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Living and studying in South Korea may provide students an opportunity to explore a beautiful and vibrant country. Whether exploring South Korea’s large and bustling capital city, Seoul, or exploring the country’s lush coastlands and countryside, students are sure to enjoy a variety of interesting sights and gorgeous views. Students are also likely to enjoy South Korea’s rich and dynamic culture.
South Korea is officially known as the Republic of Korea. It is located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. It shares a land border with North Korea and oversea borders with Japan and China. South Korea’s terrain is comprised mostly of mountains with some coastal plains, rolling hills, river basins, and valleys. It has a humid continental and subtropical climate with four distinct seasons.
Korean is the official language in South Korea. Because the ethnic make-up of South Korea is homogenous (with the exception of a relatively small population of Chinese), Korean is the only language spoken throughout the country. The Korean language has numerous dialects, but the majority of them are similar enough that the majority of Koreans can understand them.
The national currency of South Korea is the “won”. In October of 2013, 1061 won was equivalent to 1 U.S. dollar. Depending on where one lives, one can rent an apartment and enjoy sports and leisure-related activities in South Korea for about the same price as one can in many parts of the United States. Groceries, clothing, private transportation, and the purchase prices of apartments, however, are typically higher in South Korea than they are in the U.S. Meanwhile, public transportation, utilities, and restaurants are typically less expensive in South Korea than they are in the U.S. Overall, the cost of living in South Korea is slightly higher than it is in the United States. Salaries, however, are slightly lower. South Korea has a technologically advanced transportation system comprised of highways, bus routes, ferries, and high-speed railways. Travel by air is also a popular mode of transportation. As mentioned above, public transportation is relatively cheaper than public transportation in the U.S. Private transportation, or purchasing a car and buying gasoline, however, is more expensive in South Korea than it is in the U.S.
Much of Korean culture is rooted in Confucianism and emphasizes family and community values within a hierarchical structure. The hierarchy is based upon relationships between people and emphasizes the social importance and relevance of familial and communal relationships. Harmony within families and between individuals is of primary importance in South Korea, and many Korean people focus on establishing, maintaining, and protecting individual and familial “kibun”. Kibun is a concept that has no direct English translation, but roughly translates to pride, emotion, feelings, and portrayal. South Koreans take great care to maintain respectability and status (social and cultural, individual and communal) through the diligent care of and respect for kibun. This is especially evident in many South Koreans’ focus on establishing and maintaining harmony, or a sense of peace, calm, and comfort in any situation, no matter the circumstances. Staple foods in South Korea include rice, vegetables, legumes (such as soy and mung beans), and meats. Popular flavors include sesame, ginger, garlic, spicy dried peppers, and fermented sauces, foods, and pastes. South Koreans bring their foods and flavors together to create regional specialties and dishes. Common specialties include soups, noodle dishes, stir-fried dishes, and raw dishes such as Miyeok guk, Baek Kimchi, Japchae, and Tangypyeongchae. South Koreans commonly serve multiple dishes during one meal so that people can enjoy a variety of foods and flavors. Meals are often times served with eumcheongnyu, or non-alcoholic beverages, such as teas, sweet rice drinks, fruit punches, fermented grain juices, and herbal beverages. Many South Koreans also enjoy alcoholic drinks such as beers, rice wines, and Soju. Much of South Korean film and musical culture is uniquely South Korean. The country is well-known for its locally-made television dramas and mini-series, and also has a relatively popular and well-developed film market primarily comprised of Korean-made films. Popular music in South Korea includes genres such as “K-Pop” and “trot”, both of which have unique and dynamic sounds.
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