Culture Shock in Korea | Guest blog by Xia



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Wow It’s crazy to think that I’m already almost at the halfway mark of my stay in Korea. It feels like I’ve been here for a year! It might sound cheesy, but time really does fly when you’re having fun! Over the last few weeks, I have really gotten into the groove of living in Seoul. From attending school everyday, learning Korean, and hanging out with friends on the weekend, I feel like I’ve built up a pretty good routine.

Studying Abroad in Korea

I really have loved my time thus far, as I am constantly learning more about myself while living on my own as well building connections with so many new people. I’m always learning new facts or experiencing new sides of Korea. For this month’s check-in I thought it would be fun to share 10 things that came as a “culture shock” or at minimum has been pretty unexpected.

10 Things that were a Culture shock in Korea

1. Driving on Sidewalks

While I don’t know if it’s legal, I oftentimes find myself seconds away from being hit by a car or motorcycle. Motorcyclists are constantly driving on the sidewalk to avoid traffic, and as a pedestrian you just have to move out of their way because they will not stop for you. I have found this to be amusing and scary at the same time. While I find it fascinating that it’s “legal”, it also is very dangerous and I am crossing my fingers that I will not get hit by a car or bike (pray for me).

2. Free WiFi everywhere

In Seoul you can expect almost anywhere to have free WiFi. Back home, I feel like free WiFi that actually works is hard to come by, but not only is it in literally every building you walk in, here it actually works. It’s pretty much accessible at all times, I really enjoy this aspect as I don’t have to use data as often and pretty much could use other devices like my computer anywhere I go. I wish more cities made WiFi more accessible, because it’s actually a really nice perk.

3. If you buy a drink “to-go” you have to go

So when I first got here I learned pretty quickly that if you buy a drink to-go you cannot sit in a cafe and they will politely ask you to leave. I’m still not sure why this is a thing, but I assume it’s because cafes’ might want people who actually ordered to eat in to have seats rather than have a cafe full of people who got drinks to-go take up all the seating. Again I’m not too sure as to why this is a thing, but I definitely have to always be actively conscious in deciding if I want to order a drink to-go. 

4. Students have to take classes taught in English to graduate

An interesting fact I’ve learned while attending school here is that Korean students (or at least at my university) have to take several classes taught in English, even if they don’t fluently speak the language or speak it at all. I was very shocked to see that a lot of my classes that I expected to be full of exchange students were full of Korean students. I mistakenly assumed only students who could fluently speak English would be in my classes. 

5. You need an ARC and Korean Phone number to do anything

Something that I definitely didn’t prepare for or expect is that in order to do mundane things like order items online, make reservations (on websites like Naver), get taxis, etc. you need an ARC or Alien Registration Card and/ or Korean phone number. ARCs are only available to foreigners with Visas who will be in Korea for more than 90 days, meaning I needed one. I also needed a phone number, so I got a Korean SIM card, which has made my life a little easier. While I could write a whole blog about the whole process to get an ARC, just know that without one of the things I mentioned above, basic things are significantly harder to do. Luckily I registered for my ARC so I should be able to participate in a lot more things, like for example I’ll be able to go to concerts because I have an ARC to purchase tickets. Yeah, so if you come to Korea as a tourist, just know that without a Korean Phone number or ARC some things may not be accessible.

6. Food is really cheap

Hands down one of the best things about Korea is how cheap food is! I literally can get fresh marinated crab from my local market for like $6 USD (the US could never). When I was back home, I always felt like I had to compromise on what I ordered because food and drinks are soooo expensive. But here I don’t always have to compromise because food is so affordable. I will definitely miss eating a full meal for less than $10 when I go back to the states.

7. Beauty services and products are cheaper

Just like food, all things beauty are so affordable! Makeup, skincare, plastic surgery, etc. are all significantly cheaper here than the US. I was truly surprised to see that skincare and makeup items I would usually spend a fortune on back home can be effective and cheap here. Plus there’s literally an overwhelming amount of products in beauty stores, and I feel like there’s something for everyone. I have also noticed quite a dramatic price difference in Korean skincare items that I’ve seen in the US vs in Korea. For example the same mascara that I paid $15 for in the US is only $10 here. Additionally, treatments like facials are really affordable here. One of my friends got a consultation, several laser and mask treatments for under $100, which would’ve easily cost her over $300 in the states. So if you ever find yourself in Korea, definitely get a facial because the price is unbeatable!   

8. Trash sorting

Okay I will not get too much into this one but just know sorting trash here is no joke! Basically you have to sort in clear see-through bags all your recycling. So for example clear plastics go together, soft plastics go in another bag, cardboard in another, and so on. You then also have general waste bags that vary based on your district and you must use the ones from your district or they will not collect the bag. Finally in another bag (that’s also based on distinct), you will throw all of your food waste away which is used to feed livestock. But just know even if you are a foreigner you can and will be fined if you sort trash improperly and they will know who and where you are due to their CCTV system. 

9. Break time

Okay I maybe should’ve seen this one coming but a majority of restaurants have a break time from around 3-5pm. During my first excursion out I arrived at a restaurant around 3pm and they were like sorry come back at 5, it’s break time. I think this is pretty standard for some countries, but I didn’t know this was also the case in Korea. Just know that if you’re hungry at the hours of 3-5pm either go get a snack at a cafe, or eat at a convenience store, because you will not be welcomed in until the break time is over.

10. Heated seats at the bus stop

Okay this last “shock” is a kind of like an added bonus. After clubbing one night I sat on a bench at a bus stop and I thought I was going crazy because my butt was warm. It turns out that some benches at bus stops are heated so you can stay warm while you wait for your bus. I just love how the public is actually taken into consideration within city planning and it’s the little things like this that make me love my new home!

Korean bus Stop

I hope you enjoyed my 10 “culture” shocks of my time in Seoul, South Korea. See you next month! 🙂 

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I’m a clean beauty expert, a plant-based recipe guru, a fashion maven, and a mature black woman embracing my natural hair, silver streaks and all.

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