Upon arriving in Korea, I did not notice many cultural differences, between the states and Korea.
Naturally, as a first-generation American, I know the differences between my culture at home and at school, but readjusting to a new school, where the students are more literally from around the world it’s important to recognize not only very obvious cultural differences, but the subtle ones as well.
Aside from the obvious differences, such as language and dress (it’s very typical in Korean culture to wear long sleeves during the summer), there’s also subtle difference you don’t notice immediately, but are very different than what you’re used to.
In Korea, there are virtually no public trash cans. It doesn’t sound like a major difference, but you don’t realize how often you use public trashcans until they’re not there. Also, in Korea the trash separation is very particular, and it’s very important to follow the rules. There’s a bin for food waste, plastic, paper, and sometimes liquids. Depending on the place, sometimes certain food waste goes in one bin and other food waste goes in the other bin.
Another subtle difference that doesn’t seem like a big deal but is in Korean culture is subway behavior. In Philadelphia, you may be used to being noisy or rowdy on the platform/subway. In Korea, the subway is silent. It’s also expected that you give up your seat when someone older comes, as a sign of respect.
As when you go anywhere, you should to be aware that you’re a foreigner. The local people are very helpful when they can be, however many times taxi drivers won’t stop for foreigners, and if they do, they can try to charge you triple the amount it would normally cost. It’s important to be smart with situations like this, as it’s extremely common, especially among students.
The most important thing, is that you are respectful of the country and people who live there. You are visiting their country, and it’s important to live by their expectations and cultural values. Korean society is very different than that of the United States, as the U.S. is much more individualistic, but Korean society values the group. If you’re with your friends, and they’re being disrespectful of the local culture, it’s okay to remind them about what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
One of the most rewarding experiences of studying abroad in Korea, is not only learning about Korean culture, but learning about cultures of all the students who travel here for study abroad as well.