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Education and Etiquette in South Korea

Living in South Korea gives you an insight into a nation with a rich heritage. The lifestyle in South Korea is defined by countless possibilities and a can-do attitude. Read our guide to living in South Korea and learn about healthcare, the apartment search, and local etiquette on InterNations.
Confucian values often prevail in South Korean schools.

South Korea is a country in which education is of high value and Confucian ideals of learning are still considered important. The government invests a considerable amount of the country’s GDP in education. At the same time, parents spend a major share of their income on private tutoring, evening schools (Hagwons) and study visits to foreign countries.

The Education System

Korean children go through six years of primary education and three years of middle school, followed by another three years of high school. Although co-educational schools are becoming more and more common, this is a rather new development. In 1996, only 5% of all schools in South Korea were co-ed. Today, many schools still teach boys and girls separately.

There are academic and vocational high schools in South Korea. Most children attend academic high schools, in order to pursue higher education. Teachers enjoy a lot of respect in Korean schools and their lessons often focus on health, moral values, and independence. A day at a typical high school can be quite tough. It does not only involve a rigorous schedule, beginning at 08:00 and ending at 22:00. Most children also study before and after school.

Education for Expat Kids

South Korea offers three different schooling options for expat children:

  • Local Korean schools might be your best bet if you plan on staying in Korea for a couple of years or even for good. Your kids may easily adapt to Korean society in the long run. However, keep in mind that it might also be hard for them to adjust at first if they are not proficient in Korean yet. There is a wide choice of public and private schools, but only public elementary schools are free of charge.
  • Homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice among expat parents. Internet resources are often of great help to parents who want their kids to keep up with the curriculum of their home country.
  • International and foreign schools are mostly available in bigger cities, such as Seoul. While most expat parents send their children to an international school, annual fees can amount to 12,000–20,000 USD or more. In addition to application documents, most schools require parents to submit transcripts, report cards, and standardized test scores of their children.

It’s All about Being Polite

When you meet and mingle with the locals in South Korea, keep in mind that special rules apply. For instance, you should wait for your friends or colleagues to introduce you to a third party at social gatherings. South Korean men usually greet each other with a slight bow and a handshake. In this case, the younger person should be the first to bow, while the older one should be the first to extend his hand.

Elderly people enjoy a lot of respect in South Korea and you should always speak to them first. Make sure to pass objects with both hands and compliment them on their good health. But remember that physical contact is very rare and considered inappropriate unless it’s between friends and peers. Do not touch people’s arms or back, even if it is in a friendly manner.

South Koreans are very polite folks. They lower their voice when talking or laughing in public, and criticism should only be communicated in private. Blowing your nose and pointing the soles of your feet towards other people is considered extremely rude and even vulgar. Try not to cross your legs, especially in front of an authority figure, and if the spicy food makes your nose run, briefly leave the table.


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