A while ago, actually, like MONTHS ago, I was thinking about culture shock and writing and ruminating on my own “culture exhaustion” (a term I created (I didn’t see it being used anywhere on Google searches about ‘culture shock’ and ‘culture fatigue’) and wrote about in this post, How do you know when it’s time to leave Korea? — Julianne and Jason are going to China, WOO!) and while surfing the Net I ended up on youtube watching all these videos made by newbie native English teachers about culture shock issues.

There’s really not a lot to say as the videos do a great job of showing a wide range of issues, and a wide range of conditions . . .

Oh, NEWBIE TEACHERS! Don’t think that what you see is what you’ll get in these videos!  It’s a lottery–literally–and you might get a palatial apartment, and you might get an insect-infested-shoe-box-apartment . . . okay, that’s extreme but there is a HUGE range of conditions that you may or may not find yourself in–just come prepared to adapt to what you find yourself in.

Oh, and I’ll post a video I saw about a month or two ago of the absolutely unbelievable apartment two native teachers got that is by far the nicest and biggest and LUXURIOUS apartment I’ve ever heard of a native teacher getting in South Korea.

The Korean Shower (typical size and quality)

Culture Shock: The Telephone

Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern / Bizarre Foods – Live Soup In South Korea

My first day in Korea…horrible night before

Korea (and some Tokyo) 1/3 – Travelling Underground

Korea (and some Tokyo) 2/3 – Culture Shock

Episode 13: Fat in Korea

And now for the most luxurious apartment I’ve ever seen a native teacher get in South Korea (again, newbies, you will NOT get this kind of apartment so do NOT expect it! LOL!)

Oh yeah, I forgot that I put a list of culture shock items at the end of this post.  I might revisit them in a later post and write more about each–but I think it’s pretty clear what each item is and what it’s about.


When looking for a business think VERTICALLY.   Land and space are very expensive in Korea, so Koreans build vertically whereas most North Americans are used to horizontal landscapes.

School lunches . . . rice, soup, kimchi, something spicy, something spicy, and something spicy.

Collective responses from entire classes in 100% sync.

Scooters/mopeds/motorcycles on sidewalks.

Pedestrians do not have the right of way.

Bumping into people and not saying you’re sorry.

Public drunkeness.

Being openly stared at for long periods of time.

‘Squatters’ aka toilets in the floor.

Toilet paper as napkins.

Personal space is defined in an entirely different way, with an entirely different set of rules.

‘Everybody’ orders the same thing in a restaurant.

‘Everybody’ shares food with each other using their personal utensils.

Group culture and collective thinking.

Taking off your shoes when entering someone’s apartment.

Taking off your shoes to eat in a restaurant.

Sitting on the floor on a mat in a restaurant.

Smoking culture.

Drinking culture.

Same gender touching.

Not being able to say no to elders and superiors.

Bowing culture.

Invasion of privacy and personal info.

Typical size of living space is radically smaller than western culture, and the organization of space by function is very different too.

Appearance is everything.  Form over function every time.

Health care and treatment–getting your blood pressure and your blood taken in front of a group of waiting Koreans.

Work time and personal time do not have clear boundaries.

Korea is still primarily a cash culture–many places do not accept credit and debit cards.

Korean Internet and websites use Internet Explorer ONLY.

Violence in everyday interactions.

Violence in the schools (i.e. corporal punishment–you WILL see this on a daily basis).

Mountainous landscape over the entire country.

General Korean food culture.

Treatment of dogs.

Volume and proximity in public spaces.

Computer game culture and Internet Cafes.

Chinese Yellow Dust

Rainy season and humidity

Customer (lack of) service

Shopping and getting deals in the markets–not the same as other countries’ market cultures

Digital narcissim

Mirrors are everywhere

Public self-checking and preening

Portrait pictures MUST be taken with one of a limited number of fixed poses

Openly racist reactions to inter-racial couples

Antipathy towards Japan and America

Upon arrival and settling into apartment (sometimes/a lot of the time) not having access to: Internet, phone, cell phone, cable TV, washing machine, and other basic necessities.

NO DRYERS to dry clothes with.

Population density is very dense.

City design is pretty much haphazard, and can be difficult to navigate (though English signs are now fairly common).

Lack of easy access to things like deodorant, specific brand names of toiletries/shampoos….

Gender and fashion colors–PINK is not ‘gay.’

Touching when talking between same genders…

Rock, Paper, Scissors–decides everything.

Communal dishes–everyone’s chopsticks and spoons can and will go in the same dish, pot, whatever.

Slurping food and talking with your mouth full–somewhat common and not seen as rude but rather as a sign of enjoyment and that the food is delicious.

Radical nationalism in every day conversation.  Dokdo, American beef, and H1N1.

“You need to lose your weight.”  Telling foreigners they’re fat and need to lose weight is a common thing.

Shopping for clothes and shoes. If you’re bigger than an SMALLISH XL men’s, or size 10 shoes, good luck.  If you’re bigger than a woman’s medium or SMALLISH 8-10, or size 7 shoes, good luck.  GO TO ITAEWON.

The vast majority of Korean apartments do NOT have stoves with OVENS, usually they have a gas range.

The vast majority of Korean apartments do NOT have bath tubs.

Expect and assume other Koreans will look through your garbage and recycling when you put them in the bins.

Expect Koreans to openly and closely examine everything you have in your shopping cart all the while completely ignoring you.

If a Korean knocks it means they can come into your apartment–even without hearing you say come in or respond in any way.  LOCK YOUR DOOR AT ALL TIMES!

An unlocked door is an open invitation to enter your apartment.  (Female teachers need to beware of this!)

Every electronic thing in your apartment will be in Korean language.  The washing machine and water heater thermostat…