Facts about South Korea you’ll read below will totally wow you. Called the Impossible Country for going from a war torn wasteland to one of the most thriving economies in the world, South Korea has a distinct culture and history which has only recently reached an international audience.
Giants like Samsung and Hyundai have boosted the country forward, and Hallyu or the Korean Wave has washed into a US audience where teenagers can sing Korean-only tracks from idol groups like BTS or Twice.
Join us on an adventure through the best facts about South Korea where you’re sure to learn some amazing things about the Land of the Morning Calm.
- 1. Korea or Corea?
- 2. Get it online
- 3. Strangest theme parks
- 4. The importance of age, names & blood type
- 5. Have you eaten well?
- 6. Lots of food, little obesity
- 7. Cosmetics aren’t only for women
- 8. You can get alcohol at any time
- 9. Crime in South Korea
- 10. Debunked Korean myths
- 11. Plastic surgery is huge (and accepted)
- 12. Completely connected
- 13. Robots for everything
- 14. Shop till you drop, quite literally
- 15. Christianity in South Korea
- 16. Tie the knot at a wedding factory
- 17. Sasaeng and extreme fanaticism
- 18. Cabs are color-coded
- 19. Kimchi facts
- 20. A country covered in mountains & heritage
- 21. Channels devoted to gaming
- 22. Same-sex skinship
- 23. Pop into a love motel
- 24. Get warmed through the floor
- 25. The impossible country
- 26. Still at war
- 27. Riding the Korean wave
- 28. Facts about Jeju Island
- 29. New mothers rest in luxury
- 30. A brilliant writing system
- 31. Unique special days and festivals
- 32. Chaebol run the country
- 33. A clever bunch
1. Korea or Corea?
One of the first facts on Korea that you’ll notice quite instantly is that spellings are not unanimous. You might type “Pusan” in Google only to have “Busan” pop up. When you visited the restaurant, did you have “gimchee” or “kimchi”? Will you be flying to Cheju or Jeju for the holidays?
It can all get pretty confusing.
The first efforts to romanise Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) to English was known as the McCune–Reischauer system and worked quite well until 2000, where it was officially changed by the Department of Tourism to the current Revised Romanization of Korean.
The updated version changed some inconsistencies of its predecessor. For example, consonants ㄱ, ㄷ, ㅂ, and ㅈ were changed from k, t, p, and ch to g, d, b, and j. This is why there is so much confusion in certain names like Busan/Pusan and Cheju/Jeju.
But what about the name “Korea”, where does it come from?
Koreans actually call their country Daehan Minguk (대한민국) which translates to “Great Korean People’s State”. Dae Han meaning Great Han actually derives from Samhan (Three Han), and refers to the Three Kingdoms of Korea.
These Three Kingdoms were the predecessors to modern day Korea and included Baekje (West Korea), Silla (East Korea) and Goguryeo (later known as Goryeo and consists of Northern South Korea, North Korea and parts of China and Russia).
When outside traders visited places along the Silk Road they adapted the name Goryeo to Korea and it stuck. While Goryeo can be translated as “walled city”, some poetic license has used the later Korean Kingdom known of Joseon to bring about some beautiful phrases like “Land of High Mountains and Sparkling Streams” and “Land of the Morning Calm”.
And here’s one final Korean fact about its name that is shrouded in controversy.
Some linguists have stated that the spelling was first written as Corea and changed to Korea under Japanese colonisation (1910-1945).
As the story goes, the Japanese authorities at the time didn’t want the colonised country to precede them in the English alphabetical system.
Whether this is an urban legend or based on reality, no one truly knows, but there have been several unsuccessful political campaigns to change the official name to Corea (which is how the French, Spanish and Italians write it).
2. Get it online
E-commerce is huge in Korea. So big in fact that the retail e-commerce volume is said to have a projected growth of up to US$32.56 billion by 2021.
You can get everything online from groceries to appliances and beyond. Back in 2011 Tesco created a virtual store in a subway where you could scan a barcode and create a shopping list to be sent home.
This set the standard and today apps are taking over with same day delivery services so that busy citizens don’t have to spend time in supermarkets.
In 2017, online shopping mall 11st.co.kr, a subsidiary of telecom’s giant SK Group, had over 11 million unique monthly visitors. In 2018, 7 out of 10 people ordered food online in Korea with apps like Yogiyo or Baedaltong.
The most interesting fact about South Korea food apps actually involves Germany.
In December 2019, Germany’s Delivery Hero purchased South Korea’s top food delivery app Baedal Minjok owned the Woowa Brothers. They also own South Korea’s second top app Yogiyo. So, South Korea’s major delivery apps are actually owned by Germany.
The craziest part about ordering food online is that certain types of Korean foods like jajangmyeon (black bean noodles) are delivered with plates and silverware. You just have to leave the used dishes outside your door and they are collected by the delivery person at a later stage.
Apart from being extremely convenient, Korea is also extremely safe so parcels are left either at the foot of your door or in the lobby of your apartment complex. If you do have particularly valuable items, you can always choose to sign for the package as an option when ordering.
If you’re traveling to Seoul, watch out for delivery motorcycle drivers. They’re known to drive quite haphazardly, weaving through traffic, red lights, pavements and so on.
I have personally seen drivers with a cigarette in one hand and cellphone in the other, using only elbows to steer. Now that’s one fact on South Korea delivery that you can only experience first-hand!
3. Strangest theme parks
A trip to South Korea is always a fun, interactive and immersive experience. There are cultural artefacts at every corner and there’s always something going on, particularly in Seoul.
To stave off any further boredom, the country has also come up with some very interesting and extremely unique theme parks.
One of the not-so-great facts on South Korea is that piping is not the strongest. As a result, in many areas you will have to flush your discarded toilet paper in the trash instead of down the toilet. This is one of the many fascinating facts you can learn at the bizarre Poopoo Land.
Yes, you heard right, there is a museum based on all things fecal matter in the heart of Seoul’s tourist epicenter, Insadong.
The turd-themed oddities don’t end here.
There are poop themed cafes like Ddo-Ong Café (또옹카페) where you can have some poopoo bread. Ddongah Hotteok (똥아호떡) at Ssamzie market in Insadong also served poop-shaped hotteok (crunchy pancake). There’s even an ode to toilets at Suwon’s Haewoojae Museum (or Mr. Toilet House).
Beyond bowel movements there’s a theme park dedicated to sex in Jeju called Love Land where the most bizarre statues ranging from raunchy to toungue-in-cheek. Seoul’s Love Museum is another option for all things sex if you can’t make it to Jeju.
If you haven’t satisfied your phallic fantasies, you can always head over to Haesindang Park in Samcheok on Korea’s East Coast which is known as Penis Park in English. You can imagine what sculptures are on display here.
Imsil Cheese Theme Park is devoted to the delicious coagulated dairy product, you can explore the largest stone maze in the world (5.3km) at Maze Land in Jeju Island, or maybe you’d prefer to see a museum dedicated to garlic at Treasure Island Garlic Land (보물섬 마늘나라) in Namhae.
Fulfill your curiosity
There are plenty of museums around Korea, particularly in Seoul and Jeju. You can search Klook for discounts to some of these museums here. For example, you can find tickets to both the Love Museum in Seoul here and the Museum of Sex and Health in Jeju here (different from Love Land mentioned above).
4. The importance of age, names & blood type
Another one of the most important facts on South Korea is that you’re born as a one year old. This means that in Korea, they count the months in the womb as part of your age so you’re actually a year older.
When a Korean asks you your age, which is one of the first questions they’ll ask (we’ll get to this in a minute), make sure which age unit they’re referring to by asking if they mean “man-nai” (만나이 – international age) or Korean age.
Age in Korea is a tricky subject for Westerners, especially due to the Korean fact that on January 1st, everyone gains a year. This means that if you’re born on December 31st, you are one year old, but on January 1st, you are already 2 years old. In the West, you are only 2 days old. Difficult to grasp, I know. An easy Korean age calculation is the formula: Current Year – Birth Year + 1 = Age.
In Western countries it’s usually considered extremely impolite to ask someone their age, especially women. Yet in Korea it’s common practice and in fact is one of the first questions you’ll be asked. This has nothing to do with being impolite, but rather with the language you will use.
The Korean language uses honorifics. These are suffixes or word endings that are added to a sentence depending on either age or title.
For example, if you’re chatting to a baby you might say annyeong (hello). To someone older than you, you would say annyeong haseyo. And an extremely polite version reserved for CEOs and grandparents would be annyeong hashimnikka.
Polite speech is called cheondetmal (존댓말) and normal speech is known as panmal (반말). So if you know the person’s age, you know which language you need to use. Beyond age, titles and names are also extremely important.
Similar to Japan and China, names are written with the surname first, followed by the first name and are usually three consonants long, i.e. Ban Ki-moon (ex-UN Secretary-General), Kim Yu-na (the ice skater), Park Jae-sang (Psy’s real name).
Names are so important and auspicious that around 60% of South Korean families use professionals to find a name for their babies
But there is a very deep and engrained naming and title system for different relations. If you watch a K-drama, you’ll constantly hear the term “oppa”.
This is what a woman calls an older man and means something like “older brother”. A man would call the same person “hyeong”.
There are also various titles at the workplace that one should know when working in Korea. In the West you may call your boss Mr or Mrs so and so, but in Korea you would use honorific titles depending on the status, i.e. huijangnim (회장님) for a CEO or chairman, sajangnim (사장님) for a president (or owner of an establishment), or seonseongnim (선생님) for a teacher.
Even after years of not seeing a college senior you went to school with, you will still call them sunbae (선배) and not their name.
Mothers are also rarely called by their first names, even in their circle of friends, and are provided with the title “mother of so and so”, for example “Yu-na’s mother” instead of their actual name. This is common in Arabic countries too.
The last of the interesting South Korea facts concerning birth is that blood type is extremely important. It can determine compatibility, marriage and is indicative of all sorts of personality characteristics.
It’s a similar fixation that Westerners have about star signs, so instead of talking about Pisces and Aquarius, you’ll be mentioning the diligent and caring Type As or the optimistic and passionate Type Bs.
5. Have you eaten well?
“Have you eaten well?” not “How are you?”
In most English speaking countries, the most common greeting is, “How are you?”. Although it’s a blanket statement that is meant to show concern for another person’s wellbeing, somewhere along the line it has become a commonality with little meaning.
After the Korean War, the country was devastated of food and agriculture. In order to show concern, Koreans would ask each other, “Have you eaten well?” (밥 먹었어요?/bap meogeoseoyo?).
This phrase is still the most popular salutation in the country, even though Korea has more than enough food. The phrase is especially among family and friends, where “How are you” carries little to no meaning. It also shows the importance of food in the country.
You will also find this done in Singapore where a friend, colleague or coworker will ask you “had your lunch” instead of how are you, if it’s a time around lunch.
More food phrases in Korea that show the importance of food include:
- If someone treats you to a meal, you wouldn’t say “Thank you”, but rather “I ate well” or “The meal was good” (잘 먹었습니다/chal meogeosseumnida).
- Similarly, you will either say “I will eat well” (잘 먹겠습니다/chal meokgesseumnida) to someone who has prepared a meal for you to show your appreciation.
- Korea’s version of Bon Appetite is “Eat a lot” (많이 드세요/mani deuseyo), also originated in food shortages from the War.
- Another pre-meal pleasantry that you could use is “Eat deliciously” (맛있게 드세요/masitge deuseyo). Delicious is often used for meal and food descriptions, even though it seems off to use it in this way in English. When searching maps for a popular restaurant you would write “맛집” (literally “delicious house”).
One more interesting food fact about Korea is that it’s not considered impolite to shout “chogiyo” (translated as “Over here” or “Excuse me”) to your waiter or waitress if you want to order something.
There’s even a call button that you can press for service at most Korean restaurants.
6. Lots of food, little obesity
Double fried chicken is one of the most popular meals in South Korea
As mentioned in the previous food fact on South Korea, the once poor country now has an abundance of food to select from.
There are hundreds of Korean dishes and we have written about a fraction of them in our article on the best Korean food.
There are also many Western restaurants and chains that surround the country. McDonalds opened its first store in 1988 and the Korean brand Lotte even introduced their own fast food burger joint Lotteria in 1979 (after opening in Japan first in 1972).
Food and dining out is such a huge part of Korean life that the average household will spend around 50% of their annual income on food and beverages and eating out.
Yet even with all this food consumption they have one of the lowest obesity rates in the world. In fact they come in at 3.2%, number 6 in the world after Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Madagascar, Indonesia and China.
Here are some more fun facts about South Korean food that you may find interesting:
- South Koreans eat a meal called San-nakji (산낙지) which consists of live octopus tentacles.
- No one knows the exact number but it is said that there are between 100-200 types of kimchi from cabbage and cucumber to radish and ginseng with different types and ages of fermentation (more on kimchi later).
- Each region (and sometimes city, suburb, town or even street) in Korea is known for a certain dish. So if you are traveling it’s best to find out what dishes are best in that area. This could range from an entire city like the black pig in Jeju, to a town like Tteokbokki Town in Sindang-dong, to a street like Lamb Skewer Street near Konkuk University. Always find out about the famous foods and dishes before you visit an area.
7. Cosmetics aren’t only for women
Cosmetics, along with clothing and other fashionable items like handbags, are not just for the women in South Korea. Men spend around US$1 billion a year on cosmetics. That’s a quarter of the world’s cosmetics consumption for men just in South Korea.
The massive 44% increase between 2011 and 2017 shows how incredibly huge this market is. The biggest consumers are those who were born after 2000 (Generation Z), with 58% pampering themselves with at least one grooming treatment in a week.
Some explain this phenomenon as a reaction to the influence of K-pop combined with one-upmanship in the workforce where not only additional specs like extra degrees or internships help, but also looks. It’s not uncommon for even a 60 year old grandfather to color his hair.
8. You can get alcohol at any time
Did you know that South Koreans drink more alcohol than other countries that are known to be heavy drinkers?
They throw back more soju than Russians do vodka. Seoulites hit 13.7 shots of spirits per week, which is twice as much as the Russians.
In fact, Jinro Soju (Korean distilled rice liquor) beats out Smirnoff Vodka as the top selling hard liquor in the world. The gap between the top one and two most sold liquor brands is so wide that there is a 46 million case difference (Jinro selling 71.97 million cases in 2016 and Smirnoff only 25.50 million cases).
Buying and drinking alcohol is super easy too.
Anyone of drinking age can walk into a convenience store at any time of the day, purchase any type of alcohol and start drinking it right there in the shop and on their way out. Although this is said to change in 2020 where the government plans to implement “no drinking zones” in public spaces.
Korea has a culture known as hoesik (although it’s pronounced hwe-shik/회식), which is where a group of people get together to share food and alcohol. This is particularly dominant in organizations and enterprises where workers bond over drinks after the workday is done.
While there is no physical coercion into drinking, one would have to drink as much as their senior in order to save face and embarrassment. Due to the excessive drinking culture, the government has recently tried to clamp down on drinking by introducing new laws.
It is said that the Samsung Group has implemented the “1-1-9” rule. This means that hoesik is restricted to one sitting, one type of alcohol with a cut-off time of 9pm.
2019 also saw the government banning sexy K-pop celebs from the bottles of hard liquor in a bid to stop glamourising the consumption of alcohol.
9. Crime in South Korea
South Korea is often ranked as one of the safest countries in the world by the Global Peace Index. It’s not uncommon to see phones, purses and wallets lying on a table of a coffee shop while the owner zips off to the bathroom.
Yet there are a few other crime facts about South Korea that you may find interesting.
The first and most shocking is that the death penalty still exists South Korea, even though the majority of its citizens oppose it and there are many activists who insist on abolition. It is one of 53 countries in the world that still uphold this and the latest reports show there are around 60 people on death row.
There is a strange practice in South Korea known as “crime re-creation”. This is where citizens who are suspected of crimes are led in handcuffs by the police to the scene of the crime.
In a strange show, they are ordered to publicly reenact whichever crime they are committed of. The media is invited to publish images and media of the event.
And similar to the US, those convicted of sex crimes have their image printed on a letter that is sent to each of the residents in the area.
10. Debunked Korean myths
There are so many myths that people have about South Korea, and that many Koreans indeed still believe, that have been debunked or have faded over time.
The biggest myth that foreigner expats find quite amusing is something called “fan death”. This is the superstition that if you leave a fan on overnight with all the doors closed the oxygen levels deplete and it can suffocate you to death or you can catch hypothermia.
While this has been proven as false and the source of information is difficult to find, the majority of Koreans will crack a window or door if they leave the fan on overnight. Origins of this theory are dubious but some say that it was due to the government trying to crack down on increasing energy consumption in the 70s. Others say it was just lazy investigating.
One of the most controversial topics is the consumption of dog meat in Korea. While there are reports of dog meat being used to make soups as far back as the Three Kingdom period, one myth that you can discard is that every Korean eats this type of meat.
The practice may have been more popular in the past when Korea was a starved and poor nation and cow meat was only eaten by the wealthy, but it has never been a mainstream practice.
Dog as meat was particularly advocated against by activists during the 1988 Korean Olympics. While dog meat farms do still exist in the country, they are slowly being closed down thanks to the efforts of organisations like Humane Society International, Animal Liberation Wave and Last Chance for Animals.
On a more positive note, owning dogs as pets is steadily on the rise in Korea increasing by 10% between 2012 and 2018. Many of the dogs that once were in indescribable conditions of dog farms are being adopted by loving and caring owners.
Even foreigners in different countries are starting to adopt dogs from South Korea. This is after various competitors in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics visited registered dog farms and shared images and videos on social media. Some competitors, like Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel, adopted a dog on the spot.
Others like American skier Gus Kenworthy and American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis have appeared in a public service announcement against the dog meat trade. If you’d like to adopt a pet, you can visit one of these websites.
11. Plastic surgery is huge (and accepted)
While the US holds the title for most cosmetic surgeries in the world, South Korea is number one when it comes to plastic surgery per capita (the US falls to no. 6).
It’s almost a right of passage to go under the knife in South Korea where around 97% of women that undergo plastic surgery state vanity as their main reason.
In South Korea, the look of “Universal beauty” revolves around having a high-nose bridge, an oval-shaped face and the infamous double eyelid. In order to obtain these idolised features, popular surgeries in Korea include mentoplasty (chin/jaw surgery) and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery).
The latter procedure is so popular and accepted that even the former President of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, had double eyelid surgery while in office.
Yet it’s not only the locals that get procedures done, foreigners flock to South Korea too, with over 50,000 surgeries on foreigners being done in 2018. International Hub Incheon even considered opening a pop-in plastic surgery wing at the airport, but didn’t materialise.
Complaints on beauty advertising have started to arise and the government plans to ban all cosmetic surgery adverts by 2020 in Seoul’s metro.
The #MeToo movement has also spread to South Korea where unrealistic beauty expectations are brought to light. Korean women liken these expectations to a tightening corset which has brought about the “Escape the corset” movement (#탈코르셋).
12. Completely connected
South Korea is completely connected. No matter where you are in the country, you’re sure to find some form of free Wifi.
Don’t trust us?
Just walk into one of the coffee shops, hop on the subway or visit any department store to test our theory. There are even mass-WiFi areas that cover outdoor spaces.
Add the thousands of comfy coffee shops and you have one of the best places in the world for digital nomads to set up shop.
But, how has South Korea outperformed most other countries?
The answer is a mixture between competitiveness, government help, culture, politics and having a plan way back in the 1990s. This article from CNN gives the breakdown.
13. Robots for everything
If you watched the torch relay for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, you’ll remember that the second torch bearer (among many others) was a robot. While Korea is not the leader in either AI or robotics, they are doing some amazing (if not a little bit scary) advances in the fields.
LG Electronics has introduced three robotic prototypes that could act as servers, delivery persons, and guides in the service industry. There’s even a robot restaurant in Seoul, Merry-Go-Kitchen, where you’re served by a robotic waiter after ordering your food on an app. This is also developed by the Woowa brothers mentioned before.
Everything seems to be done through a machine these days in South Korea, from ordering food, booking a bus ticket, hailing a cab or ordering your meal at KFC. On our last holiday to Daegu, we used a rideshare company called GreenCar where the lock is controlled by an app on your phone.
No key is needed and there is absolutely no human interaction. Our hotel check-in was done in the same way through a touch screen monitor at the hotel entrance.
14. Shop till you drop, quite literally
While there are gorgeous department stores in almost every city, we’ll focus on shopping in Seoul, as this is where most of the magic happens.
Although it must be noted that Shinsegae Department Store in Centum City, Busan, was the world’s largest department store as of 2009 at 3.163 million square feet.
Firstly Seoul is home to some epic megamalls where you can easily spend a day. COEX is a well known shopping destination and is the largest underground shopping mall in the world at 144,000sqm on one floor.
Visit the Instagram-worthy Starfield Library pictured above before exploring the hundreds of stores, aquarium, tax-free shopping zone, Parnas Mall (at the basement of the Grand Intercontinental Hotel) and Hyundai Department Store’s basement food sector. SM Town @CoexArtium is a must for Kpop fans.
Lotte World Mall is at the bottom of South Korea’s tallest building, Lotte World Tower, standing at 555m tall, it is the fifth tallest in the world.
The mall is 10-stories high, separated into two sections (general mall and premium outlet) and attracts 28 million people annually. So a visit here is a must for shopaholics.
There is also the Lotte World theme Park next door, a beautiful lake (Seokchon Lake Park/석촌호수) to take a stroll and the Lotte Department store if you want to shop even more!
Myeongdong is known the world over as the go-to destination for Korean cosmetics and fashion and Dongdaemun is another shopper’s dream, particularly for night and bulk shopping.
Dongdaemun also has the Zaha Hadid designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza to explore for all budding architects and designers.
There is also an array of markets to explore all year round including Namdaemun Market, the oldest and largest market in South Korea, the epic Dongmyo Flea Market which has streets of vintage clothing, and Pyounghwa Fashion Town in Dongdaemun.
Insadong souvenir shopping & boutique shopping in Samcheongdong
If you’re sick of the massive malls and markets, there are also shopping streets that you can visit for a more boutique-friendly experience. Insadong has Korean memorabilia for your souvenirs, Samcheongdong is filled with cutesy boutique clothing stores, Ewha Woman’s University Shopping Street targets trendy youthful buyers and Common Ground near trendy Seongsu is an Instagrammers dream.
When all is said and done, beware of shopping in Seoul, if you aren’t prudent, you’ll leave bankrupt.
15. Christianity in South Korea
When I first arrived in Seoul in 2009 it was at nighttime. The most vivid memory I have of driving to my destination were the rows and rows of apartments and a seemingly endless array of red neon crucifixes.
It wasn’t only me that found this site intriguing, Aaron Tan, a renowned Hong Kong based architect also described Seoul as “A city full of glowing church crosses”, and each year, the amount of neon signs seems to increase.
Christianity is the country’s most popular religion with 20% being Protestant and 8% Catholics. Buddhism comes a close second with 15.5%, but 57% of South Koreans are not religious.
This small number of believers are fervent followers. South Korea has one of the largest number of missionaries in the world, amounting to 27,000 in 2016.
The country is known for its megachurches, where membership holds social clout and increases status.
If you’ve ever visited one of these churches, you’ll be shocked by the sheer size of the venue, let alone the 500+ choir. Service can take place in one of the halls and you can watch it live on TV in the second hall.
Two of the most famous megachurches in South Korea include Yoido Full Gospel Church and Myungsung Church. The former is a Pentecostal Christian church with close to 800,000 members and around 200,000 attendees usually come to one of the seven Sunday services.
Both of these churches have been shrouded in controversy recently for embezzlement and nepotism. This has made many young Christians fall away from these large churches and move toward more intimate surroundings and the Cafe Church that promise a more close-knit spiritual community.
The American idea of Theology on Tap is also becoming more popular. This is when a group of like minded individuals meet in public spaces like a coffee shop or brewery (hence “on tap”) to discuss religious ideas.
16. Tie the knot at a wedding factory
While weddings in other parts of the world are quite an affair, with childhood dreams of castles and vineyards or family celebrations that can last a week, Korean weddings are quite the opposite.
A typical Korean wedding is held in what is known as a wedding hall. These are buildings that have multiple levels where ceremonies are being held one after the other. Each floor has a typical hall with a raised platform for the groom and bride to walk down, seating, tables and all amenities that the couple needs from a PA system to projectors for video.
When arriving at a wedding hall you will first provide a gift of cash where envelopes are available. The amount given, as with a wedding in almost any country will depend on how close you are to the bride or groom. A minimum is usually around $30 to offset the price of food per head.
You then head greet the groom and parents of both parties who will either be dressed in traditional Korean hanbok or more western attire. The ceremony lasts for around 30-40 minutes with the nuptial vows, speeches and a flurry of photographs that goes in order of close family, extended family and then friends and colleagues.
It’s not uncommon to see the next groom and his parents waiting at the door when you are leaving the wedding. Hence some Koreans describing wedding halls as factories.
After the I dos, the party proceeds to the food hall, usually in the basement area where there is a massive buffet of all-you-can-eat Korean and Western foods. While you devour your food and chat to friends, the bride and groom change into hanbok and do the pyebaek ceremony in a private room.
This is a traditional Korean wedding ceremony that emphasizes the importance of family. Some traditions include throwing and catching dates and chestnuts where the action represents the bride’s fertility (these symbolize boys and girls and the amount caught equals the number of children the couple will have).
The bride and groom will then go around the entire food hall greeting each and every guest, thanking them for coming and having the odd light conversation. And within 2 hours, poof, the wedding has ended and the couple retreat to their honeymoon.
The cost of a wedding hall ranges depending on where it is being held and the status of the actual wedding hall. Yet a typical price range would be around $10,000 for hall rental, videography and photography. Then you would have to fork up between $20-$50 per head for the buffet, which will most likely be reimbursed with the gifts. Of course there are other additions depending on the couple’s needs from live music to make-up to decor within the wedding hall.
Another interesting Korean wedding fact lies in the gift giving of the families. It is customary for the house or apartment to be paid for by the groom’s parents while the bride’s parents purchase the household items and furniture. So there are no gift registries for guests and oftentimes the parents will purchase what they believe is best without consulting the newlyweds.
17. Sasaeng and extreme fanaticism
South Koreans are very passionate and patriotic people. There is a strong “us and them” mentality that permeates the nation.
Author of The Impossible Country, Daniel Tudor, explains it as follows:
“…“woori” (us) and “nam” (others)—is especially important in Korea… Koreans like to feel an uncommonly strong sense of mutual assistance and comradeship with those close to them. People sharing such a relationship will go to great lengths to help each other… According to the World Values Survey of 2005, only 13.4 percent of Koreans trusted strangers, compared to a world average of 33.9 percent.”
So you can only imagine how fanatical the country can get when it comes to sports and celebrity idolization.
In sports, Lotte Giants fans are known for their diehard support of their beloved team nicknamed the Seagulls (galmaegi/갈매기). Their stadium, Sajik Baseball Stadium, in Busan holds the nickname, “the world’s largest noraebang” (noraebang is Korean for karaoke room). This is due to the fans’ singing to cheer on the players.
Some of the most unique cheering songs and apparatus stem from these fans. Korean baseball is quite a treat to see live as you will experience the “fight song”, where each team, and even each player, has their own unique song. Depending on the type of play, the song lyrics are displayed on the large board so that everyone can join in.
And to make things easier, especially if you’re a foreigner, just copy the cheerleaders to get the exact moves that go along with the cheers. There are even apps to download if you want to learn all the cheers before so that you fit in.
And while South Africa may have its vuvuzela, Korea introduced Thundersticks into the equation. The small inflatable balloon sticks act as a pom pom of sorts that can be used in combination with a dance or they can be bashed together to form a wall of sound.
South Koreans also unite as a country whenever the national team plays in an international competition. The unity and comradeship for major events sees the entire nation coming together in support. Take soccer for instance.
The K-League, as the local soccer league is known, draws dismal crowds of around 5,000 people. Yet when the FIFA World Cup comes around, the entire country seems to be dressed in the team’s colors in support of their “Red Devils”.
The Korean games are played on just about every TV in the country. Yet as soon as the team is kicked out, it seems as though the World Cup never existed and you’ll find it difficult to find any more games on TVs.
Kpop also sees some real diehard fans in the country. Fan clubs take out entire billboards in subways to wish their idols a happy birthday. If a coffee shop owner likes a certain Kpop idol, they will put his or her face on the coffee sleeves.
Yet the biggest and most excessive fanaticism comes in the form of sasaeng, or for use of a better word, stalkers (but literally translates to “private life”). These are superfans who make it their life’s goal to be noticed by the person they idolize.
There are some quite disturbing stories of sasaeng including chases (both on foot and in cars), attempted kidnappings, trespassing, and even crossdressing, so that they could get into the boys bathroom!
Going to any concert in Korea is a great experience. Koreans will usually study the lyrics and facts about the artist ahead of time and will know all the lyrics, no matter what language. Yet sasaeng take it too far to the point of obsession where the idols may fear for their safety.
18. Cabs are color-coded
Here’s a lighter fact about South Korea that you may find interesting, or helpful if you plan to visit. The taxis in the country are actually color coded according to the level of service offered or region.
If you’re traveling in Gyeonggi province, it’s best to stay away from the orange taxis, as they are dedicated Seoul taxis and will turn you down if you want to go from Jeongja to Suwon. While taxis are usually super cheap in South Korea, you’ll pay additional amounts if you hail the deluxe black cab with the yellow sign.
Support environmentally friendly taxis by riding in the light blue electric cars. The gray or white cabs or usually more basic with a qualified but potentially inexperienced driver.
A standard taxi will have a base fare of around 2,800-3,800 won with a 20% surcharge in Seoul during late-night rides (00:00-04:00) or riding out of the zones or cities (30% in Busan or Daegu).
There are also multiple call-taxi apps where you can hail a ride using the mobile application. While Uber does exist (although possibly not for long), it’s usually more expensive and as less people use it, you’ll probably have to wait longer.
It’s better to get Kakao Taxi or the premium ride service Ta Da that offers friendly service with meticulous driving, far beyond the usual angry speed racers of Seoul. Yet Ta Da may have to cease operations, even though the premium service was refreshing and extremely welcomed.
19. Kimchi facts
Kimchi is synonymous with Korea. It’s the country’s most popular dish and is served as a side to almost every meal and some of the most interesting facts about South Korea concern this popular Korean food.
So what is kimchi?
Kimchi is South Korea’s national dish and is a combination of vegetables and spices that are fermented from anything between a few days (geot-jeori/겉절이) to several months (mugeun-kimchi/묵은김치).
You can keep kimchi for several months according to your taste and will only discard it after noticing a fizz or mold. Most Korean households even have a separate fridge for the fermented food, so that they don’t stink out the normal fridge.
Contrary to popular belief, kimchi does not only come in cabbage form (baechu-kimchi/배추김치), some say that there are actually between 150-250 types of kimchi, although we have yet to find a source that states the exact amount.
According to the Multicultural America Encyclopedia, kimchi dates all the way back to the Three Kingdom period (37 BC‒7 AD) where the fermentation method was used in order to preserve the vegetables for off-season use. That’s a long history!
The practice of making kimchi, known as kimjang, has even been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 133. How else do we know it’s popular? Well, the average South Korean eats 57 pounds of kimchi a year.
And the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs even stated that the best date for making kimchi is November 26 of each year. All the supermarkets sell kimchi making kits and families get together to make the fermented food. Even preschoolers learn to make it.
When taking a group photo in Korea, you don’t “cheese”, but rather “kimchi” and when the first Korean went to space in 2008 (Yi So-yeon), Korean scientists even created a low-calorie, vitamin-rich space kimchi as a comfort food!
There have recently been proven health benefits to eating kimchi and it is internationally becoming a popular superfood (you can even find it in Trader Joes). The reason for these benefits lies in the (good) bacteria called lactobacillus, which is also found in yoghurt, and aids digestive health.
Try it at home
If you haven’t tried kimchi before, a good place to start is the traditional Napa Cabbage Kimchi. If you’re not in Korea and don’t have a local K-mart, you can always try purchase it on Amazon. Because it is fermented, it will last quite some time after delivery, but be careful, the smell is quite hard so a good kimchi container is also advised.
20. A country covered in mountains & heritage
When a South Korean friend of mine visited me in my home country of South Africa, I asked him, “What is the thing you want to see/experience the most?”. His answer, “I’ve always wanted to see a land horizon”.
It was quite shocking to think that someone had never seen the horizon on the land before and only on the ocean. After some research, I understood why.
There are several large mountains that are in or just outside of Seoul alone, the two most famous are Bukhansan (북한산 at 836.5m) in the north and Gwanaksan (관악산 at 632m) in the south. Outside of the capital hikers frequent Seoraksan (1,708m), Taebaeksan (1,567m), Jirisan (1,915m) and the highest mountain in South Korea Hallasan, a volcanic mountain in Jeju Island (1,950m).
There are Buddhist temples inside most of the mountains with the “Three Jewel Temples” being:
- Tongdosa at Mt. Chiseosan in South Gyeongsang Province represents the Buddha.
- Haeinsa at Gayasan National Park which is also in South Gyeongsang Province, represents the dharma or Buddhist teachings.
- Songgwangsa at Mount Songgwangsan in South Jeolla Province represents the sangha or Buddhist community.
You can hike in any weather, go skiing in the winter and camping in the summer. Apart from the mountains, there are roughly 3,000 small uninhabited islands along the country’s 2,413km of coastline.
The country is also filled with culture and heritage including 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the latest, Seowon, Korean Neo-Confucian Academies, was added in 2019. And it has one natural World Heritage site, the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. There are a further 20 World Heritage Sites or Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The best things to do in Korea revolve around its history and culture, like visiting the Palaces of Seoul in traditional hanbok, eating the fresh seafood in Jeju caught by the Haenyeo women divers, or watching a recreation of the Royal ancestral ritual at Jongmyo shrine.
21. Channels devoted to gaming
Due to an increase in Internet addiction in the country, the South Korean government passed a law in 2011 called the Cinderella or Shutdown law. This policy bans children under the age of 16 from playing online games between 12am to 6am.
But Korea’s online presence isn’t all gloom and doom and it has actually created a legitimate career path in professional gaming and esports. StarCraft is no doubt South Korea’s top game and since its launch in 1988, it has created superstars like Lim “Boxer” Yo-hwan with as many as 600,000 followers. The game was even seen on the side of Korea Air’s airplanes in 2010.
There are now TV channels that run 24/7 streaming online games like Starcraft like OGN.
22. Same-sex skinship
While walking around Korea at night seeing hetero-sexual men linking arms or holding hands is not an uncommon sight, due to the touching of flesh, this phenomena is given the name skinship, a portmanteau of Skin and Friendship, and was originally used to describe the physical bond between a mother and child.
It is used to describe the physical touching between any sex in Korea, and is akin to the Western phrase “public display of affection” or PDA. So when you see two men linking their pinkies while walking along the street, know that this is a way of building a bond between two people and has nothing to do with sexuality.
23. Pop into a love motel
Just like in Japan, one very well known fact about South Korea is that locals escape to love motels for a night of passion and possibly romance. As one lives with their family members until they get married (or if they go to college in another city/country) it can be very difficult to get some alone time with your partner.
For this reason, love motels were created in the mid-1980s and were originally called Parktel where you could hire a room for the hour.
Many foreigners with tight fists will choose these hotels as budget options when traveling the country. And thanks to the new gear toward the boutique, these once dodgy dives are now cutesy and fun where kitschy themed rooms have been replaced with cleanly minimalism.
24. Get warmed through the floor
If you visit South Korea in winter you’ll know that it can get pretty cold outside. But you’ll also find out that as soon as you get inside, the heating is ridiculously excessive. No matter if you’re in a bus, on the subway or even in a mall, you’ll want to trade your goose down parka for a pair of shorts.
Yet one of the most interesting facts about South Korea, is if you visit an apartment or home, you’ll notice that the heating is on the floor. Instead of air heaters, Koreans use a system known as ondol (온돌 translated as “warm stone”).
This is an interesting heating system that dates back to the Koguryo (or Goguryeo) Dynasty (37–668 BC) and was in fact the world’s first underfloor heating system. How it works traditionally is that a fire is lit in the fireplace outside.
The hot smoke from the fire passes through a system of pathways and stones known as gorae under the rooms. This raises the temperature of the floor and finally the smoke exits out a chimney on the other end of the house.
Modern ondol uses a similar method but with newer technology. Water is heated in a boiler instead of smoke and fire. It’s then pumped throughout a network of pipes under the floor. This has some great advantages, for example, holding heat for longer although it does take a while to heat up.
25. The impossible country
South Korea has the nickname of the Impossible Country. After the Korean War ended in 1953 South Korea’s infrastructure and economy had almost vanished in desolation. At the end of the 1950s GDP per Capita was well below $100 and life expectancy under 54 years old.
Through a unified patriotism and extremely hard work, South Korea is now one of the world’s top 20 economies with a GDP per capita standing at $31,345.62 having entered the trillion-dollar club in 2004 and currently stands at $2.14 trillion purchasing power parity. With massive conglomerates like Samsung, Kia, Hyundai and Doosan, South Korea is the 6th largest exporter in the world.
To go from literally nothing to such a huge international player in such a short amount of time is a success story that is not parallelled except for in places like Singapore.
26. Still at war
This brings us to our next fact about South Korea that not many people know. Did you know that officially, the Koreas are actually still at war?
After the war ended in 1953 and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was created along the 38th parallel, a ceasefire was signed between North and South Korea and is still intact today.
The DMZ can be visited today from both sides and the 248km long and 4km wide space is one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world.
As this batch of pristine land has been left untouched since the war, unique species of plants and wild animals have been able to flourish. One example is the endangered red-crowned crane, one of the rarest cranes in the world.
While both countries are generally at peace with each other, this precarious situation can sometimes cause problems as Seoul is just next to the DMZ.
Any altercation between the two countries has a direct effect on tourism to South Korea. This happened in 2017 when the number of Chinese tourists fell from 8 million to 4.1 million after the deployment of the THAAD missile.
27. Riding the Korean wave
You can’t have an article on the facts about South Korea without mentioning Kpop and Kdrama. The Korean Wave or Hallyu has expanded from within the country to all over the world.
While Kpop is said to have arrived in Korea in 1992 with a performance by legends Seo Taiji and Boys with their single “Nan Arayo (I Know)”, the global phenomenon most likely started with girl group Wonder Girls entering the Billboard 100 chart in 2009 with their hit “Nobody”.
This followed with many international breakthroughs with bands like Girl’s Generation, Big Bang, and IU performing on US Talk Shows. Although Kpop’s radius started growing exponentially, it wasn’t until 2012 when Psy released his hit Gangnam Style that Kpop went mainstream. Even then US President Obama mentioned Hallyu on his visit to South Korea in 2012.
Psy’s music video broke all records and held the top spot of “most watched video” on Youtube until 2017, when Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” took over. At the end of 2019 Gangnam Style has close to 3.5 billion views.
The most recent focus of obsession is boy band BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan/방탄소년단 translated as “bulletproof boy scouts”) who have gained an almost cult-like following. They were the first Kpop act to sell out arenas in the United States as well as being the first Korean act to achieve a Billboard Music Award.
They were even entered into the 2018 Guinness World Records for “having the world’s most Twitter engagements for a music group”. Their single “Love Yourself: Tear” debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and number eight on the UK Albums Chart. And what’s more impressive is that their songs remain in Korean.
But Hallyu is not only focused on music, it extends to all forms of Korean culture from film and TV to fashion. Films like Okja and Parasite have broken international boundaries with visionary director Bong Joon-ho at the helm.
The Kdrama industry has tripled in size since the 2000s and is worth around $239m internationally (70% in Asia and 30% in the US) and has overtaken Netflix.
All in all, Hallyu is rising and only increasing in popularity and you can find kids in remote parts of Cambodia and Indonesia speaking Korean due to the phenomenon.
The Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, the public body that helps to monitor and promote the Korean Wave, estimated that in 2017 alone the Korean Wave actually contributed 18tn won ($16bn) to the South Korean economy!
28. Facts about Jeju Island
Out of the roughly 3,000 islands in South Korea, the largest and most famous is the volcanic Jeju Island. There are many interesting facts about Jeju Island that may entice you to travel there on your next vacation.
As mentioned previously in this article, Jeju has South Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan which stands at 1,950m and can be climbed at any time of the year.
But before you get to Jeju, you’ll have to book a trip on the most crowded flight path in the world from Seoul Gimpo to Jeju International with 76,460 flights between the two hubs in 2018. Compare this to the one year before with 64,991 departures, or 14,000 that flew between London Heathrow and JFK Airport in New York in 2018.
Jeju also has some interesting cultural heritage that has been established by UNESCO. The tradition of female divers called haenyeo (ocean women) dates back to over 1,500 years ago and is passed down from mother to daughter. You can eat their delicious catches like sea urchins, abalone, and octopus, at many of the small restaurants around the island.
Also mentioned above is the most bizarre facts about Jeju Island – it has a sex-themed park with phallus and other coital statues. In a country where pornography is banned, this sort of sex-ed 101 park is a welcome addition for an otherwise conservative society.
But apart from this funky park there are literally over 100 museums on the island from Teddy Bears to Ripley’s Believe It or Not to chocolates to seashells to computers. You get the picture.
If you’re more into nature, you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes which is a maze of dormant lava tubes. Seongsan Ilchulbong or Sunrise Peak is another gorgeous natural cone formed thousands of years ago through lava. It measures 182 meters high and you can climb on a well demarcated stepwell all the way to the top and look into the bowl.
Food in Jeju revolves around two things, Korean-style seafood and island-specific mandarins known as Hallabong (한라봉). Get a box of Hallabong to eat on its own, get it in juice form, or grab a box of Hallabong chocolate at the airport.
And don’t confuse Hallabong with Dolharubang, which is the stone statue that you will find all over the island and translates to “stone grandfather”. It is said that they were first carved from lava rock in 1750 to offer protection and fertility.
The cutesy helmeted statues are a symbol of the island and while there are only 45 original stones statues, you can purchase one as a souvenir to take home.
29. New mothers rest in luxury
South Korea is a great place to give birth. Postpartum centers (or sanhujoriwon) are becoming a lucrative business in the country and act as hotels for new mothers. It is said that the three weeks after giving birth are the most critical period for staying healthy for the rest of their lives.
Yet while the postpartum care that new mothers in Korea get, known as sanhujori, aims to care for the new mother, it can be taken to extremes. They are kept from any coldness, wrapped in layers and only eat warm foods, particularly seaweed soup (known as miyeok guk) with no exercise to reform loose joints.
With an emphasis on care, these postpartum clinics can be super luxurious and are either hospital-run or independent. Services can include massages, spas, educational programs and even cosmetic surgery.
It’s more like a hotel than a hospital and the cost matches. A Seoul sanhujoriwon can set you back between $2,820 – $4,700 for two weeks, but can go 10 times higher for more luxurious ones.
30. A brilliant writing system
Here’s quite a shocking fact about South Korea that may surprise you. They didn’t have their own writing system until 1446!
Before King Sejong came along, literacy only belonged to those who could afford education, and Chinese characters called Hanja in Korea were used.
King Sejong wanted to create an alphabet for the common people, and not just the nobility, that could increase literacy. His alphabet is quite ingenious in that it doesn’t follow pictographs like China and Japan or Latinic constructions, but rather is based on the movement of the mouth.
The alphabet, called Hangul, consists of 14 consonants and 10 vowels, and the alphabet can be combined into various syllables. It’s pretty easy to learn, I learned it in one week.
It’s so easy in fact that distant tribes with no written system are using it to save their language. One example is the native Cia-Cia people on the small island of Buton in Indonesia. That’s one of the most heartwarming facts about South Korea that we could find.
Korea is so proud of their unique writing system that it even has its own public holiday, Hangul Day, on 9 October every year.
31. Unique special days and festivals
Apart from Hangul Day, South Korea celebrates some pretty interesting and unique days and festivals. We all know about Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February, but South Korea celebrates this in a different way.
Valentine’s is not a reciprocal gift giving day, but rather a day when women give their men gifts. The men return the favor one month later, and are supposed to return it with three times more, on White Day on March 14.
One month later, on April 14, singles unite in their loneliness on Black Day, where they eat jajangmyeon (black noodles) all on their lonesome in public. There’s also no separation between mother’s and father’s day, but rather a unified Parent’s Day (eobeoinal/어버이날) in May.
Peppero day is a crash-course in marketing. Peppero is the Korean version of Pocky, the breaded sticks dipped in chocolate.
Legend goes that there was a fad in middle schools that you should eat 11 packets of Pepero on November 11, at 11:11am and 11:11pm at 11 seconds exactly in the hope of becoming tall and thin to resemble the sticks. Some say it was a marketing tool to boost slumping revenues from the genius minds at Lotte.
You would give loved ones or people you admire boxes of Pepero, the more you give, the greater the love. You will see bundles of Pepero and even giant ones displayed outside convenience stores on the build up to this day. Suffice to say, teachers put on a few kilos due to the gifts they receive. As of 2012, Lotte has been making 50% of its annual sales on Pepero Day.
More legitimate holidays are the two biggest in the country Chuseok (the Harvest Festival) and Seollal (Korean or Lunar New Year).
Chuseok is the biggest holiday of the year in South Korea and is between September and October and expands over 5 days. The trend is to travel to one’s hometown to spend time with family, making dumplings and eating loads of delicious meals.
It’s the worst time to travel to South Korea because public transportation and traffic are a nightmare and South Koreans usually book tickets a year in advance.
Seollal is the first day of the Lunar New Year and is usually celebrated in January or February, similar to many other Asian countries like China or Singapore.
It’s a time of celebration and filial piety where sebae (세배) or worship of elders is performed along with various other customs and celebrations like playing yutnori, the traditional family board game. Tteokguk (rice cake soup) and jeon (Korean pancake) are also enjoyed over the three-day holiday.
A popular festival that’s been going since 1998 is the epically fun Boryeong Mud Festival. This sees millions of people from all over the globe flock to Boryeong for 10 days of everything mud from mud massages and mud photo contests to mud marathons and of course mud wrestling. 2019 alone saw 1.8 million attendees.
This was originally conceived as a way to advertise mud-based organic cosmetics in the likes of Spain’s iconic Tomatina festival. Mud is trucked from the Boryeong mud flats to the Daecheon beach area to create the “Mud Experience Land”.
If you don’t want to travel out of Seoul, you can attend the Seoul Lantern Festival in November along the Cheonggyecheon. The festival is hosted by the Seoul Tourism Foundation and funded by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, where hundreds of gorgeously designed lanterns are on display along the stream that runs through Seoul.
Other festivals that you can only experience in Korea are the Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival where you can catch a trout with your mouth, the burning Jeju Fire Festival, the spectacular Busan Fireworks Festival and the Gwangju World Culture Kimchi Festival where you can make your own kimchi!
32. Chaebol run the country
Many first time visitors to South Korea are surprised to see that Samsung actually make cars, have an Engineering & Construction wing, sell insurance, they have their own medical centre and are affiliated with Sungkyunkwan University and you can stay at the Samsung owned Shilla Hotel, one of the best luxury hotels in Seoul.
In fact, around 20% of the entire market value of the Korean Stock Exchange comes from Samsung, mainly from their electronics division.
Samsung is what is known as a chaebol – a massive, family-controlled conglomerate that dominates the country’s economy and has powerful political ties. Together they account for around 15% of South Korea’s entire economy.
The word chaebol in Korean means “wealth clique” and can also translate to business family or monopoly. It can include either a single large company or several groups of companies that are usually owned, controlled or managed by the same family dynasty, originating with the group’s founder.
Apart from Samsung, the other top chaebols include Hyundai, SK Group, Lotte and LG Group which account for half of the country’s exports.
The chaebols have a sort of love\hate relationship with the people of Korea. While they have helped boost the GDP and provided infinite benefits from jobs to housing to charitable donations, there is also talk of major corruption and bribery.
In 2017, after President Park Geun-hye was ousted, it was found that Samsung’s top executive Jay Y. Lee was convicted of bribery and sentenced to five years in jail. After an appeal, Lee was freed in 2018.
This shows the political sway that the chaebols have in South Korea. Lee is now back at the helm acting as co-vice chairman for Samsung Electronics.
The chirman for Lotte retail group was convicted in 2018 in a trial relating to Park and after being handed a 30-month jail term, he was set free after 8.
Yet with the country’s massive interest in Blockchain and entrepreneurship, the dream has gone from wanting to be acquired by a chaebol to wanting to exist and thrive independently like tech giants Kakao and Daum who merged.
33. A clever bunch
Along with Singapore and Hong Kong, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has declared that South Korea has one of the highest estimated national IQs in the world at over 104.
But such a high intellect comes at a cost. In South Korea, education starts young with hagwons (after school programs) or private lessons from as young as 2 years old. While there is a ban in place for hagwons to close at 10pm, it’s not uncommon to see middle and high school kids walking home from study rooms at 1am.
A high score in the Korean SATs or suneung are critical and will make or break the chain of events in the life of a Korean. A high score means entrance into a better college which means a better job, higher status and a more financially comfortable life in general.
The entire country writes the same college entrance exam at exactly the same time every year. It’s a day they prepare 12 years for.
Koreans are some of the most hard working people in the world where they work around 2,024 hours, approximately 38.9 hours a week (in 2017), the longest working hours for any developed country. Government has cut the maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to 52 hours in 2018 in the hopes that it will increase the birth rate which has been steadily declining.
Further reading: We have written many other articles on facts about certain countries, so read on if you want some great trivia.