The Republic of Korea (ROK), or South Korea, was established on the southern half of the Korean peninsula in 1948, following the end of World War II, after more than 36 years of Japanese colonial rule. Korea has remained a divided nation for over 50 years after the armistice ending the Korean War was signed in 1953. Historically, Korea has roots dating back almost 5,000 years, which makes for a culture that is rich in tradition and heritage.
Nowadays, South Korea has grown into one of the world’s largest economies, and Korean products, technology, services and expertise are among the most competitive in the world. Also, Korea’s strategic location in the center of East Asia, serving as the intersection of China, Japan and Russia, makes it ideal as a logistics hub of trade for the whole region.
Korea is a country of both large urban centers and beautiful natural scenery. A large percentage of South Korea’s 49 million people reside in the vibrant capital city of Seoul, which boasts a unique blend of Korean cultural heritage and modern vitality and creativity. The city is home to the headquarters of many major multinational companies and financial institutions.
Most of the peninsula is quite mountainous which provides for exceptional snow sports and mountain climbing with spectacular vistas. At the same time, wide plains can be found in the west and south. With a coastline stretching over 2,400 km, Korea boasts many beautiful coastal areas and islands (including the popular tourist destination, Jeju Island in the south), as well as an abundant supply of marine products.
Korea’s climate is temperate and has four distinct seasons. In the winter, the temperature can drop below freezing and moderate snow can be expected in the northern regions. In the spring, the weather is pleasant and the flowers are in full bloom all across the country. Summer can be hot and humid with a rainy season that lasts for about one month. In the fall, many Koreans go hiking in the mountains to enjoy the nice weather and the striking scenery of the foliage changing color.
Much of traditional Korean food is derived from what can be found in the surrounding oceans, plains and mountains. The most distinguishing feature of Korean food is the spicy flavor, which comes from such prime ingredients as red pepper, garlic and soy sauce.
Kimchi, fermented cabbage with red pepper and other spices, is considered the Korean national food and is served with virtually every meal. Koreans also enjoy many different varieties of meat dishes including bulgogi (barbequed marinated beef or pork), poultry and seafood. There is also a wide variety of different soups that tend to be quite spicy and rich in flavor.
In cosmopolitan Seoul, cuisine from different cultures and ethnicities around the world can be found from casual fast food to fusion dishes to exotic selections.
For visitors coming to Korea, there are several different options available for housing. For students, the first option is to live in the on-campus dormitory, International House. The dorm has a shared kitchen and laundry facilities, as well as lounge areas and computers. Meals are not provided at the dorm, but there are many nearby cafeterias and restaurants, and you can use the refrigerators in the dorm to store food.
The second option is to get your own apartment or studio. These are usually arranged through a Korean real estate agent. Generally, you have to pay a large deposit fee (minimum of 5,000,000 won), sign a one-year contract, and then pay about 500,000 won per month. The high deposit fees make this option difficult for most students.
Another option that is very popular with students, both international and domestic, is the off-campus dormitories called Ha-sook-jib. They don't have deposit fees, cost range between 400,000 ~ 600,000 won a month, include two meals a day, and you get your own private room. Just like the on-campus dormitory, there are shared kitchen and laundry facilities. There are plenty of Ha-sook-jib in the Sinchon area around Yonsei.
Korea's public transportation system is extensive and affordable, accessing almost every place imaginable. For quickly getting around Seoul and avoiding the increasingly heavy road traffic, taking the subway can be the best way to go. Subway lines go to almost all popular areas, with stops near major train stations and bus terminals. One trip costs between 900 and 1,200 won, depending on the distance. Station signs and maps are written in English and Korean, as well as Chinese characters at some stops. Announcements about the upcoming stop are made in both English and Korean.
You can also use the well-developed bus system to get around. Buses go to every part of the city, but figuring out which one to get can be a bit of a challenge. Stops that are near a subway station or major landmark are announced and displayed in English, but otherwise, stop announcements are in Korean. Drivers often travel fairly quickly and make abrupt stops and departures. Also, buses can be crowded, so you may be unable to find a seat. However, like the subway, the bus fees are very reasonable. It costs between KRW 700 and KRW 1,300 to take the bus and you can also make transfers between buses or to the subway if you get yourself a transportation card. These cards are available at all subway stations and many convenience stores. You can put money on the card and then you don’t have to worry about having change for the bus or the subway.
In Korea, taxis are always available at any time day or night. Just stand on the side of almost any street for a few minutes and one will come. Of course taxis are more expensive than the bus or the subway, but relative to other international cities, they are quite inexpensive. There are two different kinds of taxis: the standard ones and the deluxe taxis. The deluxe taxis are usually black and are much more expensive, whereas the standard ones are silver or white. Many areas also have call-taxis or larger call-vans that will come and pick you up when you call them, for an additional charge.
Korea's long history and varied influences have made its culture very unique and interesting. For the visitor to Korea, there is a plethora of wonderful traditional and modern performances, musicals, plays, exhibitions, art festivals and events to see throughout the year. There are a wide variety of Korean games and pastimes to experience and enjoy. Korea has many cultural heritage sites throughout the country and dozens of world-class museums that house wonderful examples of Korean art and ancient artifacts, as well as a diverse range of modern and international collections.
The Korean language is classified as a member of the Ural-Altaic family (other members of this family include the Mongolian, Finnish and Hungarian languages.) Until the 15th century, most documents were written in classical Chinese characters. In 1443, King Sejong, the 4th ruler of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), created a new writing system specifically suited to the Korean language. This script is known as Hangul. It is considered by many prominent linguists as the simplest and most logical writing system in the world.