I didn’t have the smoothest start, here in Korea. There was a very different picture in my head versus what I was met with. I had been to Korea before but as a tourist of sorts and although I worked for two weeks during my visit, I didn’t really get the feel of actually living here. The school I worked at for those two weeks wasn’t the school I ended up at when I eventually moved here, and the two environments are very different. The biggest difference, to me, were the schedules, my schedule at my current school has had much longer hours.
I’ve explained all that because I’m a very adventurous person and I like to get out. Being at my job until dark every single day for the first 5 months made me very unhappy. I felt like I couldn’t do much and I didn’t take in the good because I was feeling all sorts of sad. With this heaviness, I didn’t have it in me to truly observe Koreans. As the months have flown by, I’ve noticed a gradual appreciation start to develop and it’s been… great. When you’ve had a shitty time, it’s nice to turn it around with positivity.
Please note that I have only been exposed to Koreans living here in Seoul, I understand that they aren’t as conservative as those living in smaller cities. These opinions are just from my interaction with people living here in Seoul.
After long months of respectful observation, I thought I would share the things I love about Koreans.
Things I Love About Koreans
They’re hard workers
My 10-year-old elementary student doesn’t like Fridays. When I asked her why she said that Friday’s meant three additional schools after school. She goes straight from school to all of her extra lessons and arrives home at 10 pm. I can only imagine what my response would’ve been at ten years old if it was suggested that I go to extra lessons until 10 pm. They understand what is needed to be successful and they don’t shy away from it. No bullshit of entitlement or ‘you’re special – the world is just against you’ – they put in the hours and they work. I respect that.
They have an elegance that can’t be mimicked
Watching Koreans go about their lives just makes me feel like a clumsy idiot. They’re always put together and just… graceful. There is poise in both men and women that I envy. There is pride in appearance and their actions. Watching them to the simplest of tasks make me feel inferior, to say the least. Picking something up off the floor shouldn’t look so good – ya’ll are graceful swans and I’m a baby giraffe. Adjusting their seating position is normally done without the farting noise plastic ‘leather’ chairs make – it’s just witchcraftery.
They’re open in their vanity
“You can’t stop me loving myself” is the now famous English line in the recent BTS song. I feel like they’re speaking on behalf of Korea and they’re unapologetic. Makeup touchups in public? Sure thing. Selfies at every occasion with good lighting? Absolutely. There is no judgment or embarrassment when it comes to enjoying your appearance and there is something to be learned from that. In a society that is so hell-bent on giving you a tray of insecurities… say fuck it and take the selfie.
Men can be feminine and it’s… hot
Men can take care of their appearance by getting their hair done (perms are huge here) and having an extensive skincare regiment. With K-pop came the makeup trend where men can also highlight their features. Does it make them less manly? On the contrary, a well-groomed man is desired. There isn’t this toxic masculinity of having to squash out every ounce of femininity. A secure man can explore whatever they want. It’s… hot.
They share everything
All their meals and snacks are designed for sharing. If a Korean co-worker opens up a bag of chips in an office of 14 people – expect that shit to get passed around three times. Coming from a family of six, we were given our share and held onto it for dear life. This new mentality of ‘here, have as much as you want’ took a while to get used to. Even the restaurants are designed to accommodate large groups who order mounds of food and then split it ten different ways. Meal times are incredibly social and it’s very festive. And, of course, Soju is ever present.
They’re unbelievably fashionable
Have you watched “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before”? There’s a reference in it about how the lead is ridiculously fashionable. She’s Korean and they’re all fashionistas. They can pull off just about anything and so flawlessly. It looks like it takes minimal effort to look effortless. Even in the hottest of weather, they look poised and their linens are pressed. Tell me how. And it’s not just the women; the men take pride in their outfits and make sure they’re perfectly put together. I’d be lying if I said the green-eyed monster never raises its head. I try and fail miserably.
They’re respectful of elders
It’s not uncommon to have Koreans ask your age, they need to distinguish who is the eldest to address them as such. Older people are always given space to walk through doors first and board the subway before anyone else. There are a bunch of rules you need to know when it comes to addressing and dining with people that are older than you. It can be a bit much when you’re out drinking and the oldest feels he has first preference, but for the most part, I really respect this about Koreans.
So, in a nutshell – Koreans are hardworking respectful elegant swans. I think that covers everything? I feel like I’m getting to know this country more and more. This excites me; to live and know one culture would be a very boring existence indeed.