HESS Gwangmyeong Branch is perfectly located for those of you looking to have the big-city experience of Korea! You're sure to have modern amenities like state-of-the-art apartment complexes (with heated floors!), department stores with whatever you'd need, and plenty of delicious Korean and Western restaurants. With a sizeable expat community, you won't go wanting for new friends and adventures! HESS has been a part of the greater Seoul area for several years now and have built a reputation for high quality fun education.
Korea is fairly modernized, but Koreans are still extremely proud of their heritage and language. The Korean language, Hangul, is easier to learn than some other Asian languages because the alphabet is phonetic. Thus, reading the language comes a lot easier to foreigners.
When many people think of Korea, they think of “Gangnam Style” singer Psy, K-Pop, and big companies such as Samsung. These all form part of the Korean cultural experience, but the culture is much richer and deeper than that. Through the country’s turbulent history, Korean people have clung to their traditions, and it can be seen everywhere from local meals to daily interactions to language. Korean culture has something for everyone to learn about and appreciate.
Dining out in Korea is a great experience as it is usually cheap, healthy, and delicious. The country is known for its amazing barbeque and having a variety of exciting side dishes.
A staple with every Korean meal is a bowl of short-grain rice and kimchi. This is a fermented and usually spicy vegetable dish which is very popular in Korea. Many long-term foreigners find themselves missing the flavor of kimchi if they have too many meals without it. Korean dining is supposed to be a fun, shared experience that is often full of new things to try—such as live octopus!
Getting around Korea is often convenient and fast. Each major city has modern subway, bus, and high-speed rail systems. The subway system is known to be one of the best in the world. The subway system is easily accessible from our HESS branch which can bring easily and quickly into the heart of Seoul! Just get a transport card and you’re ready to go! A general fare costs about 1050 won (US$0.90).
The bus system is quite cheap but not as English-friendly as the subways. There are frequent inter-city bus services as well as many options for high-speed trains and domestic flights. These buses offer cheaper fares and a larger number of destinations around the beautiful country. If you get stuck, then just make use of a taxi.
South Korean apartments often follow a formula of a simple bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. They generally come furnished with basic necessities such as a fridge, a two-plate gas burner, a rice cooker, and sometimes a washing machine.
Every apartment has underfloor (ondol) heating, which is a great during winter, and more modern apartments have air conditioning in at least one of the rooms for summer. All of our HESS teachers live in modern comfortable apartments that are close to their branch and close to the Seoul subway system.
Korea is a 1,200-kilometer-long (750-mile-long) peninsula located in the easternmost part of the Asian continent. Today, the country is split into South Korea (called the Republic of Korea) and North Korea (aka the Democratic People's Republic of Korea), but in the minds of most of its citizens, it remains a single nation that cannot be divided. Although still officially at war with North Korea, it is very safe to live in South Korea and most people do not feel threatened or unsafe.
Korea is a mostly mountainous country with many adventures to be seen and had, especially for those who enjoy nature and hiking. One of the best scenic places to visit is Jeju Island, which is known for its incredible beauty.
Korea is known for having four seasons, which are beautiful to witness if you have never done so in your home country. The best temperate seasons seem to be the fall and spring. During spring, you get to see the exquisite cherry blossoms, which only last a few weeks. People usually go to parks and cherry blossom festivals to take loads of pictures.
Summers tend to be hot and humid. The mountainsides are set ablaze with red, yellow, and brown during the fall. Winters in Korea are cold, dry, and characterized by clear, blue skies with very little rainfall. In Seoul, you can expect to see snow a few times each year. It is a great time to try out snow-boarding or skiing in the mountainous regions where snowfall is heavier.
If you lived in South Korea, you’d never have to leave home to eat if you didn’t want to. Most restaurants will deliver straight to your apartment via motorcycle drivers—who are notorious for speeding through traffic to deliver the food on time. After you’re done eating, you can just put your dirty dishes outside your door because the delivery guy will come for them later! Almost all restaurants deliver, even McDonald’s, which gives new meaning to the term “fast food.” If someone starts craving a few Big Macs at five in the morning, that’s no problem: McDonald’s will deliver 24/7. (After all, aren’t hamburgers the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast?) And if you ever visit South Korea and decide to call up Mickey D’s in the middle of the night, you might want to try some of the Korean specialties, such as the Bulgogi Burger or the Shanghai Spicy Chicken Burger.
Despite a reputation for being uber-macho, South Korean men are obsessed with cosmetics. It turns out that South Korean men are spending more than 1 TRILLION won (US$900 million) a year on makeup. BB cream foundation is the product of choice, but facial cleansers, anti-aging moisturizes, and eye creams are also extremely popular. There are even TV shows dedicated to the subject of the manly makeover. Up to 20 percent of the male population, known as the grooming tribe, use makeup regularly, but it’s not so much about fashion as it is business. The South Korean job market is very competitive, and wearing makeup is all part of the game. These guys want to make good impressions in their job interviews by hiding their blemishes and looking like celebrities. It looks like in Korea, makeup really does make the man.
Since 1998, millions of people from around the world have been flocking to the Boryeong Mud Festival, which is exactly what it sounds like. For 10 glorious days, revelers ignore everything their mothers ever told them about playing in the mud. Originally conceived as a way to advertise mud cosmetics, this popular Korean festival has grown enormously, attracting 3 million people in 2012 alone, including 22,000 foreigners. The gray clay is shipped from the Boryeong flats to Daecheon Beach where people take part in mud massages, mud photo contests, mud marathons, and best of all, mud-wrestling contests. Top it all off with concerts and parties, and you have a festival that will cheer up any stick-in-the-mud.
Robots aren’t just the stuff of sci-fi movies anymore. In fact, they’ve invaded South Korean classrooms. In 2010, the Korean government launched its “R-Learning” program to fill schools with automated assistants like Engkey. There are two different version of this robo-teacher. One comes equipped with a TV screen which displays the face of an English-speaking teacher—who might really be as far away as Australia. The other model uses voice recognition technology to help students with their speaking skills. In addition to Engkey, preschool teachers use Genibo, a robotic dog that teaches dance and gymnastics, as well as iRobi, which keeps track of which kids are in class and asks them how they’re feeling.
While the Yoido Full Gospel Church might not have the largest building in the world, it definitely has the biggest congregation. As of February 2013, this Seoul-based church had close to 1 million members. On any given Sunday, 200,000 of the faithful will attend one of the seven services, and that’s not counting the additional 200,000-300,000 watching on TVs in other buildings and satellite churches.
The Korean Baseball Organization was established in 1981 as a way for people, especially young men, to let off steam. By encouraging people to put down their picket signs and pick up a pair of Thundersticks (created in Korea), President Chun Doo-hwan was hoping to divert attention away from his regime. A former defense minister was appointed as the baseball commissioner, six teams were created by government-friendly businesses, and Chun started improving his image by throwing the first pitch at every game. People eventually got sick of him anyway, and he and his cronies were thrown into prison. Talk about striking out.
In Korea, Valentine's Day is all about the men. Women are expected to celebrate the men in their life, and the pressures of finding the right gifts, candy, and flowers fall on them. However, don't think that the men are completely scot-free. Exactly one month after Valentine's Day on March 14th is a holiday known as White Day. This is the holiday where the men are expected to shower their significant others with gifts and candy. And just to make sure the boys don't get too comfortable, the men are expected to spend three times more in value of what they received on Valentine's Day on their sweethearts. But wait, there's more! The 14th of every month is another romantically themed holiday. Themes include Kiss Day (June) and Hug Day (December) and several more.
If you hail a cab in Korea, you might want to pay attention to what color the car is. The color of the car determines the level of comfort and service you'll receive upon entering, and subsequently, the pricing. Standard taxis are silver and are easily accessible from most transportation hubs. They offer the most affordable fares but are very much a "bare-bones" service. A black taxi is known as a "deluxe taxi." These taxis are usually higher-end cars and better upholstered on the inside. They're usually reserved for higher-end settings, such as hotels. Finally, there are orange taxis, which are specially geared toward foreigners and tourists. The drivers of these taxis are to provide language services in either English or Japanese to foreign passengers. These international taxis have a classification system of their own regarding service level and car quality.
On the first night of the new year, it is customary in Korean culture for everyone to hide their shoes. In Korean tradition, a ghost called anggwaengyi will appear on the first night of every year and try on every pair of shoes it can find. If it finds a pair of shoes it likes, it will walk off with them, and the owner will have an entire year of bad luck for being careless with his or her shoes!
In South Korea, blood is a big deal. It doesn’t just deliver oxygen to the rest of your body—it determines your personality. People in South Korea are automatically stereotyped thanks to their blood type. While this belief originated in Japan, it has taken a firm hold in South Korean culture, and it might even make a difference in who marries whom.