Adapting to the Culture of Seoul


I’ve been in Korea for almost 3 months. I (barely) made it through midterms and as the days are getting warmer, I’m getting closer and closer to my final presentations and exams, and the end of my time studying abroad. I’m trying to savor every moment here in between my time studying and going to classes. Although I am starting to feel a little more homesick, I’m so excited about the things I’ve experienced and will get to experience in my last few weeks, and I am proud of the growth I’ve seen in myself thus far. I would say it’s been a relatively smooth process assimilating to the culture in Seoul. There are small things that are different in my day-to-day life in Seoul than they are back in the States, such as dressing a little nicer for class than I may do at Pitt; you see a lot less pajamas and sweatpants at universities in Korea.

That being said, the transition has definitely changed my perspective of myself and others in several ways, especially in the ways I communicate. There is a very prominent hierarchy of age and respect in Korea which is very different than in America. This is most prevalent in the language. There is different grammar used to address people older than you, and there are different words used to address people, rather than simply their name, which goes way beyond our simple Mr. or Mrs. This includes how you address your parents, professors, peers, and even your siblings. Although I am speaking English in all of my classes besides my Korean language class, the different level of respectful behavior is still very much present. When I am speaking English to my peers or professors, I am now extra aware of my body language because the ways in which you communicate respectfully in Korea are not simply the words you speak. Bowing is very common, I accept anything being handed to me with two hands instead of one, and I am very wary of pointing my finger at anyone. On the other hand, I am more used to the door not always being held open for me and sneezing without hearing a “bless you” or anything in response. It is interesting to see what may be considered “rude” to some people but not to others, and to think about why that is. As a marketing major, I have not just learned about the ways in which companies market themselves, but I have also developed a sense of awareness of how I market myself as a student, employee, friend, and as a person overall. The extra thought I have put into how I communicate verbally and physically has made me think more about the ways in which I am being perceived, and how big of a difference something like body language can make. I am more cognizant of my identity and how I want to present myself to others. In another sense, I am more aware of the fact that others may perceive their behavior towards me differently, and that it is too easy to make assumptions based on your own limited experiences. I’m also continuing to learn many new hard-skills in my various business courses to expand my knowledge of the business world, in addition to the soft-skills I am learning that will help me navigate the business world and the world in general.