Learn about Korean social etiquette, communication, taboos and much more

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

What is ㅋㅋㅋ and how does dating work in Korea?

Hey, everyone! I am Yvonne, an exchange student in Korea and I´m back with new insights into South Korean culture, social etiquette, and useful information for every first-time traveler. My Korean friend Seyoung agreed to an interview, and here are the results: Please, enjoy!

two woman wearing traditonal south korean outfits are standing in front of a temple in seoul
Our student Yvonne interviewed her Korean friend to find out more insights into South Korean culture.

Please, tell us the three most important and most frequently used emojis in text messaging.

ㅋㅋㅋ is LOL or “kekeke”. The more s there are, the more you laugh.

ㅠㅠ is our sad emoji. ㅜㅜ is also expressing sadness, so some people just mix and (like that:ㅠㅠㅠㅜㅜㅜㅜㅠㅜㅠ)

ㅎㅎis gentle smile like 🙂 We also use ^^ to express happiness.

~ is my favorite emoji but it doesn’t really have a specific meaning. The emoticon ~ is often used to make requests or suggestions because it expresses euphemism and friendliness. (for example, 응 좋아~ (=Yes, I like it), 안녕~ (=Hello), 나랑 한강 갈래~~?! (=How about going to Han river with me?)

Please, explain to us the Korean drinking culture. Is there anything a foreigner should pay attention to?

Instead of taking shots, we prefer drinking 소주(soju), 맥주 (beer) and 소맥 (mixture of soju and beer). There are some famous combinations: 치맥 (=fried chicken with beer), 삼쏘(삼겹살 (=grilled pork belly meat with soju). Usually, on a rainy day, we eat 파전 (=Pajeon, a sort of savory pancake) and drink 막걸리(Makgeolli, Korean rice wine).

You might also want to read Differences between Korean and American culture

two people are holding two shots
It is very popular to have soju shots when you go out in bars in South Korea. Photo By The Creativv

Is sex before marriage a taboo in South Korea?

Not anymore. However, my parents’ generation is still against it.

How does dating in South Korea work? Where should I go if I am looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend? How do I approach a guy/girl? Who pays on the first date?

For many of my friends, their relationship with a friend naturally developed from acquaintance to boyfriend and girlfriend. If you are looking for a partner, blind dating is also an option and quite common here in Korea. We also have Tinder which is however not as popular among Koreans. Many couples also first meet at clubs or bars.

In many Asian countries, old people are taken care of by their families. Is this also the case in Korea?

Yes, in most cases, children pay for their old parent’s housing, clothes and the cost of living). Some elderly people go to a nursing hospital paid by their children.

How does the Korean government deal with homeless people and drug addicts?

The government provides food and housing for homeless people. Many charities and churches hold weekly events to feed homeless people. I don’t think that drug addiction is common, but we have a lot of people who struggle with alcohol. The government runs an integrated addiction management support center to provide rehabilitation programs for alcoholics.

Are there organizations to protect animals and the environment in Korea? How important is this topic to Korean people?

Greenpeace Korea runs many campaigns on environmental friendliness. We have a political party that promotes green living and environmental consciousness, but it isn’t that popular. There are animal rights organizations, but they are rather small, and they are not present in the media. Koreans care about animal and environmental protection, but they are not enthusiastic. In my opinion, the two most popular protection activities movements in Korea can be divided into the movement for waste separation and the movement for the protection of abandoned cats and dogs. Separate waste collection is very, very important here in Korea, we all follow the guidelines and the government strictly monitors it as well.

You might also be interested in: How is the situation in Seoul, South Korea?

Do you celebrate Christmas in Korea?

Christmas is a national holiday and Santa Claus is bringing the presents. There are many Christians in Korea, but there is still a huge difference between Christmas in Korea and Christmas in the Western World: I heard that Christmas in Europe is an important family holiday and everyone prepares and participates in making it an unforgettable celebration. But for Koreans, Christmas just like any other holiday. I think it’s more about the individual than getting together as a family. For example, couples will meet up and have luxury, romantic dates. The most important Korean holidays are 추석 (Chuseok, the Korean traditional harvest festival) and 설날 (Seollal, Korean Lunar New Year).

How do you celebrate December 31 as it actually isn’t New Year to you?

It is also New Year for us because we count our ages based on January 1. So, we get together with friends and celebrate all getting one year older. The Boshingak-bell is rung thirty-three times at midnight on December 31 every year. People pray and make wishes for the upcoming year. On Korea’s “real” New Year, Lunar New Year, the whole family will meet at their grandparent’s or parent’s house, eat 떡국 (=Tteokguk, a Korean rice cake soup) and celebrate.

fireworks during night
Koreans usually celebrate the Lunar New Year only with family. Photo By MILKOVI

What is “teacher’s day” and why is it so important?

May 15, we give carnations and letters to our teachers to show our respect and gratitude to our teachers. The semester starts in March and as May is in the middle of the semester, teacher day brings teachers and students closer together.

How does a typical Korean birthday party look like and what should you bring as a gift if you are invited to one?

I am not sure that if a “typical Korean birthday party” exists… Usually, we gather with friends at a café or restaurant, eat cake and give presents, that’s it. 미역국 is typical birthday food. 미역국 is for a mother because seaweed is really helpful for mothers who just give birth to a baby. We eat 미역국(=Miyeok-Guk, seaweed soup) as it is supposed to be good for pregnant women and they eat it a lot during pregnancy. Btw, we never eat미역국 during exam periods as we believe that the slippery seaweed will make us slip on the test.

I hope you now feel ready to dive into the colorful, captivating depth of Korean culture! Korea is calling!

Would you want to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea? 

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This interview was conducted by our student, Yvonne!