The Skinny on Korean Stereotypes

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March 13th 2010
Published: March 13th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY


Not nearly as studious as most ESL recruiters might make you think they were ;)
Hello world, I am back again. Instead of summarizing my life, I figured it's about time to tackle some Korean stereotypes. Hope this clears things up for you, or reaffirms what you know, or maybe even makes you chuckle.

1.) Height
Yes, Korea is an Asian country. Yes, Asian people are notorious for being of short stature. HOWEVER things are a changin'. Korea is known for having the highest average height in all of Asia (at 1.739 m across 19-year-olds in 2006). For those of you who don't understand that, in the United States, the average height for 20-29 year old is 1.776 m (5 ft 10 in). What this means pretty much is that I am frequently dwarved by the my Korean peers, and that a shit-ton of Korean guys make my friend Andy (6'6") not look monstrously tall.

On the other hand, the elderly seem to have bowed-legs, hunched backs, and are rather short. Probably because they were malnourished as children/adolescents. It's actually kind of funny seeing old Koreans and young Koreans together because the height difference can be phenomenal!

More StudentsMore StudentsMore Students

Playing with their high-tech phones and waiting for the bell to ring!
Asian Student Stereotype
"Oh wow, you're teaching in Korea?! I bet your kids are all so much better-behaved than American kids!"

How I wish this were true. Alas, not so much. I did my time as a camp counselor back in the States (5 summers. 5 chaotic summers), and I can honestly say that no matter where you are in the world, kids are kids are kids. If anything, the kids here are more antsy than the ones back home because they got to school and academies all day. Seriously! One of my students told me his schedule: Violin lessons in the morning before school, breakfast, then school, then English Academy , dinner, then Computer Academy , and then homework, and then goes to bed at like 12.

Can you fathom that?! It's insane! No wonder these kids are itching to get up and run around the classroom; I would be, too!

3.) Hygiene
I know, I know. When you're in your Western world, it's always fairly easy to pick out the smelly foreigner.

I can assure you this: that foreigner is in no way, shape, or form Korean. Koreans, for the most part, take hygiene to a new level. I can't even explain how much of their culture is actually based around bathing. There are the Jimjilbangs, the public bathhouses/spas, where you can literally hang in a sauna, tub, shower, etc. and get the scrub-down for literally HOURS. These are madd popular because Korean bathrooms are only equipped with showers. So the jimjilbangs are pretty abundant.

I will say, no, I have not yet gone. BUT I will do it before I leave. I have tons of Western friends that go regularly, and I think if I have a beer or two before I go, I can tackle the public nudity. haha

4.) Technology
Before I came to Korea, everyone and their mom praised Korean technology as if it was some sort of alien gift to humanity-- like Korea was actually not from Earth, but in fact something from Star Wars.

Lies. Yes, there are some things that are definitely more technologically advanced here, clearly the people who wrote those blogs were not as, I guess, "tech-saavy" as I "am." (Because really, while I'm more tech-saavy than the average bear, I'm certainly no hacker/computer engineer/hardcore gamer). My internet is probably about the same as it is at home, and I find that to be standard both at work and in the PC Bangs. Though, my cable cuts out less often than Comcast (shove that in your pipe and smoke it, Comcast!).

GPS devices in cabs usually are accompanied by TVs with satellite of some sort. Now, I think if it was remotely safe for something like this, we'd probably implement it, too (think: how many of you have TVs/DVD players in your minivans anyway?). BUT as this is ON A GPS DEVICE... IN A TAXI... IN A METROPOLITAN AREA... clearly, unsafe and unpractical.

They *do* have TV on their phones, however, which is kind of sweet... but then again, like *everyone* uses public transportation here. It makes sense to pass time watching a game show (with headphones, thank you courteous Korea) on a subway car rather than on your daily commute into the city at home. Another cool thing about phones is that they come with updatable (is that even a word?) subway maps. So I plug my phone into the computer, and it downloads the new maps for the subways . Additionally, it comes with a unit converter as well as a Korean-English dictionary. So useful. So I would say that while it's not "more advanced" than technology at home, it does have a lot of useful aspects that we just don't utilize.

5.) Driving
Okay, so this might be just my opinion, BUT... the majority of Korean drivers are not bad. *Most* (definitely not all) of the cabs I ride it probably drive like I would. Mind you, I'm a pretty aggressive driver. There are some who are insane; instead of letting off the gas when the guy in front of them brakes... they will just keep gassing until they have to pass. Sometimes. And sometimes (like that frightful night to our hotel in Seoul back in November), you feel like you might actually die because you're just gonna follow your own rules of the road... thanks for not killing us, taxi man.

But seriously, this is a city, and I can imagine it being MUCH MUCH worse than it is. Soooo leave the Asian Driver stereotype at home... you're fine here.

6.) Business as Usual
From what I can garner, being a foreigner at a Korean-run business is kind of like stumbling around blindly in the dark and hoping every-so-often a lightning bug lights up enough to give you a remote idea as to where you are/where you are going/what you are doing. We find it extremely lucky when we are fortunate enough to receive some sort of notice before something happens.

Example, I found out the "Desk Teacher" at my branch moved to another branch. After she told us she'd see us on Monday. That's pretty much standard.

We were all super psyched when we found out several hours after the students did that there would be a "Point Party" the following week to redeem the "Points" they had acquired during the semester. It went like this: the desk teachers came into the classes with papers entirely in Korean . The kids went crazy. We resumed class. Later that night, we find out the papers told the students we'd be hosting a madd party to redeem points, etc. the following week. The day before the event, one hour before we left work, we actually planned the event. The next day was pretty much chaos. --Business as usual in Korea.

7.) Night Life
"Tick tock on the clock and the party never stops..." Sing it, Ke$ha! In Korea, going out is epic. Every. Night. Every night you go out, you will be ridiculous. Why?

Well, at home, the bars serve last call at 2 AM. That's usually when you'll hit up the 24-hour McDonalds, drink some H20, sober up, and crash.

Not so much here. The bars DON'T CLOSE UNTIL 5 AM.

You do the math. --- That's 3 more hours of drinking, dancing, and making bad decisions. It's also the reason that most people I know are never out on Sunday day . Not before 4 PM, anyway.

I think that is a pretty decent compilation of stereotypes for now. If you would like me to tackle any specific ones in the future, let me know. For now, I'm going to bed!


13th March 2010

a lot of what you said goes for France too...especially the part about being a foreigner working with French people. I feel like 80% of the time I have no clue what's going on...and they let me know important details (like English classes for the WHOLE WEEK have been cancelled) after I've walked a kilometer and a half and taken a forty minute bus ride. oh, but we have no technology here. at all. you can't find a printer to save your life (or print your super-important-must-be-printed train tickets). I made an appointment with a doctor, and the receptionist flipped through a notebook and marked my name and important details down in computer in sight. weeeeird.
16th March 2010

KT -- first off, you should write a book. Next... do Koreans metabolize alcohol or do they turn red when they drink?
16th March 2010

I don't know if they turn red-- the super drunk Korean I see are usually girls... who are too busy stumbling in their boyfriends arms with SUPER high heels and their hair in their faces ;)
17th March 2010

True, true.
You've hit the nail on the head on a lot of things. Koreans are definitely on the taller side in the realm of Asian populations. I'm 5'11" and there are kids at my middle school nearly as tall as I am. That said, on the first day, I could see over the heads of every kid except for one in the auditorium. The kids, the kids.... I even joked around with people back at home that Korean students would behave because their parents beat them. I don't think either part of that statement is true. While teachers will sometimes whack a kid on the head, it's pretty gentle and the kids still misbehave. The technology thing here is certainly interesting. My internet is still 6 times faster than it is at home, and is consistently fast (again, suck it Comcast for having flaky internet). Koreans are definitely ahead, but I think they're also a good demonstration on how far you can *practically* take certain technologies. The most badass taxi driver I had was one recently where he had a stick-shift, and no GPS! Driving here is interesting, and it's given me some perspective as to why Asian drivers get such a bad rap at home. Here, the roads are nearly lawless in comparison to the roads in the states. There's no such thing as right-of-way and pretty much anything goes. Take that attitude over to the US and you could imagine exactly why they *appear* to be bad drivers - they're just following a different set of rules. Work life - "dynamic Korea" at its finest. :)
19th March 2010

I won't lie, sometimes ever I lightly whack a kid upside the head. It's usually if they're sleeping/being generally obnoxious/etc. :) And you're totally right about the virtual lawlessness of the roads here! I have never seen a police car pull anyone over. Ever. And that stick-shifting-GPS-less cabby sounds epic. :) Whereabouts in Korea are you exactly?
24th March 2010

Oh maaan...I cannot hold back the giant smirk as I read this and chuckles well up from deep within. Bwuahaha. Korea! How I miss it so =] I taught in Seoul for almost 2 years and the stories that I've accumulated are no less epic. Seems to be an every day thing, no? When I try to explain to family and friends back home, they just can't understand. Maybe I need to start blogging too? Glad that I stumbled on this little internet oasis for expats in Korea =] Enjoy your stay!
26th March 2010

I'm glad this collection of stereotypes kept you mildly amused. I think next, I'll try and tackle Korean "holidays" (Valentine's Day, White Day, Black Day...). XD

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