Some non-Koreans actually love Korea (see EatYourKimchi). I can't say that I hate it although some do. I lived in Korea for 3.5 years and I have also lived in Taiwan, China, Japan and have done a good deal of traveling so I wouldn't say this is the rant of a maladjusted ethnocentric American.
However, it is a little on the negative side as I didn't develop an aversion to any of those places like I did somewhat to Korea. But then again I lived in Korea for a longer time.
So why do most foreigners like Korea?
Is it the culture? I don't think so, most people teach in Korea for the salary, for the free air ticket, the free housing, the severance pay, the pension and the relatively low cost of living. Hey that's what I did and that's why I am writing this article now.
If all those benefits were in another country English teachers would go there. I think relatively few foreigners go to Korea for any other reason.
Ask a foreigner if they like living in Korea and what will they say? They may have their reasons, but I think the majority of them who say they like it actually like non-specific things about it. They like the situation. They like all the monetary benefits. They like the lifestyle and new found freedom. They like their friends that they have made (mostly other foreigners). These are all things that are not specific to Korea.
So then what sucks about Korea?
Don't be weird
Korean culture is conservative and some say it's traditions share some resemblance to Christianity. Being conservative is not uncommon in eastern Asia. China, Taiwan and Japan could also be considered conservative by some. And there is another reason why...
The city skyline is littered with crosses
Are you expecting a mystical or spiritual experience in Korea? Imagining a land full of temples and... Think again. Korea is a country that's packed with millions of parroting, brainwashed, idiotic, groupie Christians. Korea is at least 30% Christian and growing. Take a look at the city skyline and what will you see? Churches and hundreds of crosses on top of buildings. Temples are fewer by far. And this is really ironic considering Korea's pride.
Pride. I am KOREAN!!!
Here's a pretty funny joke by Dave Chappelle about Koreans. Compared to China and Japan, Korea is the unique one. Well, at least in the culture's eyes. It is unlike China and especially unlike its much maligned neighbor Japan. Korea suffered from the Japanese occupation and an air of resentment is still present to this day especially in the older population.
Koreans are really proud to be Korean. Which I think is pretty funny considering the fact that the most widespread religion in Korea is Christianity which is a foreign religion. It's not its own indigenous religious belief and at the same time Koreans are so proud to be Korean and unique.
Stop being weird and FIT IN
But while they are claiming uniqueness I find it to be very conformist. This may be part of the culture in eastern Asia. Here the group takes precedence over the individual. In other words what the group wants is more important than what the individual wants.
However, in Korea people generally dress in a similar fashion and follow the same trends and pop stars. There is little individual expression. Take a day trip to Japan and you will notice something quite different. People dress differently. There is more individual expression there.
Another example of this conformity can be seen in the high rise apartment blocks. Hike up into the mountains and look down on the city and you will see that so many of them look the same. They have the same drab appearance devoid of any attractive styling or features.
Need a nose job? How about a chin job?
Korea is SUPER... ficial. It's one of the most superficial countries in the world. Plastic surgery in Korea is endemic. You'll find clinics on the corner and advertisements in the subways. You can tell when a girl has just had some surgery as you can see her walking through the subway station with her baseball hat pulled down, and a mask covering her face. Many young girls in their very early teens will get it too. The most common one is the double eyelid surgery. My ex-girlfriend who was Korean estimated that around 60% of girls aged 18-35 have had at least one surgery. It's quite common and rather sad I'd say why Koreans are so into their looks.
And it's not only the girls, it's some of the guys and some of the young boys too. Check this video out and see the young boy wearing eye liner.
Racism in Eastern Asia exists although if you're Caucasian then you may never notice the racism as you're likely to get away with some things that you never would in your home country. Although you may at least notice the "No Foreigners Allowed" sign on some bar doors. If you're not white then you're likely to have a different experience.
And whether you are white, brown or any other race you're still not Korean and your blood is different. Many Koreans have a concept that their blood and race is superior to others. Here is another reference to being of mixed race in Korea.
In my experience I was once asked what the color of my skin was in a phone interview for a job. And according to my Korean friend Min, "Korea is a racist country".
Instances of discrimination in Korea
- Here's another take on racism in Korea from a Koreans perspective.
- Here's a story about an Indian man who was the first foreigner in the history of South Korea to go to court for racial discrimination.
- Here is another story about an African American male and an Irish woman who both suffered from discrimination.
Basically if you're a minority or gay even you're going to face some discrimination in Korea. Korea is generally not very tolerant of differences. Here is someone's experience with discrimination before they even got to Korea.
I am older so you do what I say
People with a higher status than you make the decisions. Whatever the boss says you are expected to do. Your opinion or take is often not highly valued - the boss or your superior decides.
Age is another factor in this hierarchy. People older than you are considered superior. In a public school in Korea you typically work under a co-teacher. That co-teacher has the authority over you. Foreign teachers are typically considered assistants. You're generally expected to say yes and do as your told. If your principal walks into the room you are expected to stand.
This hierarchy in Korea has caused problems with it's airlines. Korean Air had more accidents than most other airlines during the 1990's. These accidents weren't caused from faulty planes, but from cultural attitudes relating to this inability to question your superiors.
Stressed and not-so happy children
A study by KIHASA (Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs) showed that Korean children were the least happy and most stressed out children in developed countries. You can read more about it here.
I wasn't surprised to learn that as children there get way too much pressure to succeed in school. Some of this unhappiness leads to...
I'm not sure if any of the previous topics mattered, but apparently it's not only non-Koreans who think Korea has some problems. Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It's second only to Greenland.
There was a pretty nice park in Busan called Taejongdae island. It has a famous cliff there called "Suicide cliff".
You might not think Korea sucks, but consider why most people go to Korea. Here's a quote I found on Reddit that basically sums this up:
"I would choose somewhere because you actually want to be there - you want to experience the culture, learn the language etc etc. I taught in S.Korea and it's a very easy enjoyable life but the teachers there mostly don't go for the culture but for the money. So interaction with the locals is less than with the ex-pat community. It's not an ideal situation if you want to travel to actually 'experience' somewhere." - Readswere on Reddit
Not everything sucks about it.
Learn more about teaching English in Korea.