Unexpected Cultural Surprises in Korea: Interactions on Campus and off Campus

It’s a different country, a different culture, which means different ways to interact with people! The interactions and relationships on the college campus and daily life are different in Korea! Here is a quick rundown of interactions between fellow students, your professors, and others!


  1. Senior/Junior (선배/후배)

In Korea, there is a word that is specifically used to refer to students who have entered school before or after you. For those that entered before you and are considered your “senior”, they are called sunbae. For those that have entered after you and considered your “junior”, they are called hoobae. This special relationship can blossom to a wonderful relationship that creates a family of fellow college students. People you can respect, relate to, eat lunch with, explore experiences with, these people can become your support system.


  1. Professors

Of course, you respect your professor, and treat them with honor and esteem; in this aspect, the relationship between the professor and the student is pretty similar all over the world. One thing that is different is that you do not call your professor by first name. Being from the USA, I am used to professors telling us to refer to them as their first name. However, here, that has NEVER the case with all my experiences. You call them Dr. Lee, or Professor Lee, or even just Professor is enough. With each professor I’m sure there are different examples and instances where the professor will prefer otherwise. Also, it is polite to bow towards your professor and greet them! So, to be safe, keep this in mind and don’t call your professor by their first name!


  1. Elders

The hierarchy of respect in Korea is very, very strong. The older generation is highly respected, and one must use formal form of the language with someone that is even only a year older! If you’re learning Korean, you will know that there is a formal and a separate informal way of speaking depending on whom you are talking to. Therefore, you can imagine the amount of respect shown to elders. With grandparents, aunts or uncles, your boss, professor, or so on, be careful to be very respectful and show the upmost reverence. This applies not only with age, but also with ranks. If someone is of higher rank than you, you will show the same high amount of respect. Whether that is at a work place, school, home, or in public, one will treat the higher-ups will much courtesy and veneration.


You usually do not get in trouble for being too respectful; but you can get in big trouble for not being respectful enough! So, a good rule of thumb to follow while in Korea is treat everyone with extreme care towards respect and regard!


Article by Wonmi from the U.S.A.

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