Korea

Welcome to the Korean Culture Page!

This page, like all of our cultural guide pages, will forever be a work in progress. Please check back at a future date for additional information. If you have cultural or culinary expertise when it comes to Korea, please share! Email us at with your thoughts.

Cultural Notes

-Clean floors, please! Many Korean families sit on the floor at the table, older generations often sleep on the floor, and all visitors to Korean homes are expected to take off their shoes. As a result, Koreans see a dusty or dirty floor as a major signal of a filthy home.

-Korea is a cyber culture. Your student will likely bring a laptop and may spend many hours each day surfing the net, chatting with friends, or playing computer games. Define your home’s computer and internet policies before your student arrives.

- Compared to Canada, Korean society is far less individualistic. This affects socialisation and behaviour of Korean students in several ways:

  • Group dynamics and consensus building are very important;
  • Societal norms often seen as more important than individual wants/feelings;
  • Can lead to difficult adjustment periods as students are unsure of norms for homestay relationship;
  • Can lead to poor communication when students are asked to express their needs. Saving face (for all parties) can be seen as more important than an individual’s concerns;

- Ages and hierarchical roles emphasized;

  • Students may defer to elders, females may defer to males. Students may expect children to pay them or host parents a great deal of respect. This can be frustrating for hosts who ask students for their opinion and are met with shrugs or blank stares. This deference is usually a sign of respect;
  • Students are often surprised by lack of traditional gender roles in Canadian homes;
  • Unmarried Korean women and men often live with parents and have minimal home-making skills;
  • Duties of hosts and guests to one another understood to be more formal. Ceremony is appreciated. For hosts this has implications for first days especially; the relationship may founder very quickly if the host has not given due weight to appropriately greeting their guest and letting them know through words and deeds how pleased they are to host them.

- Bathrooms in Korea are wet. They have a drain in the middle, and the shower is generally part of the main area in the room. Almost everything in the bathroom gets wet when you shower, and Koreans often shower at night, before bed. Koreans are accustomed to wearing 'croc’ type shoes to protect their feet from the wet floors when entering a bathroom. Please keep this in mind if you find your student leaves water from one side of the bathroom to the other. This is not a concern for him/her as they are used to everything being wet! Gently explain that water drains are only located in the shower/tub area, and that when water is splashed it is cleaned up with a hand towel in Canada. Provide a hand towel for them to wipe it with.

Language

- There is tremendous pressure on Korean students to improve their English abroad. Expect your student to spend long hours studying in their room. As always, a little encouragement goes a long way!
- Be forgiving if the word 'please’ doesn’t seem to exist in your student’s vocabulary. In Korean language, there is no word for please. Instead, politeness is built into word structures.

*A terrific Korean language guide exists at lifeinkorea.com

Food

-The first thing to understand about Korean cuisine is the central role rice plays. Many Korean people eat rice at every meal. Rice is so important that a common “how are you” greeting in Korea is “bap meogeosseoyo?” which means “have you eaten rice?” Families who frequently host Korean students should consider investing in a rice cooker and learning about different kinds of rice.

-Bring on the spice! A lot of Korean food is very spicy.

-Kim Chi: fermented cabbage with shredded vegetables smothered in hot pepper sauce - it’s the national dish of Korea.

- With regards to homesickness and food: the national dish of Korea (mentioned above) is eaten at every meal as a side dish. Your student might be feeling a little out of sorts if there is no rice or kimchi at every meal. If you are feeling adventurous, buy some at a local Korean grocery or larger Asian chain store (T&T in Ottawa) and serve it in a small side dish on the table with meals. Something this simple can go a long way in helping your student feel at ease in your home. Experiment with the flavour (it is for many an acquired taste) and involve your student in “fusion” recipe ideas- brie and kimchi on a hamburger, or the like.

Further Resources

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