Living and working in Korea means living in a Far Eastern country, and that means dealing with a non-Western culture. Therefore, you have to get used to living with socio-cultural aspects that are completely different from yours..
In Korea, men and women, but especially women, have to look perfect every time they go out. Appearance is valued so much in South Korea that plastic surgery is often done just to have the best chance of getting a job. Koreans, including men, are obsessed with skin care, haircuts and clothing. Not only women pamper themselves with their appearance, but men also use industrial quantities of beauty products.
People are generally warm and friendly, the only problem is that not many know English. But in any case, they do their best to communicate. They are affable and polite, because their culture generally demands that you be polite to each other and to strangers. However, it is difficult to get beyond this superficial friendship, even if you speak Korean. Koreans are friendly, but at the same time, aloof. By this I mean that Koreans behave very politely to each other, especially to those who are socially higher up and older. However, this attitude does not exist towards people whose race or status is considered inferior.
Korea is not what you might call an “immigration country.” Koreans think in binary categories: Koreans on the one hand, foreigners on the other. This is largely due to a widespread attitude: All Koreans are a pure race, the others are inferior Society is quite racist and discriminates against Southeast Asians, African Americans, and Indians in particular. White whites, better yet, if they are native English speakers, on the other hand, are the most popular. People are judged by their country of origin, social status, and education.
Consumerism in Korea is brutal. The rush for cars, phones, homes, clothes, etc. is furious. Gadgets should be the biggest, the brightest, and the most expensive. Big, flashy cars are the ultimate goal for many Koreans.
In Korea, the social pressure to be the best is enormous. The stress to which all Koreans are subjected is constant. The tough competition starts at school. The life of a Korean student is convulsive. From a young age, most students attend two different schools. They go to a private school in the morning and then to a private school. 11 hours of school, not counting homework. It is a constant struggle to achieve the best results. It’s not uncommon to see cafes packed with students at 2am. This extreme and competitive system also has a downside: Korea has the highest suicide rate among industrialised countries.
Living in Korea is safe. South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world, even single women can easily go home at night alone. The population is generally law-abiding. If you forget your mobile phone in the bar, you have a good chance of finding it the next day.
In Korea there are four seasons: Summer, spring, autumn and winter.
Being a small country with a large population, the public transportation system is very well developed. Buses and trains run almost all the time and everywhere. Subways, buses, high-speed trains and cheap cabs are available everywhere.
Speaking of work, in Korea, work is the center around which everyone’s life revolves. From birth to retirement. People start studying very early to get access to the best universities, to get a better job. And you work all your life until late in the evening. Sometimes you even have to work on the weekends. Most people gladly embrace this lifestyle because hard work equals success. In the corporate culture, it is common for Korean workers to take 4 days off a year.
Hierarchy plays a very important role in Korean society. This hierarchical system leads to a corporate culture in which employees are rewarded based on their age and seniority rather than their actual skills or productivity. Social security is very poor, e.g. maternity leave during pregnancy is very limited and you can be fired if the company thinks you spend too much time with the child.
This is the decalogue of the employee in Korea:
To live and work in Korea, a foreigner needs a work visa issued by a sponsoring company. In practice, a foreigner can perform almost all types of work as long as a company sponsors him. However, the prerequisite is that he has such skills and experience that the local employer cannot find. For native English speakers, it is easiest to teach the language. Also, Korean language skills are required for most jobs.
Living and working in Korea – pros and cons
Living in Korea, pros
- Medical care, South Korea’s health care system is generally top-notch
- Technology, South Korea has the fastest internet speed in the world, and technology in Korea is very cheap and reliable
- Low crime rate, crime is the last thing to worry about in Korea
Living in Korea, cons
- Very stressful work culture
- Age-based social hierarchy
- High pollution
- Consumerism, excessive importance of money, wealth and success
- Strong drinking culture
- Small living space, be prepared to live in very small apartments
- Difficult language, not many people speak English well
Living and working in Korea, conclusion
If you are planning to move to Korea to work, be prepared for a very stressful and busy life. Korean work culture is often incredibly hard, with impossible hours.
Ultimately, I recommend moving to Korea if:
- You want to temporarily experience a completely different culture
- You are aware that you will never be fully accepted by Korean society
- You do not mind working even 12 hours a day