Ever since the 1990s, Hallyu or the so-called “Korean Wave” has been spreading across the globe, and for good reason. As South Korea started to stand out among its more imposing neighbors, China and Japan, this cultural current took off with spectacular speed. Between music, TV shows, makeup, skincare, delicious food and technology, Korean pop culture is as fascinating as it gets. Therefore, I’m here to walk you through some key elements with the help of my Guide to Korean culture and civilization.
The history of the Korean Peninsula dates back to 2333 BC with the first kingdom of mythic origin, Gojoseon. The legend tells how the Lord of Heaven’s son descended on Mount Baekdu (present North Korea), where a bear and a tiger wished to become humans. Eventually, the tiger became a beautiful woman and gave birth to Dangun, the kingdom’s founder.
Situated between the Chinese Empire, Manchuria and the Japanese archipelago, the two Koreas as we know them today have survived many transformations over the centuries. Generations of kings and queens, wars between Koreans and the other Asian peoples, and later on, Western influences have shaped their distinct culture.
Top 3 travel destinations
South Korea’s capital city, a mesmerizing mix between old and new, tradition and a cosmopolitan society. Here you will find both the Royal Palaces of the past, traditional Korean villages, but also modern skyscrapers and a buzzing nightlife.
A Southeastern city, Busan is known for its maritime industry and its tranquil beaches. Whether you want to go on a relaxing hike, or swim in the Yellow Sea and taste some of the local fish and sea food, this port city is for you.
3) Jeju Island
A 1 hour and 10 minute-long flight from Seoul can take you to this volcanic oasis. So, either for climbing Mount Halla or enjoying water sports, this is an ideal holiday destination for most Korean families.
Korean Pop Culture is a huge reason why more and more foreigners are being attracted to this East Asian wonderland. Firstly, let’s talk about K-Pop. It took the world by storm with its colorful visuals, hypnotizing choreographies and up-beat music that needs no translation. These include some of the biggest boy bands and girl groups at the moment. For example, BTS, Blackpink, NCT127, Stray Kids, Twice, Mamamoo and many others. But don’t be fooled! Korean music ranges from Pop, Rap, R&B to even Rock. There’s surely a song out there for anyone willing to listen.
K-Dramas are another fun pastime which put South Korea on the map for its cinematic universe. Historical dramas showcase the intriguing conflicts of the Royal family, while introducing fantastic elements from Korean mythology and forbidden love stories between peasants and noblemen. Contemporary dramas explore various themes of everyday life and are a great way to learn about Korean society, norms and mindsets. Not to mention their unique language and customs. Two of the most popular dramas at the moment are Backstreet Rookie and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.
All things beauty
A natural, flawless complexion, a healthy glow and a pop of color is the go-to look for Korean women and men for that matter. This is due to their major focus on skincare and beauty products. Sheet masks, serums, cushion foundation and lip tints are only a few of the essentials. Popular brands are 3CE (Three Concept Eyes), Innisfree, Dr Jart.+, Etude House and The Face Shop, Tony Moly, Laneige and SkinFood.
Food for thought
Korean cuisine is different from Chinese and Japanese because of its spiciness and attention to detail. Color harmony and plating is also crucial for delivering a special culinary experience. From noodles to soups, stews and barbecue, Koreans are proud of their wide range of dishes made with fresh, local ingredients. Tofu, kimchi, fish and seafood, colorful vegetables and of course, rice, are basic elements. Did you know that in Korean, the word for food is the same as for rice? (Bap 밥)
Finally, the electronics and automobile industries are some of the most developed in South Korea. Think about Samsung, LG, Hyundai or Daewoo. These are multinational businesses with headquarters on every continent. This is why the chances of knowing someone with a Samsung phone or a Hyundai car are fairly big in most countries.
So, the next time you want to listen to something different, watch a fun show or try out some spicy noodles, I hope you give anything Korean a try!
Also, while adding Seoul to your travel list, check out another beautiful destination here: Vienna – the capital of geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven.