Living in Korea

Teaching and Living in Korea: Some Cultural Differences

As you can imagine, moving abroad is a big life change. When deciding to live in a new country, you’ll need to adjust to new foods, cultural norms, and everyday routines. For many, life in Korea offers a unique and fun experience.  If you are thinking of teaching and living in Korea, take a look below to see some of the cultural differences I found really interesting.

Teaching and Living in Korea: Some Cultural Differences

1. “How old are you?”

This is a question you’re likely to get asked a lot. The reason for this is that Korean society has been heavily influenced by Confucianism, which places emphasis on hierarchy; age is one way to determine hierarchy. In Korea older people get more respect in many areas of life and the language younger Koreans use to their elders is mostly very formal—in fact it is considered rude to use informal language to someone older than you. So, when someone asks you the question ‘how old are you?’ they are likely just determining how to talk to you in the appropriate way.

2. Shoes

Taking your shoes off when going inside. In most cases, this is expected. Schools, homes, and restaurants sometimes require it. At most places you can leave your shoes at the entrance and put on slippers before entering.

3. Dress Code in School

Be careful wearing shirts that show your chest or shoulders, especially when in school. Many of the older generation consider this to be inappropriate.

4. Two Hands

It is polite to accept and give money with two hands.

5. Drinking at Social Gatherings

Drinking is a big part of the culture in Korea—even at school functions. You can of course politely say no, but you should expect to see others drinking often.

6. The Number Four

The number four is considered unlucky as is sounds very similar to the Chinese word for death. When getting in an elevator, you may notice that some buildings don’t even have a fourth floor; they skip the number completely or use the letter ‘F’ instead.

7. Dressing up

Koreans love to dress well and take pride in their personal appearance.

8. Hand Gestures

Don’t call a cab by flagging them down with your palm up. Most consider this to be rude as it’s an action that is done when calling a dog over. The polite way is to place your palm face down when directing a cab to stop by.

9. Tipping

You don’t have to tip. In Korean culture, good service is to be expected and doesn’t have to be rewarded with a tip. While you may want to leave behind a token of your appreciation, it’s not necessary.

10. Eating

When possible try not to refuse food. Even if you’re full or not interested, you might want to give it a try just to show that you care.

11. Paying the Bill

Elders usually offer to pay when you go out to eat.

12. Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is not flushed in many parts of Korea. Instead, expect to place it in a bin next to the toilet. This may take some getting used to.

13. Holidays

Be prepared for some quirky holidays. For example, on April 14, Black Day is celebrated. On this day, singles get together to share a meal. Typically, jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with black sauce is eaten.

14. Red Tape

Expect a process of official approval. When waiting to get an answer for something important, expect a lot of red tape. There is often a hierarchy in place for approving things in Korea.

Teaching and Living in Korea

These are just some of the more different cultural norms that I have noticed while teaching and living in Korea. As you spend more time adjusting to Korean life, you will get used to some of these cultural differences and may even partake in some.

Written By Natasha Gabrielle

Natasha is a travel blogger, ESL teacher, adventurer, and sometimes runner—currently teaching and living in Korea. She blogs about living and teaching ESL in Korea as well as her travel adventures. Find out more about her and her travels at

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