The South Korean Stereotypes

It all started on November 26, 2014 when “mixo” commented on my professional stereotypes post, saying:

Hey MantisShrimp, been following your blog silently. Love your posts. Would it be possible to do stereotypes on KOREANS? Hope your blog grows

This short message from mixo was special, because it subtly states that; despite having few existing Korean Stereotypes posts and questions and answers pages already available on the web, he or she trusted me more than any other person in giving this topic a fair shot. Besides, this was the first request I have ever received to write any article; Up to that point, I’ve been writing purely out of my fascination with the way we human beings behave, thrive and evolve.

Korea at night

Korea at night
From Flickr user: Hector Garcia

I do not claim to be an expert in the Korean culture nor to be an expert in understanding the Korean people. I have never been to Korea and unfortunately, I have never had Korean friends; Am I the right person to write this? Probably not, but I decided to give it my best. By that I mean that I have been doing my research for the last few weeks. I have read numerous posts and questions and answers, watched many documentaries about Korea (both North and South Korea). It has been a long and interesting trip in which I knew that I cannot understand the Korean culture and the Korean people without studying and understanding their history. Not only was it necessary for me to understand Korea’s history with China and Japan, but I also had to understand the parallel history of North Korea and South Korea.

I have always admired the east Asian culture. By the end of my research, I had already fallen in love with the Korean culture and Korean people. I have always dreamed about travelling to an Asian country (especially east or south-east Asian country), away from “what is familiar” to experience what is unknown; to live life there as a resident and not only as passing by tourist. What changed? nothing! I want to do that now more than ever.

Note: This stereotype article is about South Korea only. I realized that there is a huge social, political and economical gap between South and North Korea and combining both stereotypes in one post makes no sense at all 🙂

Korean Women Stereotypes

Physical Characteristics of Korean girls

The population of South Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia is approximately 3.7 billion. Though, the population of these regions are simply referred to as Asian, these three very populous regions are ethnically diverse. What I am trying to say is that I believe that South Korean girls are the most beautiful of the whole 3.7 billion “Asian” ethnicities and are certainly one of the most beautiful in the world.

Typical South Korean girl

Typical South Korean girl
From Flickr User: Huiju Sin

Why do I believe so? Is it because the image of the beautiful models in Psy’s Gangdam style and Gentelemen songs dominate my inner deep psychology? Maybe!  I do realize that the models in those two songs don’t resemble the average South Korean girl (more than half of the dancers in the songs have blondish hair :D); none the less, I still believe Koran girls are so gorgeous! or do I simply have a weak spot for Asian beauty?

I apologize, I did one of my very common off-topic “detours”, so here is what a typical Korean girl looks like:

  • Beautiful black straight hair (very common in most East Asia and South East Asian countries)
  • Flawless white and beautiful skin.
Gorgeous Korean smile, beautiful hair, perfect skin

Gorgeous Korean smile, beautiful hair, perfect skin
From Flickr: user, hojusaram

  • Very elegantly dressed, in a smart manner, finding the balance between the South Korean conservative culture and the western liberty and sexuality.
  • I have always assumed that the average South Korean girl is a little short and thin (just like many other Asian nations such as Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam…) but I was wrong.

Here is what a teacher in Korea, rulerstothesky, had to say about Korean men and women in regards to their height and body-built in general:

I am right at 6 feet tall and a reasonably muscular 190 pounds. Seeing men who are taller, more muscular, or fatter than me is normal, and seeing women about my height only slightly less normal

Statistically speaking, the average height of a Korean girl is 160 cm or 5 feet 3 inches in contrast to an average of 151.7 cm or 4 feet 11.5 inches in Philippines and  152.2 cm  or 5 feet in Vietnam which again proves that I was wrong :), Korean girls are perfect!

You might be interested in reading this Taiwanese blogger’s keen observations of Korean Women (mostly in comparison to Taiwanese girls).

Personality and Behavior of Korean girls

It is easy for us (human beings) to be drawn into a tunnel vision, seeing the world from the tiny window of our limited knowledge. I do wish one day to make my own observations, analysis and judgments, I do wish to experience the real “South Korean” way of life, but for now, I have to rely on my research (facts from reliable resources), use my reasoning and if still in doubt, hopefully, you can help me confirm or debunk these personality related stereotypes about Korean girls:

Attitude of Korean Girls towards money and dating

The Stereotype, Quoted from Connect Korea :

Money, as in every country, is important in Korea.  Women like you to spend money on them and not be cheap. They like to go out and eat at nice restaurants.  They prefer their boyfriends to drive nice cars, have good jobs, take them on trips, buy them expensive gift

Cute Korean Girl

Cute Korean Girl
From Flickr, user: Huiju Sin

  • My Reasoning: This stereotype is always stated in a way that suggests that South Korean girls are materialistic. I believe this stereotype is false, Korean girls are not materialistic.
    • Korea is very family oriented and children’s relation to their parents is based on a delicate mix of obedience, fear, love and respect. If a Korean girl dates a guy, it means that she think that he is a man that she would be proud to introduce to her parents. Someone broke who can’t afford a car, a descent house and a nice dinner every now and then hardly meets the criteria of a successful man that can make your parents proud.
    • So how do I explain or justify the popularity of such a stereotype? Here is how. Korean girls aren’t easy and have high standards and high self worth, which is the reason why many Korean teenagers sacrifice leisure and fun activities for the sake of education. If a Korean girl doesn’t date a guy because he is poor, it is probably because of her belief that a poor guy is poor because of chronic underachievement and failures, which is really not attractive for the deeply rooted over-achieving culture of South Korea.
    • South Korea is not poor. South Korean families are supportive and loving and South Korean parents wouldn’t spare any expense to ensure their sons and daughter’s well-being. It is hard for me to believe that South Korean women are “materialistic” knowing that the average South Korean girl hasn’t experienced poverty. If you eat sushi everyday, sushi is no longer a luxury that you desire.

The Korean family life

Stereotype: A common stereotypical assumption is that all or most Korean women, give up their careers to get married, have children and take care of their families. This is only partially true.

The facts: Quoting from Korean OECD report:

In terms of employment, nearly 64% of people aged 15 to 64 in Korea have a paid job, slightly below the OECD employment average of 65%. Some 75% of men are in paid work, compared with 53% of women, suggesting that women encounter difficulties in balancing work and family life.

It might be true that some women fit the “stay at home, Korean housewife” stereotype; However, statistically, most Korean women manage to maintain a day-time job in addition to their role as a parent and a wife.

Korean Men Stereotypes

Most Korean men, just like Korean girls, have straight black hair, black eyes and white skin.

Stereotype 1: The Stereotypical image of Korean men is that of a young computer nerd, wearing eyeglasses, thin and a bit short. This stereotypes originates from the fact that Korean adults are very hard working, Korean teenagers are very serious students and due to the fact that e-gaming is very popular in South Korea.

The facts: Korean men’s average height is 174 cm or 5 feet 8.5 inches. That is significantly higher than most east and south east Asian nations and only slightly less than most western nations. So I would say that this stereotype isn’t true.

Stereotype 2: All men look like cute and very young boys.

My Reasoning: I think most Asian races look younger than their actual age. Do you agree?

When I first moved to Dubai I could never guess the correct age of any of my Filipino or Malaysian or Chinese friends. Most Asian people seem to have baby faces 🙂 (lucky). So I do agree with this Stereotype.

Stereotype 3: Most men are very well dressed and spend a lot of time and money on shopping as part of an effort to look good.

Is it true? 🙂

Stereotype 4: Korean men are strict fathers and traditional husbands (i.e. Korean men assume that the wife should carry on all house related duties).

My Reasoning: I am sure that there many men do fit this stereotype and many others who don’t and unfortunately there is no scientific way to confirm or disprove this stereotype.

Education in South Korea

The Stereotype: South Korean schools are among the toughest schools in the world and are way superior than the average western schools. South Korean students are very intelligent, very obedient and study all the time.

These stereotypes are absolutely true. The general belief in South Korea is that the best way to secure a good future is by studying night and day. Studying hard is your ticket to a good college and a good college is your ticket to a good job in a good company, a good salary and a happy life. It is all part of the South Korean government’s belief that the most valuable natural resource is its people’s capability to create and innovate, which is why the government invests huge amounts of money on both private and public educational institutions. This believe is rooted in every parent and child’s psychology and it is a way of life and a way of serving one’s nation. As mentioned in the short BBC documentary in the video above, South Korea was transformed in just two generations “from mass illiteracy to a technological power house” and from one of the poorest countries into one of the richest and most advanced countries in the world.

The effectiveness of the educational system in Korea is undeniable. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment result report  (page 7) reveals that Korean students are the fifth performing students worldwide with a score of 554 only after Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, scoring an average of 613 , 573, 561 and 560 respectively. Here are some other scores that might be interesting to you.

Japan: 536

Germany: 514

France: 495

United Kingdom: 494

United States: 481

Korean Students

Korean Students
From Flickr user: Yeoju Students

No one can argue that the educational system in South Korea is very effective, but let us see how tough is it for students in South Korea, here is a video of a South Korean student explaining the grading system in South Korean schools:

What does this mean? Your results are always determined in relevance to how everyone has performed on a certain exam. This means that if you are in a school of hardworking and intelligent students who are ready to ace each exam, getting few wrong answers (let us say 3 out of 30, which is still as high as 90% accurate), could be enough to drop you down to 3 or 4 which is equivalent to C or D. Now, you might understand why students leave day time school to go to night time school, then leave night time school to go home and study some more, because schools in South Korea are not only difficult, but are also very competitive.

The e-Gaming Culture

The Stereotype: South Koreans love e-games (especially Starcraft). Professional gamers in South Korea are like rock stars.

Beautiful Korean Models ( Starcraft is cool in Korea ;) )

Beautiful Korean Models ( Starcraft is cool in Korea 😉 )
From Flickr, user: KRWonders

This Stereotype is true. South Korea is the capital of e-gaming. Starcraft in South Korea is as big and popular as Football in Germany or BasketBall in USA or Cricket in India. It is the national sport of South Korea.

The first video sheds light on Starcraft in South Korea; the second video is a documentary about Starcraft worldwide and features Starcraft 2 casters from the United States and pro-gamers from all over the world. Starcraft is more than just a computer game, there is a whole economy based on this game now. There are professional gamers who are paid to play Starcraft, there are Casters (just like any sport), there is a huge fan base spending long hours playing the game as a hobby. In South Korea, the competition is more fierce and the players are substantially better than international players. South Korea is the only country having TV channels dedicated to Starcraft and this simply reflects on how serious the e-gaming culture is in South Korea.

Culture of hard work and dedication

South Korea is known to host a tireless workforce. According to the OECD labor force statistics, the average Korean works 2163 hours a year compared to the OECD average of 1773 hours and the United States average of 1789 hours annually.

When I think of Korea, I can’t help but feel that Korea is the younger and more energetic version of Japan. The youthful South Korean economy is booming with creativity and excellence. Few decades ago, “Made in Korea” was almost synonymous to “Made in China”; No one wanted to buy a Korean car or a Korean TV. However, things gradually changed and now Korean industrial products are one of the most trusted products in the world, Hyundai and KIA are competing with Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi and LG and Samsung are competing with IPhone, Sony, Toshiba and many others.

Common Stereotypes (Superficial Stereotypes)

I left this section for some of the very common stereotypes that I found to be a bit superficial. I am still going to include these in this section just for sake of the completeness of this post.

  • Koreans eat kimchi every day: True stereotype, I certainly would like to try it one day, must be delicious :D.
  • Koreans eat dog meat: This stereotype seems to be haunting most Asian countries and not only South Korea. I found many sources on the web clarifying that “eating dogs” might have been true for older generations only (not that common even for older generations)
  • Koreans and racism: I have read countless posts and Q&A about this. I will make it brief and straight to the point. Koreans are not racist. Most of these stereotypes came from foreign people who have visited Korea in the past and experience many staring eyes. I believe that most people stare out of curiosity or simply because they do appreciate foreign beauty.


That is all for now :), I hope you enjoyed reading. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.