very pleasant waiting out in the cold snow for the bus. This was mainly due to me not having the correct winter wear for these snowy conditions.

The first time I went into town to look for a coffee shop to sit and read in I got a rude introduction into the Korean culture. The coffee shops refused to seat me because I was alone as if that is a crime. I finally found a small weird coffee shop that would seat me and that became my usual hiding place on weekends or evenings out. On snowy wet days I would head into town and sit in this sweet little coffee shop reading on their comfy couches. Whenever I ordered a hot chocolate or coffee I got a plate full of different cakes for free and once even got an ice-cream, in the midel of winter!!

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38 comments

  1. That’s really weird that they wouldn’t seat you on your own. I have travelled alone a lot in China, and it was never a problem to sit alone in a cafe or even a restaurant.
    But I like it that you got the cakes for free. That is so nice! Hahaha the ice cream in winter is something very unsimilar to China though. Chinese people fear eating or drinking cold things, even in summer :’D I thought koreans were similar to that.
    Oh, I really tried giving the korean cuisine a chance, but I guess it is even spicier in Korea, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit that the Chinese and Korean cultures are totally different. I have travelled in china and Korea and only experienced this problem in Korea. The food in Korea is really spicy and that was actually one of the main reasons that I didn’t stay very long.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m surprised you were refused at the coffee-shop ’cause of being single as the Korean women themselves look quite ‘liberated’ today. I wonder if they’d mete out the same treatment if a native single woman walks in

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a culture shock! I remember some of my colleagues spending 3 months in South Korea on business and all 3 ended up loosing weight, as like you, they could not stomach kim chi. Glad you found a place to help you through this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that they would not seat you in the coffee shops. Do you think it was because you a woman or just because you were alone? I’ve had a couple of problems getting seated in Italian restaurants when I was traveling alone. Always makes me mad.

    Liked by 1 person

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