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A Brief American Understanding of South Korean Culture

Buzzle Staff Mar 17, 2020
South Korea is becoming an important nation in the world economy, particularly in the technology sector. This situation means that many westerners will encounter Koreans in their daily lives, even if they don't travel to Korea themselves. Be prepared by learning a little about South Korean culture!

The Rise of South Korea

Over the past few decades, South Korea has become a significant force in the global economy, particularly in the tech sector. Korean tech giants like Samsung not only maintain huge sales figures in their home market, but enjoy increased market share in international markets.
A land of huge metropolises, talent, and rapid growth, Korea is a place you're likely to encounter in one way or another during your lifetime. Even if you never visit South Korea yourself, you may meet Koreans who have come to your country to visit or do business. If and when that happens, knowing a thing or two about Korean culture might come in handy.


Many East Asian cultures have a strongly collectivist mindset. This is even true in South Korea, which has long been governed democratically and has a more westernized culture than some Asian nations.
Although South Koreans may adapt more readily than some, to individualistic cultures of the west, they still display certain habits and opinions that may be foreign to westerners.
For example, when referring to their coworkers or family members, Koreans rarely use others' names unless they are present. A Korean will say "my colleague" or "my wife" even if he knows that you know that person's name.

A Hardworking Culture

Another interesting facet of Korean culture is the education system. In the United States and other western countries, children attend school for only 6 to 8 hours per day, and although they may participate in one or two extracurricular activities, they still have ample free time for playing and socializing.
In Korea, by contrast, children rarely have free time. In fact, they often have even less free time than adults. The reason for this is that Koreans value both breadth and depth in education.
A typical Korean student will attend public school for a few hours per day, and will then spend several more hours at a specialized school for math, music, or another subject. Sports practice, language lessons, or other activities follow, so that children's days often do not end until 10 pm.

Taboo Topics

When learning about another culture, it's always important to get a sense for what that culture sees as proper in conversation. In conversations between Koreans and Americans, for example, or between Koreans and British, this is especially important. Unlike Japanese culture, Korean culture is very open and friendly.
Koreans feel comfortable discussing aspects of their personal lives that would embarrass many westerners, especially those from the U.S. and U.K. For example, bodily functions like menstruation and lactation are not openly discussed with strangers in many western cultures, but Koreans do not shy away from these subjects.
In addition, it is often considered rude or inappropriate for westerners to discuss financial issues like salaries and debt. These topics are not taboo for Koreans, however.

Finding Common Ground

If you meet someone from South Korea, knowing a little bit about their culture, will help you communicate and get along. There are many more elements of Korean culture than are mentioned in this post, so it's a good idea to read up on intercultural communication if you anticipate spending time or doing business with anyone from a foreign culture.
Remember, people all around the world tend to have similar concerns: they want to provide for their families, be successful (whatever that means to them), and have fun. If you keep an open mind about other cultures, you should have no trouble finding common ground.