Things People Don’t Tell You About Korea



Hello friends! Since I’m going to be travelling a bit for the next month, you guys will get a lot more chatty posts than usual, because I have a limitation as to how many pictures I can take.

I’ll be in Korea until January, and when I mention it, most people will think about KBeauty, all the cutesy things so particular of that area, Korean barbecue… etc. But today I’d like to talk about the things that people don’t tell you about Korea.

South Korea, or the Republic of Korea, is a nation that is built on respect for your elders. It is also one that is obsessed with its beauty standards and has trouble accepting other types of beauty. In Korea, the definition of beauty tends to mimic the general features commonly found in Caucasians, such as big, wide eyes, a tall nose bridge, a small face with a pointy chin, pale skin…

I talk to my friends about how sometimes my self esteem is hit hard when I go to Korea because my family members, especially older relatives, will not hesitate to call me out on my weight, or how tan I am, or my skin troubles.

Most of the time it comes from a good place – they worry that I will not look “pretty enough” in a society where being beautiful is strongly correlated to success in any field. Korean society is heavily tainted by lookism – when you type up “lookism” on Google, the first suggestion is “lookism in Korea.” But even comments out of concern often time are hurtful, as they are genuine and thus mean that my own family sometimes sincerely finds me “not pretty” or even “ugly.”


Another thing that people won’t tell you about Korea that is related to respecting your elders is the upperclassmen-underclassmen culture. One of the reasons I chose to go to university in the US as oppose to Korea is that I knew that I would have trouble dealing with the “school culture” for a lack of a better word.

Similarly to in Japan, in Korea your upperclassmen are your “선배” (suhn-baeh) and your underclassmen are your  “후배” (hoo-baeh). Underclassmen are expected to speak formally to upperclassmen and to treat them as “superiors” in general. There are definitely cases where upperclassmen are much more relaxed and don’t expect too many formalities from their underclassmen, but there are some universities in which the culture draws heavily from the army, where discipline and respect for your superiors is absolutely mandatory and there have been countless reports of accidents that happened due to the “disciplining” that goes on in some schools.

A similar vertical structure society exists in company culture, and it often times even continues on outside the office. Korean offices usually will go out to dinner as a group for a “회식” (hwei-shik). During one of these dinners, it’s disrespectful to refuse drinks that your “superiors” offer you and it is also deemed disrespectful to leave early unless you have an important issue or an emergency.


All in all, even though I disagree with the above things so present in Korean culture, these are also things that many in Korean society recognise as issues that must be fixed – there are many critics of the overbearing lookism in Korean culture as well as the excessive discipline and vertical hierarchy in many parts of society. But I wanted you guys to know that just like there are amazing cool things coming from Korea, there are also some distasteful things. And I don’t want you to think that I don’t like my country – I love my country, its rich culture, the people, and I love that I am from the beautiful nation of South Korea.


Thank you for reading;

see you soon!




17 thoughts on “Things People Don’t Tell You About Korea

  1. To me, it does seem Korea is so stuck on looks, more so than other advanced Asian countries like Japan or China (specifically Hong Kong). In those places, there seems to be an acceptance of a wider range of looks, whereas Korea is so rigid!
    About respecting your elders, I’ve heard about “Ajumma” type of women! 😛
    There’s definitely good and bad in every society, it’s beneficial to look at both angles. I hope you’ll enjoy your time in Korea!


  2. Hope you enjoy yourself in Korea! Thanks for the frank post, though – it’s never good to idealize any one culture or country too much, because they’ve all got troubles.


  3. It’s nice knowing more about your culture. And yea, Korean definitely seem more stuck on beauty standards that’s why so many people there is having their face “fixed” but about the Asian relatives telling you straight up that you’re ugly or fat, I got that too. It went to my head so much that I fell into anorexia when I was about 14-15. I’ve recovered now, but starving myself still haunts my mind.

    I think the best way to overcome this is to just completely ignore their comments. Don’t think it to heart. And just think that they are wrong. You are beautiful in your own way! Maybe you don’t feel it yet, but someday you would and someone would be so in love with all of your perfect imperfections that’ll it make you feel so happy. Ahahah. K. I’m getting a little carried away but I’m speaking from experience. I use to hate my eyes, they’re monolids and small. But, I’ve grown to love them. They’re pretty in their own way. (:

    I hope you’ll be able to ignore all the negativity they give you and hope you’ll enjoy your trip there! 💖💖💖


  4. I am so happy about this post because i really want to go there and I didn’t want to be turned away because of what i look like and i wanted to be well prepared so thank you so much this gave me a lot of information.


  5. Thank you for the post! I also found that my self esteem was hit hard when I travelled to Korea for the first time with my family! Being an Asian-Aussie family we were pretty much on the overweight size and we dress pretty casually, strolling down the isle of the Myeong-dong made me feel very self conscious and unhappy about myself. Especially because everyone else was so impeccably dressed and had amazing flawless skin with perfect features (also they were size 0 or something along the lines). I guess sometimes it’s about being happy in your own skin that matters!


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