What to Expect When Moving to South Korea
South Korea is a great country to move to and there are lots of opportunities for foreigners, the people are friendly and if you like Korean food you are in paradise. But there are also a few things that you need to get accustomed to once you decided to move to South Korea.
If you are deciding to move to Seoul you will find lots of other expats and the Koreans are used to see Westerners, but if you move to a smaller city or town be prepared to get stared at. People may even point at you and talk about you while still staring at you. And they will probably give you a knife and fork when eating in a restaurant as they don’t believe you will be able to use chopsticks or as it is even tolerate the spicy food served to the locals.
As Koreans are smaller and slimmer than most Westerners it is very difficult to find fitting clothes. And if you are really tall you will probably need a custom made bed unless you like to sleep on the floor like many local families still do.
Western food isn’t easily available and if you don’t like kimchi, which is served with most meals you might have a problem. So if you like American, German or Italian food, South Korea isn’t the best place to be unless you do your own cooking.
The dress code is a little different from most Western dress codes as well, especially for women. Miniskirts and shorts who would be inappropriate in any workplace in the USA are perfectly fine in South Korea. On the other hand, tank tops and low cut t-shirts are a no-go as you should not show your cleavage, bareback or shoulders in public.
If you are greeting neighbors, people at restaurants or grocery stores or the security guard of your building you should do so with a quick short nod of the head. If you are at an official business meeting or a social gathering you will have to greet people by bowing to the other person. Many South Koreans will then shake hands with a Westerner, but please be aware that the bow comes first and that the senior person has to initiate the handshake. When you leave a gathering you will have to say good-bye and bow to each person individually.
When you get invited by Koreans to their home be prepared to have to sit on the floor. Even modern Koreans still prefer the old way of sitting and sleeping on the floor. And if you visit a local restaurant don’t expect chairs but try to get comfortable to dine while sitting on the floor.
Korean culture is strongly affected by Confucianism and the relationship between people in areas such as seniority is very important. People show respect for older people by standing up when older people enter the room, receive offered gifts with two hands, and when having alcohol together turn their bodies away from each other before taking a drink. On a bus, it is polite to always give up your seat if an older person gets on the bus. On the other hand older people don’t show the same respect for the younger ones. Be prepared to get shoved out of the way by older Korean men and women without hearing “sorry” or excuse me”.
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