One of the things about me that tends to surprise my fellow study abroad friends is how fast I was able to adjust to Korean culture. I haven’t experienced much of a culture shock, and I largely credit this to my prior exposure to Korean culture in the United States. Regardless of whether or not you plan to study abroad in South Korea, I hope you’ll find these tips helpful.
1. Learn Beginner Level Korean
I’ve found this to be one of the most crucial piece to feeling at ease in the country I am studying at. I only took Korean for one year before coming to study in Seoul. That one-year beginner level has helped me ask people questions, order things at restaurants, reading menus (VERY IMPORTANT especially because many places in Korea do not offer them in English) and comprehending what people say. In my group of foreign friends, they usually rely on me to translate and order things.This has been vital to my life abroad, and it will be for you too.
2. Learn About the History and Cultural Norms
Before coming to Korea, I took various history, religious, and pop culture during my first two years in order to gain a better understanding of Korean culture. Once I came to Korea, I’ve been able to pinpoint many historical landmarks and know the history behind it, which makes the trip a lot more meaningful. You’ll also know a lot of need-to-know respectful gestures that are essential in order for you not to offend someone. Many Korean oftentimes view foreigners in a negative light due to cultural misunderstandings that occur. However, if you are aware of these things beforehand, you’ll change their views on these stereotypes. I’ve has various encounters with the older generation who typically are surprised at my understanding of their cultural norms, but am thereafter met with their praise and some small talk.
3. Make Korean Friends in Your Country
This has been such a help for me before coming to Korea. I was part of Korean Cultural Awareness Club at UCLA called Hanoolim for 2 years. I was an intern my first year and then became staff my 2nd year. Most of the members are Korean or Korean-American so I was able to get an understanding of the Korean youth and their type of lifestyle. I learned a lot of Korean games from them as well as experience membership training with them, which is something very common for students in Korea. In Korea, the friends I’ve made are always surprised to learn of my knowledge in popular games and chants, so they always respond by saying: “You’re basically Korean”.
I hope these tips can help you adjust to the Korean way of life! Enjoy, you’ll have a blast.