The People of Korea
History of South Korea
◦ The U.S. and Korea’s Joseon Dynasty established diplomatic relations in 1882 under the Treaty of Peace,
Amity, Commerce, and Navigation. (The U.S. also established diplomatic relations once the two nations of
North and South Korea were officially established in 1949).
◦ 1910 – The Japanese began a 35 year period of colonial rule over Korea; surrendered in 1945
◦ Following, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two occupation zones: U.S. in the South and Soviet Union
in the North. This of course eventually leads to what it is today: North and South Korea.
◦ Korean War – June 25, 1950, Seoul, South Korea was attacked by North Korea. In defense of South Korea,
the U.S. led a United Nations coalition of 16 countries. On the other hand, China assisted North Korea.
◦ The Korean War ended on July 27, 1953 with a Mutual Defense Treaty signed by both South Korea and the
U.S., but a peace treaty was never signed.
◦ Pro-democracy activities intensified in the 1980’s beginning the transition of South Korea to the well
established country it is today
Korea, Fall of
This is a photo I took from the
top of the 63 Building, the
tallest building in Seoul, South
This city has flourished from
the 1960’s to become what it is
I felt this was a great
representation of the incredible
improvements of being one of
the poorest countries, and how
it’s come to be one of the most
established countries today.
◦ A significant number of Koreans settled in Hawaii at the beginning of the 1900’s, but most came to the U.S.
in the years following the Korean War
◦ The Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 marked the beginning of the most significant wave of Korean
immigrants to the U.S.
◦ 1970-1980’s – Korean immigrants were the third largest immigrant group, with their peak being in the late
◦ The first Koreans to settle in Minnesota were the wives of U.S. Servicemen following the end of the Korean
War in 1953
◦ 1950-1960’s there were also college students and professors from Korea living in Minnesota (many of which
planned to return to the homeland, but ended up staying due to the political and economic instability in
Korea during that time)
◦ Many adopted Korean children also made their arrival to the U.S following the War
◦ Traditional parental roles: Husband – head of the family, bread winner, power derived from status, (in relation to children)
emotionally distant, authority structure; Mother – “inner master,” housewife, emotional competence, (in relation to children)
intimacy, affectional structure. This still sometimes hold to modern families; however, times have changed and women (and men)
are now getting married later in life, focusing more on career and education, and are changing to present equal roles in the family.
◦ Traditionally, typical family size consists of three to four generations usually living together under the same roof (high infant
mortality and large families are thought of as a blessing)
◦ Based on the National Statistical Office, there were 15.8 million households in 2006. 55% families consisted of only parents and
children, 6.9% were three generation families, and .1% were four generation families. Most families consist of 2 children or less.
◦ In modern day Korea, age still plays a major role in “importance” or “authority.” Typically, this is recognized by using formal
speech to those older than you.
◦ In the Korean culture, it is very important to respect your elders. Age is an important factor in authority. In a family (brother,
relationship, among friends, school mates, co-workers, etc.) girls refer to a man older than her as “oppa” while boys refer to a girl
older than him as “noona.” Boys call boys older then them “hyeong” and girls call girls older then them “unnie.” There are
specific names for younger siblings like namdongsaeng (boy) or yeodongsang (girl). Calling one another on a first name basis
means you are very close to that person, but there are some perks to this (there are certain people who can never call you by your
The Importance of Korean Names
◦ Kim is the most common Korean last name (21% of all Koreans), Yi/Lee/Rhee (14%), Park/Pak (8%), Choi/Choe,
Jeong/Chung, Jang/Chang, Han, Lim, etc.
◦ EVERY NAME HAS A MEANING!
◦ Koreans can generally trace their last name all the way back to the very first person who held their last name (this defines which
clan you belong to and where your clan lived/came from)
◦ The Korean name consists of a family name (last name) which in almost every case is one syllable, and this is always listed first.
◦ The first name typically has two syllables. This is a custom called “dollimja” which means “circulating letters.” This traditionally
was only done for boys who were considered “heirs” to the family, but in modern days, this is also done for daughters. This
function (sharing the same first syllable in the first name) is to show another person what generation level you are in and the shared
letter is not just shared among siblings, it is shared among everyone who is at the same generational level. Therefore, this name
would alternate by generation. The second syllable of the first name is considered your “true” name and is usually decided by
picking a character with a good meaning that contains a particular element within it.
◦ Only 1 in 10 Korean parents do not follow the “dollimja” tradition.
◦ The wife never takes the husband’s family name, but their children do.
◦ Age is counted differently: at birth you are considered to be one year old and then everyone adds an age (another
year) at New Year’s Day (Solar or Lunar depending on what people celebrate).
◦ A great example to explain the Korean way of calculating age: “Suppose a child was born on December 1, 1980.
On that day, this child is 1 year old in Korean age and 0 year old in full-year age. One month later on January 1,
1981, this child is 2 years old in Korean age (assuming the child's family counts by solar calendar,) but still 0 year old
in full-year age. On December 1, 1981, the child is 2 years old in Korean age, and 1 year old in full-year age. On
January 1, 1982, the child turns 3 years old in Korean age, while remaining 1 year old in full-year age. So for the rest
of her life, her Korean age will be 2 more than her full-year age, except for the brief period her birthday and the
New Year's Day. (You can see how this particularly affects people with birthdays later in the year.)”
◦ To distinguish between Western and Korean age calculation, from my experience in Korea, when asked about age,
many forget their real age and usually just say what year they are born.
◦ The western age system is used for all legal purposes.
◦ Age 19 marks that you are no longer a minor.
돌잔치 – Doljanchi – First Birthday
◦ The first birthday for a child is crucial and is sort of a traditional “rite of passage.”
◦ The child is dressed in traditional Korean clothes.
◦ The photos in the prior slide are good examples of what the Dol looks like and what the Toljabee ceremony
◦ The Toljabee ceremony is very important to the first birthday celebration. The child is seated before a table
on which various foods (rice, rice cakes, jujube, etc.) and objects (calligraphy, set, pencil, knife, book, money,
thread, needle, scissors, ruler or a bow and arrow). The child is encouraged to pick one or two of these
items. According to tradition, the first or second choice foretells the child’s future.
◦ Ex: Bow and arrow means the child will become a warrior or have a military career, needle and thread is
equal to a long life, jujube foretells having many descendants, money or rice represents wealth, and so forth.
Roles and interpersonal relationships
◦ Roles are not so much learned in school, they are taught in home and will depend on what traditions each particular
family keeps and teaches forward. This also applies to gender roles.
◦ People greet each other with “Annyeong” for cute and short (usually children or younger people to others who are
the same age or to people who they are close to) or formally with a bow of the head (the full formal bow is a
perfect 90 degree bow) by saying “Annyeonghaseyo.” This is typically used despite the time of day it might be
(different from our “Good Morning” and “Good Afternoon”). “Jaljayo” is the phrase for “Good night” and
“Annyeonghigaseyo” is the normal way of saying “Good bye.”
◦ First names are never used (as mentioned in a previous slide) unless you are very close to that person. This is
traditional. I have seen first name basis being called as a more modern thing, but it’s still not as common, especially
between boys and girls and when referencing someone older then you.
◦ In modern times, there is less sexism and more equality; however, from speaking to Korean women who are from
and still live in Korea, this seems to still be a struggle at times, but in most cases, the Korean government has
implemented laws to further support and push forward to recognize the rights of women.
◦ As I also mentioned previously, authority is based primarily on seniority and age. For example, someone who is
older and either graduated from the same school as you or maybe works in the same company or field as you,
would be referred to as “Sunbae” and in return, you are their “Hoobae.”
◦ Children in Korea or coming from Korea may be used to long hours in school or after school private tutoring and studying. Kids in South Korea are
said to “not have enough time being kids.”
◦ Old School discipline in school (and at home) would include being hit, one of the most famous: behind the legs, right beneath the calves and above the
ankles, with a stick (referred to as Corporal Punishment, now banned due to mishaps of teachers beating up students) and kneeling while raising their
hands and arms above their heads (in school, usually in hallways outside the classroom and sometimes holding heavy items).
◦ Schools in Korea are very strict on the way a student looks and dresses. Almost everyone wears a uniform (except some private elementary schools and
University). Many schools are all-girls or all-boys. The rules of a student’s upkeep can be as strict as having your hair cut a certain way, length, and that
it cannot be dyed. This is all from experience of my time being spent in Seoul.
◦ Modern discipline in school: Assigning cleaning duties, running laps around the school’s playground, picking up trash in their neighborhood (similar to
community service), and the government also allows that forcing students to do push ups is an acceptable punishment.
◦ Students can attend school from early ages of “0-2” in Nursery school up until University; however, High School is not required. In most modern
practice, students do attend High School and they study for roughly 16 hours a day in and out of school.
◦ In most cases, if a student misbehaves or is a bad student, they are considered a bad person and this is usually looked upon as the parents’ fault, which
then transfers to be the teachers’ fault, which then results in expulsion. Teachers play a big role in a student’s life and is often called upon when a
student misbehaves outside of school within the community (for example, ending up at a police station for fighting), sometimes even before the parent
◦ Another very important factor that I wanted to include is that many Koreans commit suicide due to the stresses of school and the very superficial
belief of beauty and success taught to young people through Korean/Foreign media. South Korea ranks third in Suicide rate and first in Plastic
◦ Shamanism was the religious practice in the olden days (uncommon in modernization, but still in existence). Shamans were held at
low social status, being members of the cheomin (“vulgar commoners” the lowest of the common class), during the Joseon era,
and this discrimination has carried into modern times.
◦ Confucianism also influenced Korea during it’s early development and is still a fundamental part of Korean society to this day.
◦ Currently, the Korean Constitution guarantees religious freedom. According to the official governmental survey in 2005, nearly
30% of Koreans were Christians, 12% Catholics, 18% Protestants, 23% Buddhists.
◦ In America, between 70 – 80% of Koreans identify as Christians and 40% among those were not Christians at the time they arrived
in the U.S.
◦ Traditional Korean funerals were very long and elaborate, but modern funerals are simplified and adjusted to religious beliefs.
Funerals typically last 3 days. First, the body is set in a straight position and covered in a white sheet, then it is put behind a
partition; in front of the partition is a small table set with a photo of the deceased, incenses, and food. Then the person’s death is
announced and official notice of the funeral is sent out and a sign is hung in front of the door of the house. Typically the first son
(or daughter) of the house (sometimes close friends or family) assumes the responsibility and role of the “sangju” (leads the
ceremony) and would wear a black suit (men) and dress/hanbok (women). All attendees wear black, and only people who are close
to the family are invited. If you are invited, it is expected that you attend and bring money as condolence (called “bujo”) in the
form of a white envelope. Traditional funerals were done with a burial, but cremation has greatly increased from 17.8% to 67.5%
This is a photo I took while in
I caught this strolling through
one of the major outdoor
shopping areas: Myeong-Dong.
Many Koreans are not religious
to this extent, but while walking
through Seoul, you will notice
people like this man, who are
out in the streets representing,
voicing through a megaphone
speaker, their religious belief
and asking that you join them
and believe the same.
Food◦ Rice is the staple food (this pertains to almost all Asian cultures whether they reside in the homeland or in the U.S.)
◦ A traditional Korean meal is never complete without Kimchi (pickled vegetables of all sorts, prepared in multiple ways, and in lerge bulks)
◦ Doenjang Jjigae (soybean paste stew) is known for its anti-cancer attributes and tastes delicious when prepared with the traditional care process of boiling
yellow beans, drying them in the shade, soaking them in salty water, and fermenting them in sunlight. This soup is amazing. Many of times, it is served
alongside Samgyupsal (Korean BBQ).
◦ Juk is Korea’s oldest food. It is basically their version of what most of us are more familiar with, Congee. There are various different types of porridges
and this is the known food for people when they are sick, or just something nutritional and healthy to eat. (I ate this in Korea as I was sick for about a
week before having to go to see a Doctor!)
◦ A popular noodle dish is Naengmyeon which is served cold.
◦ Every traditional Korean meal is served with many side dishes consisting of egg, potato, fish cake, various types of kimchi, etc.
◦ Everyone Korean, knows all about the little green bottle called Soju. This is the national drink of choice. It is Korea’s most well known distilled liquor,
famous for its price “Soju is cheaper than water.” A bottle of this can be picked up at any convenience store, by almost anyone (a lot of places do not
check for I.D.), and drank publicly. The price is usually $1 USD, whereas the cheapest bottle of water can usually be bought for $.75 USD. So the saying is
a little false, but it’s true depending on which brand of water you buy. In modern day, large groups of friends, especially co-workers, like to go out for
drinks (as most people who are no longer in school, work all day, literally), for food and Soju. Popular drinking games are played while Soju is mixed with
beer, usually Cass; this is referred to as Somek. There are many etiquettes and games when drinking in Korea. Beware! Another famous drink is called
Makgeolli (traditional rice wine). You can buy this in store, but there are actually old men who walk around parts of Seoul, selling these on huge carts (kind
of an olden day feel to it). Depending on who you buy it from, it may or may not taste any good.
◦ Popular and cheap in Korea are Tteok (which is basically rice cakes). These can be found on street food carts/vendors in a dish called Tteokbokki or eaten
during ceremonial occasions and national holidays.
The beauty of Korean Healthcare
◦ The Korean healthcare system (in my opinion is amazing because it is very cheap and affordable compared to that of the U.S.)
guarantees its citizens a health insurance in the cheapest way possible through a single-payer system. Basically, everyone is covered
for everything with some amount of deductible as long as the procedure is not elective. The wait time is short and everything is
very cheap. (In my experience, I was in Korea during a time when I did not have any kind of Health Insurance at all, not even for
travel. My friend found an English speaking clinic near me enough that I could walk even due to my bad condition. There, I was
greeted, identified by I.D. card, and waited a few minutes before being called back to see the Doctor. He was thorough and quick
and showed me exactly on the screen what was wrong (I had horrible Laryngitis and could not eat, talk, or sleep for days). Then I
was prescribed with medication for 3 days, went downstairs to the Pharmacy and paid. The total cost of everything was $15 USD.
Prior to this, I had been visiting the local Pharmacy for meds because I was afraid of the expense of visiting a Doctor and even
there, medication only cost about $6 USD for about a week). The healthcare system has been this way since 1989. Everyone is
required to enroll (except those who receive medical protection, Korea’s “welfare” system, meaning everything is covered) in
Korea’s national health insurance funded by levied tax. Private health insurance exists to cover expenses that the national health
insurance doesn’t cover. Everyone enrolled must pay a premium directly to the National Health Insurance Corp (government
owned) and the two types of premium are about the same amount (determined like tax): the more you earn, the more you pay.
The process is exactly what I described as my process, where I pay, and then the full amount is then claimed by the
Doctor/Pharmacist through the NHIC out of the premium that every Korean has paid. Because of this system, most Koreans
visit doctors for everything, even common colds, but this then often leads to early detection/treatment of more serious illnesses.
And beautifully, Korea spends about 6.3% of its GDP on Healthcare through the single-payer system, which is much lower than
that of Europe/Canada (10% roughly) and U.S. (15%).
Culture, Customs, Holidays & All the fun stuff
◦ Yasik (야식) culture : About 20 years ago, vendors roamed the residential areas on winter nights selling fresh
chapssaltteok (rice cakes filled with sweet beans) and memilmuk (buckwheat jelly). People would stop to chat
with the vendors as they scurried out of their homes to buy this night time snack. Yasik culture means late-
night meal. This culture has evolved with modernization to the late night meals I mentioned before about
students, co-workers, or friends going out to eat and drink after a long day. Many parts of Seoul never sleep.
There are also many street vendors that are open all night (food cart stalls and orange food tents called
pojangmacha), convenience in delivery food, as well as something as simple as going to your local
convenience store (there’s so many of these, you cannot walk without running into one) and buying a cup of
ramen, heating it up, chopsticks provided, and actually just sitting in or outside the convenience store to eat.
Most stores provide table and chairs. The Yasik culture also changed in the sense of food eaten. There’s fast
food and western food available now (as of the 80’s).
◦ Korea’s top five Yasik favorites pictured in the next slide.
Culture, Customs, Holidays & All the fun
◦ Chuseok (추석) – This is the biggest, most important, and traditionally celebrated holidays in Korea. In my
experience, they never have a day off of work, that is of course, they don’t work. Chuseok is one of the few
times of the year when Koreans can have a few days off work to celebrate and spend time visiting family (as
most live and work in Seoul and must travel by KTX to outside areas). This is also a day when Seoul will be
as empty as you’ve ever seen and traffic will be as crazy as you’ve ever seen (and there is always traffic!)
Chuseok occurs every year in September and lasts for 3 days (I’ve spent two Chuseoks in Korea). Chuseok is
often compared to the American Thanksgiving. The other two major holidays are Seollal (New Year’s Day)
and Dano (the 5th day of the 5th month of the Lunar Year). Chuseok is also referred to as Hangawi; Han
meaning big and gawi meaning the ides of August/Autumn. This is the day of when agrarian people give
thanks to their ancestors for the year’s harvest. The tradition was found at ancient practices that centered
around the moon as the full moon that came once a month was considered a special and meaningful event.
Harvest festivities took place on the day of the full moon or August 15 on the Lunar calendar system.
Culture, Customs, Holidays & All the fun
◦ Chuseok Customs – On the morning (or as I’ve seen, night before), various foods are prepared (Korea is a country
proud and very fond of their resources, dishes, and food) with the year’s fresh harvest set out to give thanks to the
ancestors through Charye (an ancestor memorial service). After Charye, families visit their ancestors’ graves and
engage in a ritual of cleaning the weeds that have grown over the burial mound; this is called Beolcho. After dusk,
families and friends take walks and gaze at the beauty of the full harvest moon or play folk games like Ssireum and
Gaggangsullbae(although I’m not sure folk games are as common as they used to be as many families do live in
modernized cities where there isn’t such space, and no one that I personally know has ever talked about actually
doing this with their families. From what I’ve been told, they just spend quality time with their families, whom they
haven’t seen in a while). Some Koreans (mostly women) do still celebrate by wearing the traditional Chuseokbim
(Chuseok dress) or just the Hanbok. The most quintessentialfood for Chuseok is Songpyeon (송편). This is rice
cake prepared with rice powder (not the frozen kind you buy from the store!) that is kneaded into a size that is
smaller than a golf ball and filled with sesame seed, beans, red beans, chestnuts, etc. The Songpyeon is steamed
with a layering of pine needles to add the delightful pine fragrance. This is always prepared the evening prior to
Chuseok. Traditional saying goes that those who make beautifully shaped Songpyeon will meet a good spouse or
give birth to a beautiful baby. Lastly, there is no Korean celebration without liquor. Korean culture in many ways,
prides their drinking culture. During Chuseok, families drink as well as offer this traditional liquor made of the
newly harvest rice to their ancestors while eating.
◦ Personal Experience: travel and talking to native Korean friends, English teachers abroad
◦ Most photos are my own, otherwise found through Google Images