History | Modern
Korea | Eating | Housing
| Transportation | Cultural Differences
By the third century three powerful kingdoms emerged: Kaya, Shilla, and Paekche. This 'Three Kingdoms' period continued for four hundred years and showed a remarkable advance in the arts, architecture, and literature.
By the seventh century- after many struggles for dominance- the Shilla kingdom succeeded in uniting the Korean peninsula. Buddhism experienced a flowering with a great rise in the amount of public funds appropriated for temple and image construction, and many monks were sent to Indian and China during this period. The hills in and around Kyongju (the Shilla capital) are still dotted with temples and monuments.
At the beginning of the ninth century with the Shilla Kingdom beginning to lose power, and the rival Koguryo threatening complete obliteration, the Ruler surrendered his Kingdom bloodlessly. He was able to live out the rest of his days as an 'honored guest' in the Koguryo capital of Kaesong, and Because of this many artifacts from the capital city of Kyongju have survived into the present day.
Buddhism continued to grown during this period and reached a peak in its development with much royal support and secular influence. The Koryo maintained power until Mongols invaded with superior forces in 1231. There ensued a period of treaties with the Mongols, tributes, and marriages of Koryo Crown princes and Mongol Princesses. However, the weakened Koryo was eventually overthrown by one of the King's former generals.
In the new Yi Dynasty (also known as Choson) Neo-Confucianism- which combined Confucius's original teachings with pseudo-religious ancestor worship- became the society's foundation. To this day Neo-Confucianism is at the root of Korean moral thought. This helps to explain much of Korea's reverence for authority, age, and hierarchy. King Sejong (1418-1450) is regarded as one of the greatest of Korean Kings, and ruled during this period. King Sejong commissioned the invention of the phonetic script for the Korean language (Han-gul). Prior to this time Korean was written using Chinese characters.
This peaceful period ended with the Japanese invasion of 1592 commanded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Korea continued to fight off various attacks of the Japanese and Chinese until a treaty was signed with Japan in the late nineteenth century. This eventually led to Japanese occupation of Korea beginning in 1904 and lasting until the end of World War II.
Since the end of World War II Korea has been divided at the 38th parallel. This came about as part of a treaty between the Allies (USA, USSR, and Britain). This precarious agreement came apart with the invasion of North Korean forces in 1950 and the beginning of the Korean War. The war, which lasted until 1953 left the country in ruins and still divided. Though North Korea's communist regime showed early promise and actually outstripped Seoul's economic performance well into the 1960's, South Korea has grown steadily into one of the most powerful and dynamic economies in Asia. North Korea, on the other hand, grew into one of the most closed nations on the planet. However, events of the last few years suggest that the north is becoming more willing to have a dialogue with the south and perhaps the rest of the world. South Korea's President Kim, Dae-Jung visited North Korea's capital city Pyongyang in the early part of 2001. Also, for his efforts at making peace on the peninsula Kim, Dae-Jung was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2001.
If you expect pagodas and rice paddies you may be in for a bit of a surprise. In popular shopping areas like Myongdong (in downtown Seoul) franchises of Starbucks, Seattle's Best, Pizza Hut, and Dunkin Donuts compete for customers from throngs of fashionable passersby. Young people may be sending Emails or playing video games in one of the numerous internet cafes. While, business people stagger out of 'singing rooms' after hours of drinking with coworkers or clients and belting out karaoke songs.
On the other hand, if you are looking for more traditional Korean experiences it isn't hard to find a Buddhist temple situated in one of the many mountain parks, which surround the city and are easily accessible by subway. Many also enjoy learning one of the popular martial arts of Korea such as Taekwondo or Kumdo (Korean swordsmanship), or learning the Korean language with weekend classes or a language exchange.
Eating in Korea
Housing in Korea
However, some of the advantageous features of Korean style homes have been integrated into the more 'western style' dwellings. For example floor heating (ondool) is common in modern Korean apartments. Also, a typical Korean bathroom includes a drain in the floor, no carpeting, and tile everywhere to make cleaning easier. Further, Korean families will always leave their shoes off inside the home. Slippers are often given in exchange for your shoes at the door. This is even true in the case of more traditional workplaces. So, be sure you are wearing clean socks when you go for a visit!
Transportation in Korea
Upon arriving in Seoul you may look around at the modern Inchon airport, the six lane expressways jammed with traffic, and skyscrapers in Youido and conclude that Seoul isn't really that different than a big city in your home country. Of course you would be both right and wrong in your conclusion. In many ways Seoul has become just another modern metropolis. On the other hand, Koreans are an ethnic group with a long, often turbulent history, that dates back several thousand years. Their culture certainly does not mirror western culture and in some ways is the antithesis of European cultural traditions. The sameness that seems so obvious on your first visit to Seoul is a thin veneer which quickly dissolves upon a longer look.
There have been many books written on this subject, and going into it in any detail isn't possible here. However, mention of a few common situations will hopefully help teachers to prepare themselves for what is likely to come.
1) Koreans may ask very direct questions, that seem rude to many people from North America. This may include inquiries about age, marital status, and comments about physical appearance.
Explanation: Korean society is still based largely on Confucian ideas. This means that Koreans focus a great deal on hierarchy and where one fits in this structure. To most Koreans it is important to know if a person is older or younger than they are, because this actually changes the way they address that person. Also, knowing another's job or educational level may help one to choose from the variety of linguistic levels. If one person is older than another or has attained a significantly higher social status, then the 'lower' person must use the formal level of language (Chondenmal) when addressing the 'higher' person.
2) Koreans may bump you in public and not say excuse me.
Explanation: Because Korean culture relies so heavily on the defining of the relationship, strangers are often not regarded at all. So, the person who bumps you in the subway and says nothing doesn't mean it as a slight. They simply don't acknowledge people they don't know, or can't place in the societal hierarchy.
3) Someone may answer a question with "I'm not sure" or "I don't know". Later you find out that they meant "No". You assume they were lying to you.
Explanation: In general Koreans don't like to reply to questions or requests with a direct "No". Therefore, someone will often simply say "I'm not sure about that" or something indefinite rather than a direct "No". Because of this Koreans will often understand you to say no when you say "I'm not sure" or "let me think about it". In the extreme (especially if the person is in a lower position than you) they may even answer yes in order to avoid any conflict.
Koreans feel it is fine do the following things. Westerners usually don't.
Westerners feel it is fine to do the following things. Koreans usually
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