International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Korean Culture

One of the enduring qualities of Korean culture is the desire to maintain harmony within the community and society as a whole. For Americans this is a stark contrast to our individualist values, where being different, unique and above all independent are ideals we hold dear. In Korean society you will find that the well-being of the community comes first. This shows in all facets of life from sharing food, respecting elders and traveling in groups. Enjoy the intimate friendships that flourish as a result of Korean community culture.

Enjoying food and drink is a high priority in Korean culture. Be prepared to spend a lot of time eating and drinking in large groups. In fact, eating out in South Korea is often cheaper than cooking at home, which is easily noticed when walking by packed restaurants in Seoul. Meals consist of a large variety of food in small quantities, including rice, meat, seafood, soups, and an array of seasoned and pickled vegetables. Kimchi is a spicy, pickled vegetable integral to every Korean meal and it can come in the form of cabbage, radish, cucumbers and many other forms. Dive in and experience the spice of Korean life!

The Lunar New Year, on the first day of Spring, and Thanksgiving (Chusok), before the Autumnal equinox, are the most important holidays in Korea. Every year these days change on the solar calendar but tend to fall around February and September respectively. Koreans travel to their hometowns and gather with their immediate and extended family members to celebrate these holidays. The Lunar New Year is a chance to celebrate renewal by cleaning your home, getting haircuts, and buying new clothes. For Chusok, the harvest celebration, Koreans pay respects to the spirits of their ancestors by cooking traditional food, visiting tombs, and performing rituals.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Namdaemun Gate
One of the last remaining sections of the original city wall, and the most treasured of Seoul's historic landmarks, this southern gate is the oldest wooden structure in the city. Originally built in 1398, it was mostly destroyed by a fire in 2008 and is currently being restored. The largest traditional market in Korea is next to the gate, and it offers great bargains and wonderful traditional food of every variety.

Five Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty
These are located throughout Seoul, and range in age from 900 years to 400 years old. Although most were destoyed at various points throughout history by the Japanese, they have largely been restored. Perhaps the most impressive is Changdeok-gung, although Gyeongbok-gung is certainly the most important historically.

Namsan Tower
One of the tallest buildings in Asia, the top floor offers a panoramic view of the entire city. This experience gives one a sense of just how large and beautiful the city really is.

This area of Seoul not only is home to a US military base, but is also the most diverse region of the city, offering restaurants from around the world, and shops of every variety. Visitors are likely to see people from every corner of the world, including a large number of Americans.

Cultural Activity Suggestions

Buddhist Temples
Visit the numerous Buddhist temples within and around the city of Seoul. Admire the beautiful displays and performances for the Lunar New Year and Buddha's birthday in May.

Music Scene
Explore the vibrant nightlife and live music scene in Hongdae, Sinchon and Itaewon. You can hear rock, jazz and other creative sounds coming from the urban youth culture of Seoul.

Local Street Food
A feature of local culture, eating in "pojangs" is a favorite custom among Koreans. You will find a variety of foods sold on the street and subway stations, all piping hot and ready to eat on the go! You'll never be in need of a place to eat in Seoul. Koreans love their food so you'll be sure to find affordable homemade dishes served on every street in Seoul.

Arts District
Enjoy some lunch and Korean tea after a walk in Insadong, the art district of Seoul. On this street you can find traditional arts and crafts, calligraphy, pottery and wonderful contemporary art galleries.

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchanges
By participating in cultural exchanges offered at both universities, students will be given the opportunity to meet local and international students wishing to share their knowledge of Korean and learn English in exchange. This activity, based on student interest, is a great way to get to know other students of Seoul, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and Korean student counterparts!

Volunteering Opportunities
While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Seoul can work with the ISA Seoul staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Seoul staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

Internship or ELAP
Students have the opportunity to participate in internships while in Seoul, although part of a separate ISA program. To find out more about the internship programs in Seoul, please click here.


Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Seoul, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

Helpful Phrases
An-yeong-ha-se-yo Hello
An-yeong-hi-ke-se-yo Goodbye (if you are the one leaving)
An-yeong-hi-ka-se-yo Goodbye (if someone else is leaving)
Cho-un-haru-de-se-yo Have a good day
Cho-un-pom-de-se-yo Have a good night
Hangul-mal-chal-mu-lai-yo I don't speak/understand Korean
Mu-lai-yo - I don't understand
Chwueh-so-ham-ni-da I'm sorry (very polite)
Shi-la-ham-ni-da Excuse me
Quin-cha-na-yo Don't worry
Ju-se-yo Please give (this to me)
Ol-mai-ya-yo How much does this cost?

On-line Dictionary Resource

Verb conjugation
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in Korean. Verbix has a list of the most commonly used verbs in Korean.

Listening & Speaking
Check out some different Korean podcasts available to practice your verbal and listening skills. For learning Korean you can access some Survival Phrases. For the more advanced learner try out Radio Free Asia's Korean podcasts.

Beware of translation websites...much can be LOST in translation!