As I mentioned in my first post, I am woefully ignorant about Korea. Before learning that I would be moving to the country, this is what I knew:
This is a pretty small, simple list to come from a person with her Master’s degree. I am embarrassed at my lack of knowledge. So when we found out we would be living in South Korea, I decided that I needed to learn about my new home.
Just to clarify, when I use the term “Korea” I mean South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea (ROK). Its nickname, given by an American in 1885, is “Land of the Morning Calm.” Sounds peaceful, right? North Korea is officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and it is someplace that I will probably never visit.
I knew that Korea was in Asia, but if two months ago I had been given a blank map, there was no way I would have been able to locate the country. Korea is on a peninsula, aptly named the Korean peninsula, that sits between China and Japan. The only country that South Korea shares a border with is North Korea. This famous border generally follows the 38th parallel north.
I think a lot of people learn new information best by being able to compare it to their prior knowledge. I know that I do, because when I read that South Korea is 38,691 square miles, my mind was still an absolute blank. Those 38,691 square miles mean that South Korea is approximately the size of Indiana. The entire Korean peninsula, North and South Korea combined, is about the size of Minnesota. Much of Korea is mountainous, and there are about 3,000 little islands around its coast. Much easier for me to visualize! Korea is 13 or 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, depending on daylight savings time. Currently, if it is 12 p.m. (noon) in New York City, then it is 1 a.m on the following day in Korea.
Over 80% of Koreans live in an urban area. The biggest cities in the country are Seoul (the capital), Busan, and Incheon. Most of the Korean population is… Korean. Meaning that there are about 20,000 Chinese and other groups, but over 97% of the population is ethnically Korean. The Koreans call themselves Hanguk-in, which means the “great people.” Almost 50% of Koreans are between the ages of 25-54, which I think is a fairly young population. The USA is right around 40% for that age range. And Koreans will keep that rate going because their birth rate is 2%; while America is just under 1%. The country is a democracy and, just like the US, has three branches- judicial, legislative, and executive.
I have been told by many people that Korea gets very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. I looked it up, and I found that the average temperature for December to February is around 30˚F, but it can go as low as 0˚F with negative wind chills. That pretty much fits my definition of “very cold.” However, summer temperatures have highs in the mid 80s. According to Wikipedia, summer weather brings “temperatures soaring as high as 35°C (95°F) on occasion.” Ha! After living three years in Texas where we would go months with the high over 100°F, I don’t think mid 80s with occasional 95°F seems very hot at all. Maybe mildly warm. I’m slightly nervous to put my scoffing in writing; that really may come back to bite me. The only thing I can think might make a difference is the humidity. Korea has a monsoon season, which I think sounds interesting as I have never lived anywhere with that type of climate. That interest may not lost very long though. In July and August, Korea gets an average of 14-15 inches of rain per month. Think of all the mosquitos that will produce!
The Korean alphabet is known as Hangul, and the language seems incredibly difficult to me at this point, but I hope to at least learn the basics. The peninsula has been split since 1945. So I’m quite curious to find out if there are any studies about linguistic differences between the two countries after over 60 years of separation, especially with North Korea so isolated from much of the world. I think those little language quirks are fun to know. I collect them as I move around. For example, Tennessee is the only place I’ve heard “youns,” which is like “y’all” in Texas. Has North Korea started using a different plural pronoun than South Korea?
From what I have read, Korea exports a lot of entertainment. Korean dramas, TV miniseries, are spreading in popularity across Asia and are even available on Netflix. I am definitely going to watch one and see how addicting they really are. Additionally, Korean pop music, K-pop, has also been gaining in popularity. There is a lot more to it than PSY and Gangnam Style. I watched this video by one of the better known groups, Girls Generation.
Wow. I have no idea what they are saying, but it’s so happy! Such a vast amount of Korean culture is pouring out of the country that there is even a term for it, Hallyu, or the Korean wave. I’m intrigued by it all and can’t wait to experience some of it first hand.
These basic facts helped me to better visualize my future location. However, in finding these facts, I got sucked into the fascinating world of the CIA World Fact Book. It’s simply amazing. It’s like a treasure trove of knowledge! (Does anyone else get this exited about information?!)
Some of the most interesting information I found:
The capital of South Korea, Seoul, has over 10 million residents; New York City is smaller with just over 8 million. (Shanghai is the most populous city in the world.)
South Korea ranks very low in its obesity rate compared to other nations. However, most exciting, the United States is NOT the fattest country! Just the 6th fattest. I was quite surprised to see that Saudi Arabia has a higher obesity rate than America.
Australia will still be far away. As travelers we very excited about exploring not only Korea, but other nearby countries. One of the first things we did when we found out that we were moving to Korea was to research places we want to visit. I thought, “Oh! We will be in Asia and so much closer to Australia! The flights won’t be as long as from the US!” Nope. Still a 19 hour flight. Maps are deceptive little things.
And with nothing to do with Korea:
The Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the US, has the lowest migration rate in the world, -41 per 1000 in the population. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses the population decreased 22%.
Once I find out new facts, I like to use them. Repeatedly. If there is the slightest opportunity for me to tell someone, then I will throw it in. ZING! Fact! A lot of people have been asking me about our upcoming move, and it is the perfect opportunity to throw out my one-liners of knowledge. “Oh, we’re so excited to go to Korea! Did you know they just elected their first female president?” (see how I slid in that fact?) It’s probably an annoying quirk to others, but I thrive on it. And now this blog provides me the perfect opportunity to pass around my new knowledge! This is only a sample of what I have to share about Korea; get ready!