Facts you did not know about South Korea
South Korea’s the country of the hour. Not only is Hallyu (the Korean wave) sweeping over the Western world, also traditional elements of Korean culture from kimchi to, well… most likely your smartphone (or parts of it) are gaining popularity world-wide. So, what’s there to know about this unique peninsula? Here’s everything you wanted to know (and didn’t know you wanted to know). From fun facts to cultural peculiarities: Ladies and Gentlemen here are 15 stunning facts about South Korea.
1. Korea is all about education
Korea is constantly ranked world-best in terms of education system and the knowledge of students as studies such as the PISA and the World Top 20 Poll suggests. But not only that, out of all OECD Countries, South Korea is the country with the highest tertiary university attainment for people between 25 and 34: 68% of Koreans have graduated a university or a similar educational institution. It’s no wonder then, that education is a massive industry in this Asian tiger state and that already in high school students spend up to 16h per day in school… This country is all about them studies!
2. South Korea has made one of the most impressive economic leaps in modern history
Back in the late 50s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries on earth. With a per capita GDP of 94$ (as compared to North Korea’s 140$ back then), it was below the poverty line. A controversial ruler, but most of all a hard-working people, changed this rapidly. In only about 20 years, South Korea turned from one of the poorest to one of the richest nations on earth. While it should not be forgotten that this all happened under an alleged and rather inhumane dictator, this economical leap is unprecedented.
3. There’s a widespread belief that fans in closed rooms might kill you
Korean’s aren’t scared of a lot. But if you put them in a closed room, put them to sleep and turn on a fan, you might be causing some serious anxiety. Where this belief comes from, nobody really knows but even nowadays it’s still widespread.
4. South Korea is the mecca of eSports
You’ve always dreamed of massive rooms where you and all your friends can play online games together on high-end computers. Or, as we all, you wanted to attend massive eSports events on the beach? Well, Korea’s the place. Computer rooms (PC bangs) in Korea are as normal as bakeries in Europe. And yes, also that eSports event exists on Gwangalli Beach in Busan. But beware, Koreans are world-famous for being some of the best eSport players in the world!
5. A soju brand is the most-sold alcohol worldwide—by far!
Would’ve guessed that vodka or gin top the list? Couldn’t be more wrong. For years, Jinro Soju has been the world’s best-selling alcohol! It might not be surprising, given that with 11.2 shots on average, Korean’s are also the world’s biggest consumer of hard liquor. Haven’t been able to try it yet? Time to visit Korea!
6. Almost half of all Koreans are either called Lee, Park or Kim
A relict of Korean merchants’ desire to grow in standing in the 18th century, a couple of names made it big in the peninsula. Especially Kim has a special position: one in five Koreans has this last name.
7. Kimchi is life – quite literally
Back in the days, when Koreans were poor and winters were long, there was not much choice for Koreans but to ferment cabbage to be able to survive. In essence, this is how Kimchi was born. This tradition is so deep-rooted in the Korean history and character that today you’d have a hard time going to a restaurant and not having any Kimchi. It is always served as a side dish—no matter where you’re at. Quite logical, then, that Koreans also say ‘Kimchi’ instead of ‘Cheese’ when taking photographs.
8. Koreans will always be a year older than you
Well at least if you both count in your native way. The difference is that in Korea, everyone is already one year old at birth. And not only that: on New Year’s, everyone simultaneously turns a year older! That means, in turn, that in Korean age, you could already be two years older than you are in an international age.
9. ¼ of the Korean’s had plastic surgery before
Korea is obsessed with looks. You’ll notice when you visit, people care a lot. So much, that many of them consider plastic enhancements. While the majority of those are relatively minor (double eyelid surgeries), the plastic surgery business in Korea is booming.
10. Love motels are all around
Something of a rather unusual concept for many Westerners, love motels are big business in Korea. Love what? Love motels, which include rooms for several hours or one night, mostly designed for one very reason. They range from budget to luxury, from basic to kinky. And why all that? Most young Korean live either in a dorm or with their parents until way past their student time. So, this is not (only) meant for hookups. Quite the opposite: many couples book a nice room for their date nights in advance!
11. The Korean entertainment industry is becoming one of the biggest in the world
K-pop, k-movies, k-drama, k-beauty… the K’s all around! Not only do you hear Korean music even in European supermarkets these days, but also the cinema has made it to the world stage. As one of the biggest global movie industries, it is also on the way to its first Oscar: Boon’s Parasite is the movie of the hour.
You might also be interested in: Watch out for the Korean wave!
12. Koreans respect rules
In Korea, people love to have a good time and they also love entertainment. But they are not crossing the line—pun intended. Even in bustling Seoul, you will rarely see non-tourists jaywalking or misbehaving. It’s part of the identity and the culture to not cause too much trouble or problems for others.
13. Koreans got their president impeached with a non-violent mass protest
Caused by many issues such as the lack of taking responsibility for the Sewol ferry disaster as well as corruption, back in 2016/2017, millions of Koreans took to the street to protest against their president (on a side note: this president was Park Geun-Hye, quite interestingly the daughter of the aforementioned, alleged dictator leader of Korea in the 60s and 70s). Their weapons? Candles! A mass protest without any violence or uproar (for reasons, see 12) but with something much more important instead: success. They were so ubiquitous in the media that they lead the assembly to impeach Park, who is now serving a 24-year sentence for a number of crimes.
14. The national hero is an ice skater
Yuna Kim is everybody’s darling in Korea. Just check out her Wikipedia, she’s basically won everything possible and sort of brought the Olympics to Korea on her own. You’ll always see a smile on every Korean’s face mentioning the three syllabus Kim Yuna (which is, by the way, the right order to spell names in Korea).
15. Food is the essence of everything in Korea.
If there’s one thing that describes Korea best, it’s the food culture. Not only do Korean people eat out a lot, eating equals well-being from Seoul to Busan. Saying ‘how are you’ can largely be associated with ‘have you eaten’. When parents talk to their children, they always worry about ‘eating well’. What’s more, watching live broadcasts of people eat is a massive thing in Korea, everything can be delivered, and food trends are a big thing: every season has their one-hit wonders and new food experiments. It’s for all these reasons, that Korean’s are sometimes called ‘Italians of the East’. And the unique Korean cuisine is a bit part of every Korean’s identity.
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Written by our former student Niklas!