Myths about Korea- Busted!

So after my post about getting a job in Korea, it has come to my attention that some people don’t want to come here because they “heard” things about Korea. Also, the newbies in my area come to me and ask the most ridiculous things and while I answer patiently, I always wonder where they actually heard these things and why nobody ever set things straight for people.

So with the help of the Geumchon Crew, we put together the top myths that you here before you come and then get here to discover differently.  As a disclaimer here, I should mention that I am not claiming to be some random Korea expert but I’m simply telling things as I’ve experienced in the last 3 years. 

Ok here we go…….

1. Korea is a 3rd world country where the water is undrinkable; False.  Korea is a first world country.  It is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.  It is home to Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai and Lotte.  All international companies.  In 2011, the GDP was an estimated 3.6%  The unemployment rate as of June 2012 was 3.2%. http://www.tradingeconomics.com/south-korea/unemployment-rate

As for the water.  You can drink the water in the tap, although a lot of people don’t recommend it.Why? I don’t know, could be a Korea thing.  However,  I know plenty of people here who drink the tap water everyday and they’ve never had a problem. 

2. There’s no internet in Korea; False.  In fact the complete opposite is true.  Korea has the fastest internet in the whole world.  I don’t know one person living here that doesn’t have wireless internet in their apartment. BUSTED! 

3. You can’t get any foreign foods in Korea; False.  Depending on the food, you can find lots of foreign food in Home Plus or Emart, the two supermarkets found everywhere in Korea.  Of course, if it’s something like oh say….Barry’s Tea or something that foreign then fear not.  Seoul has many foreign supermarkets where you can buy such items.  The best as far as I’m concerned is Haddon Supermarket in Hanam Heitz, a short taxi ride from Itaewon, in Seoul. 

4. You can’t buy fluoride toothpaste or feminine hygiene products in Korea; False.  Home Plus and emart stock some foreign fluoride toothpaste.  Also the foreign supermarkets have Colgate.  As for the girls, you can buy the usual hygiene products in the supermarkets here, again stick to the big ones like good old Home Plus if you want the same brand as home. 

5. Electronics and cameras are super cheap in Korea; This one is country dependant.  Take the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Without a contract here it’s priced at 671,000won for 16GB That’s 593$ and 480 Euro.  The same item is 429Euro from Carphone Warehouse ( Wifi only).  These prices of course could have changed but it gives you the idea that although we make the electronics here, they are not always super cheap.  Also , I know that South Africa think that electronics are slightly cheaper than at home and as an Irish person, I also feel that most electronics can be bought here much cheaper than at home, if you buy it in the right place. 

6. Korean teachers resent Native English teachers because of the perks we get; Hit and miss, although mostly false.  It is true that Native English teacher get a lot of perks compared to the regular Korean teachers but I have yet to meet someone who was treated badly at school because they were the Native teacher.  That’s not to say that it hasn’t happened.  I can only say that I’ve never been treated like anything other than royalty at my schools and the girl who gave me this myth is also being treated like royalty in her school so overall this one is false. Usually, Koreans are aware of what you gave up to come live here and as long as your attitude is good and you look to do everything you can and put in a genuine effort no one will ever resent you for the perks you get.

7. Native English teachers wear jeans and casual clothes to school; True and False. If I were to turn up to school in a pair of jeans, my school would send me home to change.  Remember that you’re a teacher, therefore you should look like a teacher especially if you work in a public school.  Saying that, if you work in a hagwon (private school) then it depends on the individual school.  Some let you wear anything, others have a dress code.  If you’re interested in getting a job here, make sure to ask this question before you start packing to avoid any disasters and bad impressions.

8. Koreans don’t eat garlic. Kimchi tastes the same, “horrible” False and False. This is one of the stranger ones.  First, WHAT????? Who told you that? Of course Koreans eat garlic.  How can you enjoy Galbi without garlic??????? As for the kimchi, well there are endless types of Kimchi, depending on the part of Korea you come from.  The taste is unusual at first, but it is an acquired taste and many foreigners here love it.  Of course many foreigners don’t love it quite as much but everyone is different.  So both false. 

9. Schools only want American teachers and if there are no Americans available for employment and you happen to get hired, you’ll have to speak in a fake American accent. False.  The very fact that I’m Irish should be proof enough that this is a load of rubbish.  School want a native English teacher.  End of story.  Every school has its own preferences, some like the Americas and others like the Europeans and others like South Africans and others like the Aussies and others like the Kiwis and it goes on and on.  It’s equal opportunities here. On this note though, I used to do the interviews with the new teachers at my old school and it didn’t matter where they were from it was 70% attitude to the interview and 25% how they looked and 5% whether it seemed like they would adjust well to the new life in Korea. 

10.. You shouldn’t go to Korea because North Korea is very dangerous; FALSE! People who say this make me want to vomit.  Korea is an amazing country with amazing opportunities for foreigners.  I live in Geumchon, 2 towns from North Korea.  My friends live in Munsan, the town next to North Korea.  In my 3 years here, we have never once had any trouble or been in any danger because we live close to North Korea.  In fact Korea is probably the safest country I’ve ever been in.  The worst thing that has happened to me here was that my bike got stolen once when I was at work.  Terrible, shocking, surely reason to go home…….NOT!

If anymore come to your mind, please feel free to comment and I’ll add it.  Again thanks to the Geumchon Crew.  What legendary people……..

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17 thoughts on “Myths about Korea- Busted!

  1. so my public school is actually really lax on the clothing. I usually wear dresses in the summer because it’s so hot, but in the winter they never said anything about my dark wash jeans (with nicer top). I think it depends on the school…

    also some schools are strict about shoulders and cleavage.

  2. Foreign items can be found here but it should be mentioned that they tend to be expensive. Example: a box of 36 tampons in the states is roughly 7$, here a box of 18 tampons is roughly 7$.

    My hagwon could care less what we wear. Tank tops, short shorts, skirts, pants, jeans, sports wear – it’s all okay. Not to say it should be tested, all it takes is one parent complaint and BAM – we are all wearing khakis and polo shirts. You should always dress with respect to the kids and their parents.

    Good post!

  3. To be fair prices of consumer products is a tricky barometer. They vary vastly from region to region and what one individual will pay is not necessarily what another would pay. I find consumer products to be comparable to what I would pay at home in Montreal… Sanitary products, electronics, etc. Also I think a lot of the misconceptions that new arrivals seem to believe about Korea are in fact perpetrated by former residents wanting to see how much others will believe.

    • Interesting point you make here Doogs. I don’t know if I’d be too keen to fill a newbie up with complete lies. I feel it’s people who have never been to Korea before but read something on the internet that fill them with these lies. For example, a hurling team in Ireland were planning their annual team vacation and Korea came up as a possibility. They heard though that Korea was “very dangerous because of North Korea” so went somewhere else instead. Damn lies……

  4. Hello.

    I am interested in your last sentence “your friends live in Munsan the next town to North korea” I work and live in Munsan and I have never seen a foreign person here, can you please tell my how I can contact them

    • Lee, my friend, check your twitter for the low down. Also I feel a little excluded here. Surely if you live in Munsan, you know how close Geumchon is, yet you only want to be friends with my friends and not me??????? Hhhhhmmmm going down on the friendship graph for that…….

  5. Hi Lee, I also live in Munsan (and am friends with Shauna Browne…I think she’s amaze-balls…friendship graph check, Shauna?). We are often out and about in Munsan, there are about 20 of us rolling about in town. 🙂 Do you teach there?

  6. Great post and great advice to newbies! I heard a lot of the same myths before I went to Korea in 2005. They all proved to be false and I had an amazing three years in Korea. I did bring my own toothpaste simply because I like a certain brand but otherwise, I used all Korean stuff 🙂 And part of the fun was exploring and trying new things!

  7. At my (public) school I have a weird scenario where my co-teacher shows up wearing strappy tops and shorts and I am dressed in a shift dress with heels. Lol! 😀

  8. A little off subject but I am hoping you can help. I have received a phone from a friend who was deployed there. Apparently the Korean model of Samsung phones are slightly different in size. I LOVE my new phone. best phone I’ve had. There are no phone cases available for purchase in the US. Any reliable sites I can buy this from, My computer will translate the webpages. Thank you 🙂

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