Ahn yong ha se yo (that's hello in Korean!)

Host a foreign exchange student from South Korea

Trend setting South Korea has officially arrived on the world stage. From K-pop and kimchi to their famous beauty regimes, we all seem to be keeping up with the Koreans!

By understanding more about our Korean exchange students’ lives back home, it will help you gain insight into their culture and background and prepare you for a successful hosting experience. Let’s start by learning about what’s typical in Korean communication, home life, education and food, as described by our program participants.

Educational system

Education is valued in the Korean culture and is seen as the key to respect and success. The South Korean school system can be broken up into three parts: elementary school (ages 6-12), middle school (ages 13-15) and high school (ages 16-18). Many students attend private tutoring academies to prepare for competitive university entrance exams, spending months preparing intensively. These academies may take up more time than their actual schoolwork. Middle school students feel stress and pressure to get into good high schools and to then apply to universities.

Tip From EF: Education in South Korea is taken very seriously, and students tend to prioritize academics over social and family activities. We will prepare the students about the differences at their British school and encourage a balance between academics and activities.

Communication style

It is common for South Koreans to smile when they are uncertain of how to respond. Some may also laugh when they are embarrassed. Traditionally, holding eye contact while speaking to an elder in the South Korean culture has been considered disrespectful or disobedient, and children are taught to avoid this from a young age. Recently, South Koreans have begun to use more eye contact because of the importance to connecting with Western cultures. Koreans may be shy when initiating conversations or meeting new people. They tend to feel more comfortable after being introduced. In Korean culture, “I love you” is not very commonly used in family or friend relationships.

Tip From EF: Students may appear to understand or agree with something they don’t because they don’t want to offend you or know what to say. Ask open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” This will help encourage conversation. Be aware that your student may not feel comfortable verbalizing that they disagree, so be sure to rephrase questions in different ways to determine their true perspective. It may be helpful to ask your student to write down any concerns or questions as they grow more comfortable with the language.

Ahn yong ha se yo


Eotteohge jinaeseyo?

How are you?

Food habits

Three meals a day is traditional in Korean families, however, many families are busy and dining together does not happen at all meals. The most commonly used utensils are metal chopsticks and spoons. Rice and Kimchi (fermented vegetables, such as cabbage) are staples at almost every meal with many different kinds of side dish. Korean food is often very flavorful and spicy.

Tip From EF: Food in South Korea is different than in the UK, so allow your student time to settle in and talk to them about the types of foods they prefer. Scheduling a few meals together as a family each week can make the student feel welcomed and at home. Encouraging them to help with grocery shopping and meal preparation will also help them adjust.

Home life

Respecting the elderly is incredibly important in South Korea families. A person’s status is determined by many factors, including gender, education, family background, occupation and wealth. Age, however, is the primary factor of status. Families who have more than two children are considered large. The country’s birthrate is one of the lowest in the world. Education is the primary focus for school-aged children. Students are very busy with academics and private tutoring. Therefore, children are not required to help around the house as much as British children.

Tip From EF: Sit down with your student at the beginning of the year and go overall rules, schedules and expectations; write them down. Be sure to explain and demonstrate how to do any chores and use the washer and dryer. Take time to explain how transportation will work and the importance of curfews and checking in with you. Be patient with your student, giving them time to experience the family dynamic of your home and become accustomed to the more casual nature of relationships in the UK. Make time to sit down once a week for the first month to discuss differences they have noticed.

Hangug gyohwan-hagsaeng-eul mannaseo neomu gippeubnida!

I am so excited to meet my Korean exchange student!

Gimchileul juseyo!

Please pass the kimchi!

Hosting advice from our Korean exchange students

“I wish my host family knew that the British education system is a lot different than in South Korea. In South Korea, the teachers are teaching, students are listening. We rarely ask questions.”

Tip From EF: Introduce your student to their guidance counselor and encourage them to use other resources available at their school. Talk to your student about how school is going and how they feel about the style of teaching here. Remind them to speak up if they have a question or something to say as class participation is an important part of their grade in Ireland.

“I wish my host family knew that it was a huge adjustment for me to use a lot of eye contact when speaking to adults.”

Tip From EF: Understand that making eye contact makes your student uncomfortable; in their culture, lack of eye contact is perceived as a sign of respect towards adults. Be patient and talk openly with them while they adjust to Irish norms of communicating.

“I wish my host family had understood that friends of the same gender are often more affectionate towards each other in South Korea.”

Tip From EF: Koreans have a concept called “skinship” which refers to displays of affection between two close friends, especially common amongst teenagers. Friends will hold hands, drape their arms around each other or sit on each other’s laps. If this level of affection makes people uncomfortable, talk to your student about it. Explain the differences in British culture and discuss physical boundaries.

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