Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Culture shocks you might get from traveling to Korea!

In this post, I have decided to write about culture shocks that I have got from living in Egypt for 18 years, and moving to Korea for college, again this is once again from personal experience and is aimed to help foreigners who plan to come to Korea and want to take precautions.

I hope this helps you understand more parts of the Korean culture, since most foreigners will have the same perspective as mine, since the Half-Korean too, came to Korea as a foreigner.

What is a culture shock?

Culture shock is the anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation and anger that may occur when a person is placed in a new culture.

One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign country, and interacting with a different culture which has traditions different from one's own.

There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently but in this post, I hope it will atleast reduce the effects.[source : Wikipedia]

So without further delay,

1.Jjimjil bang & public nudity
jjimjilbang (찜질방) is actually not a bathhouse for cleaning your body. A mokgyoktang (목욕탕) is a bathhouse, but if you go to a big jjimjilbang or a 24 hour one, you will have access to both.

Also, you can pay entrance for one or the other, or for both, most have a cheaper price for both. (for example 5,000 won for one of both, 9,000 for both. etc.)

So a jjimjilbang is kind of a Spa or a well-being center where males and females can hang out fully dressed in the comfy shorts and t-shirts provided by the spa (they also usually have different colors for males and females), and chill in various rooms.

There are dry heat rooms of all degrees, cold rooms, rooms for extra oxygen, rooms to pay for a foot massage or back massage, even rooms to get someone to scrub all your body(really painful for me) and areas for sleeping overnight.

Many people will sleep there at night when the subway and buses are not running. For around $6.00-10.00 a night, who can complain?

Well, be aware that you do have to sleep on the floor and with a pillow that is so hard it could kill someone if you threw it at them, but still…at least you can sleep! You can eat ramen, eat a delicious baked egg, and drink some seriously refreshing shikhye (which is an ice cold sweet rice drink). Some of the more elaborate jjimjilbangs even offer PC rooms and/or even singing rooms and arcades!

After reading that you probably are wondering but why is that awesome place such a culture shock for you Ayman!, well there's a very tiny little catch in here..

remember when I said you get comfortable clothes to wear while in the facility?, well you do then you go to your lockers(males and females have different areas). and you change there.

The locker area is huge, and FULL of naked Korean boys and men..

I don't know about you but I feel really un-comfortable about public nudity. I don't like walking around without any underwear on, and I don't like old, mature men walking around me with their 'things' hanging around.

I haven't been to the female area, but the same occurs there.

That was one of the biggest shocks I have got, and the first time I went there with my family I had to go into one of the private bathrooms to change there. I didn't even take a bath since the bathing area is also full of naked strangers.

The other thing that shocked me in there was that people were using the hair dryers to dry their... crotches. Yes- not most people do that in Korea and I might have been extremely unlucky by being in that situation but I found it really uncomfortable..

What do you think about public nudity? Do you think you'd be comfortable in that kind of situation?

2.Korean women clothing
This point might only apply to males, or foreigners from the middle-east and more arab cultures than western cultures.

The Half-Korean has lived and grew up in Egypt for most of his life. I have been used to modesty in clothing and in the female appearance generally.

I remember when I arrived to Korea on 2008, August. It was summer and I remember for the first 3 months I couldn't lift my eyes off of the ground. 

Korean women and students wear, extremely short skirts, shorts and tight clothes. for a (not so)traditional Egyptian student I was very shy and extremely sensitive..

Ofcourse people in the west or from the united states will be more used to these kind of clothing but for the Half-Korean. He was in shock.

I'm glad to say that I have adapted to this but still think if I ever have a daughter, I'm going to pick most of her clothes. 

No way I'm letting my daughter dress like that(picture on the left), no offense though.

Some girls also wear mini-skirts in the freezing winter, albeit they have stockings on, I still cannot and don't think I'll ever understand this.

3.Korean college students & dating publicly
Tons of couples like these in markets, shopping areas

This also might seem like a small deal for everyone, but once again keep in mind that the Half-Korean was born and raised in an Islamic, traditional Arab country.

and back in the days 1991-2008, You couldn't see a lot of public youngsters dating, holding hands. walking around and even sometimes kissing in public.

This was also very confusing for me, and I have always wondered if they were a young married couple. and thought that it was very un-ethical.
Even in public transportation
Not a very rare sight in Seoul after midnight

4.Dog meat and other food you might not want to try

Okay so most of you might have seen this coming, but Koreans do eat dog meat. It is true, although now-adays it's not as popular as it was 20-30 years ago.

there are still some 'bositang' restaurants and some elders still like to eat it because dog meat gives them 'special energy'.

But I will never forget the first time one of my friends asked me if I wanted to try it - I was speechless, not a word came out of my mouth and I refused, which he answered by "your missing out" and one of the excuses was that "the dogs that are used for this stew are 'farm dogs' which are raised just to be eaten, like farm cows, pigs etc..

Still if you type in 'Korean dog soup' in Google, and go to the images - You might be traumatized by the view of dogs being cut out or cooked. DO THIS ONLY IF YOU WANT TO BE TRAUMATIZED.

Also another food I still can't stand the smell OR the looks of it is Bbundaegi (Silkwork cocoons). They are mostly eaten as a snack and are sold in a lot of parks and other tourism attractions. I swear I can still smell these from at-least a mile away.

For people interested in more Korean Unusual dishes, This is a very nice list here that's
about 15 most Unusual Korean dishes!

5.Readers choice!

Once again, this space has been left out for you! my faithful readers- Have you ever been to Korea? Do you have any thoughts about what kind of culture shocks you might receive?

Please comment in the comment section below! The best comment will be posted here and credits will be fully given! (+ you will receive free bbundaegi coupons from me!)

So how do I prepare for culture shocks?

•Things needed to easily overcome culture shock

A positive attitude, willingness to understand, to embrace, to creatively interact with the new culture and a smile.

•Things that will only make the culture shocks worse

A negative attitude, Withdrawal, depression, refusal to accept the foreign culture and frowning.


1. Start networking: make friends, meet people, talk, listen and learn. Don't enter a shell and close the doors on yourself, try to be open and hear everyone's opinion and state your own - Talk what's bothering you out.

2. Always be positive: Be open minded, always think positively. The cup isn't half empty, the cup is always half full. - If you start thinking of things positively you will end up coping and adjusting to things faster!

3. Be willing to learn: You are a foreigner, show interest and take in the new culture. You will not get used to it in a day nor a month, but you will adapt, because that's how humans are and will always be, we are adaptable.

and always remember that, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do"..

also look forward for the upcoming 'Culture shocks you might get from traveling to Egypt'!

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Have a question for me? Ask away, seriously just go ahead!


  1. The most shocking things for me was the ''Food and the hair dry -that was so funny to be honest xD - ''

    1. @snow The hair drying I still will never be able to forget...

      and I wasn't lying about being able to smell 'Bbundaegi' from a mile either. haha

  2. in 2008 there were couples but it has mean much more open about it o.O
    i know cuz i have friends who were dating...wouldnt bring to much a shock
    and if i remember correctly being engaged is the islamic way of dating and so him holding her hand wouldnt be a shocker
    egypt isnt a traditional islamic place to such an extent i would say too

    1. @Habiba That is true, holding hands isn't that much of a 'big' deal I'd guess these days, but in Korea holding hands is just the beginning.

      I know this because I've been in Korea's nightlife and Egypt's nightlife and know how worse they could get, trust me when I say Korea is much much more westernized!

    2. well dude half egyptain and half something else here (zimbabwean) i would know about such but it doesnt shock me..i prefer to keep to myself "u do what u like,i do what i like" attitude... and im sure they get worse in an more open way..but i can tell u know..just cause things dont show and hide in the shadows dont mean thy dont exist...cuz i know some night life here in egypt..where that is very normal and more...i even know parties were u see that..i also know there is clubing (night clubs) in egypt...and well a part of the night life i know is there..but not the part that i would get info on since i dont need it...

    3. @Habiba nice to meet another halfie, and yes I do agree with you that these also do exist in Egypt..

      such a shame.

    4. actually i dont find it a shame as long as it has nothing to do with me..cuz well as i said i do what i do and i also wear as i like..i dont go bother not very religious to be i do as i see fit most times...and if im not bothering anyone with what im doing or hurting them..then they should leave me be...

    5. @Habiba I totally agree with you, and I hate how France has a 'law' for religion in public. Outrageous.

    6. well even i find that a sick is one stops them from their faith..why stop is not just or right in much for them calling us the 3rd world country when they are thinking like 3rd world countries they may be advanced in some areas but that law shows them as small minded..not saying that all of them saying the law makes them seem like that

    7. @Habiba of-course.. I totally understand how you feel like, and I too feel such a shame from looking at a country like France, and looking at their public religion law..

      All I can do is sigh to be honest..

    8. yeah i know what u mean..:/
      as long as things do not hurt u or interfear with u then they can not make such stupid laws

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  4. OMG, Is that things really happen in Korea ??
    I'm very chocked from just reading, It's totally different from Egypt,, BUT what about you ?! who saw it by your eyes !!

    The most un-comfortable thing is the naked people in jjimjilbangs,, I planed to try it when I visit Korea next year, But now I'll never do.

    DOG, Bbundaegi !! awful .. I should be careful from these things.

    I can't stop laughing from "Hair dryers for hair on head only " hahahaha

    I'd like to say, we (foreigners) should ask about everything before we eat, do or go to .

    This topic was very helpful 잘 했어요 아이만 :)

    1. @Soha Thank you Soha!, I'm glad you liked it.

      The first time I was shocked, but like I said if you stay positive about it and don't make a big deal out of it you can adapt.. although it will take some time!

      Dog & Bbundaegi are the things I never think I'll ever try.. due to.. er, personal preferences?

      Yes, foreigners need a 'close' friend who will help them and teach them about Korea, we're lucky most koreans are willing to help foreign students though!

    2. So, Do you live now in Korea ?
      and do you adapted now with this different culture ? I mean do you have now a Korean personality or still holding the Egyptian traditions ?

    3. @Soha Well actually both, I still fit it and try to adapt as much as a normal Korean does in Korea, while keeping my Egyptian traditions.

      Some things aren't easy to change, but for now - I think I'm fully adapted, thanks to military life in Korea too.

  5. I once read something similar, but from a western persons point of view. They said very similar things (not comfortable with nakedness and dog meat) but they said the opposite when it came to public displays of affection (PDA). They said that Koreans are INCREDIBLY conservative when it comes to PDA.
    There seem to be levels of modesty/PDA, with western cultures being HUGELY accepting of PDA and not very modest (I read that Korean girls may show their legs alot, but dont show their shoulders, whereas here in England, girls show shoulders, stomachs and legs all at once in summer) and Arab countries being extremely modest. Korea is probably in the middle.
    I wonder if there would be even more of a culture shock if you were to come to England or the States.

  6. @Philippa To be honest I'm kind of westernized right now, Korea's nightlife is WAY worse than just kissing or hugging. and I've been in it and seen worse stuff- But I don't want my blog to be adults only and that's why I left those out!(read Koreans act more freely when with other foreigners or strangers than infront of friends)

    but I do agree with you, I've not been to the west so I can't comment about that but I would agree that Korea would be somewhere in the middle while the middle east/arab countries would be in the modest 'area'.

  7. not much of a culture shock i guess, but since im a beginner in learning korean, "when and what degree of formality i should be using in different situations" would be confusing for me, cause i know that formality is a great deal in Korea and a sign of respect.

    1. @Israa Ofcourse it is, the korean age and ladder system is extremely confusing and complicated. I mean not for the Koreans, but for foreigners who look at it and try to follow it.

      in brutal honest opinion, I hate the Korean formal system though- and was planning on writing a whole post about it sometime. I'm glad you need insight about that because I have a LOT of thing to say about it.

    2. Great, I'll be looking forward to it

  8. When my family and I were in Korea to visit and my mom decides to take us to a public bath house. I was really young that time so I didn't care at all on taking a bath with other naked women. Lol my sisters and I thought it was like a swimming pool place. There was this long rectangular bath tub that had cool water in it so we decided to take a swim x'D. The lady that was in there was looking at us angrily and lectured us so my sisters and I left that tub and went to the warmer one and right when that lady left we ran back over to the cool tub and jump in haha we got more dirty looks after that. Now that I'm older if we ever visit korea again I refuse to go to a public bath house. As for food with dog in them I haven't run into any place that have it and I hope I never do.. Those poor dogs! Everytime I think of what happen to those poor dogs I imagine myself coming to their rescue. Eww! I never knew about the silkworm coccoons! I will avoid ordering that now if I see it on menus in korea.

  9. Haha, the silkworms are only sold on the streets, dear god; I hope I don't see them in any restaurants or menus..

    It's just funny the things we do when we are young, and the things we wouldn't do when we get older- and vice versa.

  10. *My Korean teacher told me before about her experience in eating dog meat lol . She said one day she was too sick and her mother cooked dog meat for her .she said it's really healthy
    I don't know how come? Hehe . when i got disgusted ,she asked me to respect their culture .lol

    *I felt shudder when I saw Bbundaegi pic even before reading ,no joke
    Ah btw …. there is a Korean habit makes me a little annoyed ,they drink a lot .
    So, what do u think about this habit ?

    1. @natsumi as much as I respect the Korean cultures, there are somethings that are against my own beliefs. Like dog meat.

      Well, the drinking part.. It's really complicated, and I will spend the weekend actually preparing a post about that topic.

      But to give you a short answer, I think everything in moderate amounts isn't 'bad', but is the amount of drinking Koreans do moderate?

      That's the question- look forward for the post on sunday!

  11. Yeah….. I definitely respect all cultures but to be honest some things make me feel shiver or disgust me >_< mm … maybe because it conflict with our habits and traditions. but i still respect this

    네 ~알게습니다 …기다릴게요 :)

  12. Hi Ayman~

    I'm a muslim girl studying in jecheon, south korea. We've just arrived here 3 weeks ago, and we're planning to visit a friend in myeong-dong, Seoul this weekend. We were thinking about staying there for one night, and maybe try sleeping at Jjimjilbang. I know that guests will be given the Jjimjilbang's special clothes to wear if we want to sleep there, and I noticed that everyone is wearing shorts in Jjimjilbang.

    my question is,
    can we wear our own long pants if we want to sleep there? well, you know, just to cover our Aurah.

    Thank you :)

    1. @fairuza

      Well, almost all the Jjimjilbangs give you shorts, But those are just for the customers satisfaction.

      No-one will mind or 'forbid' you from wearing long pants, aslong as they are comfortable pants; I don't see any reason not to wear them.

      Wish you the best!