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Table of Contents

Socializing, Entertainment, and Recreation

Socializing.  It’s fun.  We all want to do it.  We are therefore going to give you some pointers to help you adapt to the social structure in Korea.  When meeting for the first time, it should be noted that Koreans are generally more reserved than Westerners.  This may be attributed to the lack of space in a small country.  You have the ability to meet so many people since the population is quite dense, so people naturally distance themselves from all of the people they may accidentally come into contact with daily.  The opposite is true if you are a friend. As a friend, you may be thought of as family.  Westerners may not feel comfortable with friends asking quite personal questions about their life.  In Korea however, this is a sign of a good friend. 


            Koreans also love traveling and meeting in groups.  This is definitely different because Westerners are much more independent, and value alone time.  Group activity is quite common in Korea.  If you are invited out to meet with a group, often you will not be expected to pay.  You may notice that at many of these group outings, it is the oldest person in the group who pays for everyone.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule, particularly among younger groups.  In this circumstance, people will often share the various bills throughout the night.  It should be noted that going Dutch is usually frowned upon.  At a restaurant, it is unusual to ask for separate bills.  If you and another foreigner go out to a restaurant to eat, and are planning on going Dutch, the best bet is to pay on one bill, and divide it up outside the restaurant. 


            You will notice that in many places, smoking in public is still allowed.  This includes some restaurants.  Newer, nicer establishments usually do not allow smoking.  Another difference has to do with women smoking.  For many years, women were not allowed to smoke. These days, attitudes are changing and you can often find young women smoking in bars.  However, it is rare that you will find a woman smoking on the street.  This is particularly true of smaller cities where it may be a little more old-fashioned.  If you are female and a smoker, be aware of this.  You may want to ask around your school to find out how your director feels about smoking before smoking in front of him or her, out of respect.  You should also be aware of this when out in public.  Although most Koreans are more lenient towards foreigners, females smoking on the street should not be surprised to be getting looked at. 


            Korea is great for going out on the town.  There are many different styles of places you can go to.  A great place to start is a “hof”, which is a sit down drinking establishment.  Alcohol is quite cheap, so hofs sell side dishes known as anju (안주) to go with your drinks.  Koreans generally find it strange to drink without having some kind of food such as fruit, meat, soup, seafood, salad, chicken, or other accompaniment. 


            There are also places known as Western bars where it is not as expected that you buy anju.  These types of places, also referred to as rock bars, sometimes have dancing as well. 


            There is also the infamous Korean nightclub.  This is a very unique experience, which you will likely never see appearing on the scene in the West.  Here is how it works.  Men pay a fair amount of money to get a table with some type of alcohol and side dish package, usually consisting of whiskey and beer.  Women pay much less to get in.  There is a D.J. playing a variety of techno, hip-hop, and Korean pop songs.  The waiters then spend their time taking care of their customers by arranging meetings.  The waiter will bring a girl or two over to a table of guys.  They chat for a little, and if they get along, share a drink.  If the girl decides she is not interested, she just gets up and leaves.  It is very strange for outsiders to understand.  At times, a waiter will be literally dragging a girl over to a table.  This is usually just for show, as the girl doesn’t want to seem to be too easy.  Everyone knows what the protocol is at this type of nightclub, therefore don’t worry too much that anyone is doing anything against his or her will.  It is all quite innocent and an interesting way to meet new people.  If you are interested in visiting one of these places, be sure to bring a Korean friend along with you to help you understand the procedures.  Also, if you are in any part of town where there is a nightclub, you will be approached by somewhat greasy looking waiters handing out business cards, asking you to come to their club.  It’s their job to get customers into the club. 


            Most nights out with a Korean group ends up at a singing room know as a no-rae bang (노래방). These singing rooms are everywhere, and Koreans love to sing.  Don’t worry about singing in front of a large audience.  You will have your own small room, with only you and the people you came with.  You then select the songs that you want to sing and punch in the number.  The rooms come fully equipped with strobe lights, tambourines, and drinks available.  You will be surprised to find a good selection of English songs to choose from. 


            South Korea is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of people using the Internet.  Computer rooms know as PC bang (PC 방) are found everywhere.  Just look for the letters PC. Many Koreans enjoy playing online games, chatting, and Internet shopping.  You can access the Internet at one of these places for around $1 per hour. 


            Another place you can go for a more wholesome type of entertainment is a board game café. (보드게임방).  These establishments offer a great selection of games such as Monopoly, Jenga, Battle Ship, Clue, and many others.  You go with a couple of friends, order a drink, (usually non-alcoholic, but there are a few that do serve alcohol), and play whatever games you like.  It is very cheap, and can be very fun. 


            Another type of café is the doggy café. (애견카페).  If you miss having a dog around, you can visit one of these, order up a coffee or a milkshake, and mingle with the dogs.  There are usually at least 8-10 that are around.  If you have a pet, you can bring it to the café as well. 


            Do you like sports?  There are lots of opportunities to watch spectator sports in South Korea.  There is the K-League, which is Korea’s professional soccer league.  Games cost around $10.  There is also professional baseball, with tickets costing around $5.  Games are played in beautiful stadiums, and there is no significant mark-up on concessions, so it makes for an extremely inexpensive and enjoyable event. There are other forms of sports available to watch as well.  Ask around about the sport that you are interested in.  Also, there are opportunities to participate in these sports.  There is even ice hockey available.  If you are serious about any sport, you should bring your equipment along with you.


            Tae Kwon Do is Korea’s national sport and many foreigners take advantage of being in a country where they can learn from the best.  If you are interested in physical fitness and martial arts, consider taking classes. 


            You can also take advantage of many free Korean classes offered at universities and other areas.  Check out the classified sections of the English newspapers for details.  Learning Korean is useful, and you can meet many great friends with similar interests. 


            Just about anything you want to do is done in a group or club.  Whether it’s inline skating, hiking, snowboarding, acting, knitting, cooking, poetry, music, or anything else you can think of, it is likely available.  If not, start your own group!  Use the Internet and newspapers, as well as acquaintances, to find the group you are interested in. 


            Good places to enjoy open space are the rivers and parks.  You may want to enjoy a day just having a picnic near a river.  You may also want to visit an amusement park.  There are many around, such as Lotte World in Seoul, Expo in Daejeon, and Woobang Tower Land in Daegu, among many others. 


            You can visit museums and zoos.  Casinos are present in some places such a Seoul.  There are many arcades know as oh-rak-shil (오락실) where you can get rid of some unwanted change in your pocket.  Try your luck at a batting cage. 


            Another form of entertainment is the video or DVD room (비디오 방 DVD방).  Here, you pay around $10- $15 to rent your own room and choose the movie you want to watch.  When you go into the room, you should expect to find a comfy sofa, and a large screen with good, quality sound.  It’s almost like being in your own little movie theatre. You can also choose to rent a Korean DVD and ask them to put the English subtitles on so you can get a taste of Korean culture.  Watching Korean movies like this can give you lots of insight on what you see going on around you. You can also rent new releases for around a dollar at your local video store. 


            If it’s time for a birthday party, you may or may not be in luck, depending on whose party it is. In Korea, the birthday person usually pays for the evening out.  In return, everyone who was invited brings gifts.  This is supposed to balance out.  Unlike in the West, where you may expect to both receive some gifts, and not pay for the night out, Korean birthday celebrators should bring their wallet.  So, if it’s your birthday and you invite a lot of Korean friends, be sure that everyone involved knows whether it will be a Korean style birthday or Western style, or some combination of the two.


            If you choose to just sit at home and relax, you can usually enjoy a couple of English television channels.  If you really like to watch television, you may consider subscribing to a cable package with more English channels.  You can also listen to some English radio broadcasts in some areas of the country.


            There is so much to do during your stay in Korea.  This is only a summary of some of the more popular activities.  Go out and make lots of friends and try to experience as much as you can.

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