Korean Culture: An Overview

By OptiLingo

The Korean language has become a popular language for Westerners to learn. Why learn Korean culture? Well, for starters, Korean popular culture has swept the world. From K-Pop to Korean Dramas, you can find Korean culture everywhere. To better understand the language, you definitely need to have a good understanding of Korean culture. Especially if you’re considering a move or visit to beautiful South Korea.

Hangul is rooted in the Altaic language family. Apart from the standard Korean language, there are numerous dialects within the peninsula. It is highly respected for being one of the most logically constructed languages in the world. It is very easy to learn, and as a result, Korea has one of the world’s highest literacy rates. Hangul is its official name, and its alphabet originated in 1446. It was put together by King Sejong.


Korea is located on a peninsula in East Asia

It is nearby the countries of China, Russia, and Japan. It is currently a divided country. North and South Korea are split at the 38th parallel where you can find widespread military installations. South Korea, while being slightly smaller from a geographical perspective, has nearly double the population. South Korea’s official name is Republic of Korea. North Korea’s is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It is also a much more open country. North Korea is closed off too much of the world and it may be dangerous to visit the country if you’re from somewhere like the United States.

Korean food is just plain delicious as well. Kimchi is a household name and is used in almost every Korean dish. Just be prepared for some serious spice. Korean food is some of the spiciest in the world.


Korean people are traditional by nature and also extremely respectful

It’s important to understand that Korean culture is built on a foundation of centuries of tradition. Cultural norms are hard to change and sometimes you may perceive something as rude. This is not intentionally done.

Korean people are incredibly helpful, especially with older people. They really appreciate when a foreigner attempts to learn their language. If they see you struggling with some Korean words, they will surely rush to help out. They are also more of a group culture. Korea has only been exposed to Western culture as of recent and prestige is still attached to certain surnames.


Korea is a culture steeped in tradition

This is more prevalent in rural areas where traditional housing is still very popular. The Korean language has built-in formality relating to social status that will never change. Due to this, Korean tradition will live on.

Birthdays are also different in Korea. Like in some other Asian cultures, Koreans count themselves as being one-year-old at birth. This may confuse some Westerners as sometimes you will find someone born in your year but describing themselves as being older than you.


Education, like in much of Asian culture, is highly valued

Korean society emphasizes education, and consequentially, Koreans are very well-educated. Parents often push their children to get into top schools. This even includes the primary and middle school levels. It also operates conversely to how we view education in the states. In America, more importance is placed on your college years rather your high school. In Korea, high schoolers are constantly studying for university entrance exams. The goal is to gain entrance into a top university. This goes a long way into making Korean parents happy. That’s right, most universities require an entrance exam in Korea. Koreans also start studying English at primary school. Many even continue studying it through undergraduate school.


Koreans are also religious people

Christianity is very popular in South Korea and you can find churches everywhere. Korea houses some of the world’s largest Christian churches.

Buddhism has older roots than Christianity in Korea. It originated from the Mahayana Buddhist practice. As Korea has modernized, its influence has waned. However, there are still plenty of temples to be found and Buddhist influence can be seen in everyday Korean culture.


Holidays are big in Korea!

They even have two New Years. They celebrate both the Lunar New Year and the Western Calendar New Year. The Western is also on January 1st. It is a national holiday where most Koreans get the day off. Koreans will traditionally eat Duk Gook with kimchi. Duk Gook is a Korean soup.

Many spend time with their families and pay respect to their ancestors through offerings of food and drink. The New Year’s ceremony is known as Jaesa. In this ceremony, names of ancestors are placed on a board. Then, family members present offerings and bow to deceased relatives. Following that, the names are burned and families reminisce about happy memories.

The Lunar New Year typically occurs in February and Koreans can be seen celebrating it in traditional dress. This is called Hanbok. Koreans also exchange gifts on this holiday. Both of these times are extremely busy in Korea.

South Korea celebrates its language on Hangul Day on the 9th of October. While in North Korea, it is celebrated on January 15th. This holiday represents a celebration of the Korean language.

The Korean Independence Day is celebrated on March 1st. On this date in 1919, Korea officially declared independence from Japan.

Koreans also love their romantic holidays. Valentine’s Day, White Day, and Black Day are all celebrated in South Korea. These are interrelated. On Valentine’s, women give gifts to men. On White Day, the opposite occurs. And so what is Black Day? Well, Black Day is for all those individuals that were left out! On Black Day, friends go out together and eat black noodles in honor of the holiday.

Chuseok is a harvest holiday. This is a popular holiday in Korea and other parts of Asia. The moon is usually quite full during this holiday.



Korean culture is rich and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing Korean customs and tradition. As you learn the language better, you will better understand the culture (and vice-versa). This also helps relate your culture to theirs. Why learn Korean culture? It’s the door to unlock the language’s inner secrets. Without fully understanding the culture you won’t be able to become completely fluent. This means you won’t become the country’s next big K-Pop star!