Most people I have talked to believe South Korea is a country with many good things, but of course, all those people currently live in South Korea, which means that they might be biased.
When I was little, I was always curious about why my first-grade classmate looked different from the rest of us. Her hair was so dark, straight, and thick, and her eyes so small. At that time, I also remember my brothers would hang out with other boys whose last names were Tanaka or Fujimori. I could say that my curiosity about the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cultures started then.
While living my young adult life, I forgot about all that, but it all came back after I started watching Korean dramas and movies. I remembered my elementary school days and wanted to learn more about their culture, their origins, and language, and this is how I became fond of the Korean culture.
Long before deciding to come and live in South Korea, all I knew was what I learned in the, now so widely known, Korean dramas. Like many Korean drama fans, I felt attracted to the life these dramas portrayed. I started getting more and more interested in knowing how much about those dramas and movies was real.
I started going through YouTube videos of people who claimed they lived in South Korea and continued researching to find how much of those videos were true.
Now, looking in retrospect, I can confirm that some of that information is valid. Then again, there is also information that is often taken out of context or can be just biased because it depends on every personal experience.
Even though there is some shocking information that depends on individual experience, there is also another type of information that has nothing to do with it.
Here is a list of them:
Allow me to start by mentioning that I am not white and blonde, but rather a Latina with an olive skin tone.
From those YouTube videos I watched, and from some people who seemed to know more than me about South Korea, I heard racism was real in South Korea. At first, I did not want to believe it, and started questioning myself: ”How is that possible? Why would Koreans be that way?” Then, when I first arrived in South Korea and became a victim of racism, I believed.
Many would say that if there is any racism in South Korea, it would most probably come from the older generations. The problem is that when I fell victim to racism in South Korea, it came from an adult and a young adult.
I could excuse the first person who acted in a racist way against me. I could say that at that restaurant, at that specific time, because of rush hour, the waitress did not have the time nor the patience to deal with my lack of Korean.
In a few words, one afternoon, I walked into a restaurant, and under the faculty of all of my five senses ordered an ox-bone soup. Perhaps because of my skin color, or maybe because of my features, the waitress at that restaurant assumed that I was Indian and that therefore, I didn’t eat meat.
After unsuccessfully trying to explain to me, in Korean, that the soup I ordered had meat in it, she ended up taking my menu away and sending me out.
2. Older people are awesome and horrible at the same time:
One morning I was walking to my nearest convenience store when suddenly an old Korean lady grabbed my arm and locked it with hers. She had a big smile on her face and started marching next to me while chanting one, two, three in Korean: “ Hana, dul, set… hana, dul, set…” until we arrived at my destination. This memory is one of the sweetest I have in South Korea.
I wish all older South Korean people would act like this, but they do not. Many of them behave terribly toward the rest of the people in the streets; they physically push people around. It doesn’t matter if you are Korean or foreigner, it seems it means the same for them. The best part is that they don’t even apologize for it.
3. Koreans smoke everywhere on the street:
Smokers on every street of South Korea is one of the most annoying things any non-smoking person will suffer through while living here. In South Korea, smoking is a disease affecting most of the youth and young adult groups. The bad news is that there might not be a clear solution to this problem yet. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6987030/)
4. Trash in every corner
Despite the advanced recycling management system in South Korea, there will always be trash in every corner of every busy street, except for the affluent areas, of course. Trash collecting number of days seems to be a standard of three times per week, which means there will not be a day you will not see trash almost everywhere you go. If you are running errands in different areas or even just being a tourist, know that looking at trash on the street will most likely be also part of your tour.
5. They have dog-eating restaurants:
As I was in on a break trip to one of the most beautiful places in South Korea, I ended up in a transfer city of which I knew nothing about and needed to find an ATM. My most horrific shock came when, looking at the map application on my phone, I noticed a restaurant where one of the main dishes was dog soup. I must say that this is not a usual thing you can find in South Korea, at least not in Seoul, but there you have it. Koreans still believe in eating dogs and this way, absorbing all the health benefits of this animal.