Travel Info

When traveling to a new country -especially one that’s in a whole other continent- you have to adjust to cultural differences. In South Korea, these differences are numerous and can be challenging, but most of them actually come with a very positive side! Here’s a list of 6 culture shocks that I have experienced as a French intern in South Korea!

Fast and efficient public transportation system

In my Parisian student life, public transportation issues happen almost daily. Subways and trains get delayed, sometimes even canceled. Buses are mostly late, occasionally in advance (always when I’m late), or they just don’t run for no apparent reason. My friends and I can’t always hang out too long otherwise we don’t know if we’ll get a train back home from Paris as traffic stops at 21h on some lines. During my bachelor’s degree, I have had times where it has taken me 4 hours to get home from university when it usually only took 1h30. Not easy being French!

However, since I arrived in South Korea, I haven’t had to worry about that. Here in Seoul, every transportation you take is on time and you’re sure to easily be able to get from point A to point B. Subways stop running at 23h or 00h depending on lines, which is amazing for late outings. And when in doubt, you can always count on taxis. They aren’t public transportation but they’re extremely convenient and cheap. Also they’re everywhere so you won’t struggle catching one!

…but don’t expect any personal space!

However… Seoul is a pretty dense city in population. Rush hours are even more intense than they are in Paris, which I didn’t expect! People tend not to be apologetic, so they easily push others inside of subway cars until everyone fits. You’ll often end up squeezed especially in certain subway lines!

Nonetheless these situations aren’t as bad as they sound for a few reasons. First, people are very organized and they queue in order to get into public transportation. That way, you won’t have to face a battle to get through the subway door. In Paris, that is not the case: you’ll see huge blobs of people on subway platforms just trying to make their way in, which often results in altercations. CCTV culture in Seoul also makes transportation safer, I don’t feel scared of stealers or other people with bad intentions when squeezed in there. You’ll eventually get used to it!

Alcohol is a part of culture

South Koreans are among the biggest drinkers in the world! Drinking culture is very present here, you’ll see entire stores and billboard dedicated to certain soju brands. Celebrities often strike the pose to promote alcohol brands and you’ll run into a fair amount of drunk people in the streets on weekends. Korean alcohol is particularly nice though if you’re into drinking already. Soju, beer and makgeolli are the most popular types of alcohol and you should definitely have a taste of them if you’re (someone who drinks) coming to South Korea! Check this article out to learn more!

Smoking restrictions

Even if South Koreans are even bigger smokers than the French, it’s quite hard finding smoking areas here… Check out this article for more details!

Plastic surgery and beauty

Seoul’s the plastic surgery capital of the world, so you’ll run into a lot of clinics and adds about plastic surgery procedures. It is quite cheap here because it is so common. Korean beauty standards in general can often be a culture shock to foreigners arriving there but try not to be too affected by them! Be yourself! A very positive aspect of this however is the quantity of beauty-related stores that sell absolutely amazing skincare products. What’s even greater is how cheap most of these products are compared to Europe!

Stores being open until late at night

In France, stores usually close around 18h to 20h on average. It is like this in many European countries. In South Korea, you can shop for clothes at 23h in some neighborhoods without any issue whatsoever. Since the work culture here is so strict and intense, most people tend to live at night. Grocery shopping is possible until 22h or even all night long when done in small convenience stores like 7eleven or GS25 for instance. This is one of the most convenient aspects of living here!

Stay tuned for part 2!

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