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Guide for Living in Korea

Family Culture

01 Characteristics of Korean Families

Family life in Korea is unique. Married immigrants who understand the characteristics of Korean familiescan more easily adjust to their new families and understand the culture of Korea. Family culture canvary by family and by region, but Korean culture is largely based on Confucianism. The family culture ofKorea has some similarities to that of other Confucian-influenced countries, but has diverted from itstraditional roots through the course of rapid industrialization.

(1) Family Relations

  • In Korea, a harmonious family is just as important as each member's happiness.
  • Hierarchy is important within the family. Children should be taught to respect their elders and to express their opinions in a polite manner.
  • Some grown-up children live with their parents and support them. However, the aged parents’ will to be independent and live with their own spouses at home is getting stronger.
  • Due to diversified society, change in views, and many other factors, the forms of families have also become diverse. Personal and social acceptance on various forms of families such as single-parent, grandparent-grandchildren, multicultural, adoptive, reconstituted families, etc. is becoming higher.

(2) Husband and Wife Relationship

  • The husband and wife relationship is important, but your role as a son or daughter and a parent plays a large part as well.
  • It is becoming more common that husband and wife make decisions together, and that men and women have the same responsibility in family support, childcare, and house chores.
  • The higher the communicative satisfaction and the satisfaction on pressure of child-rearing are, the higher the overall satisfaction in marriage.

(3) Adapting to Family Life

Through marriage, individuals with different family relationships, lifestyles, and thoughts becomeone family. Therefore, it is very important to adjust the differences in ideas about family life in thebeginning of the marriage. Be aware that the differences in thoughts may be bigger in internationalmarriages where two people from different cultural backgrounds meet. If you are experiencingdifficulties with your spouse because of these differences, keep the following in mind.

  • Try to understand each other's family culture
  • Learn more about family traditions from your husband and in-laws
  • Solve problems through communication
  • Seek help from others
  • Contact a professional counseling center: Danuri Helpline (☎1577-1366)
  • If problems persist, seek help from nearby support centers for multi-cultural families by calling the Danuri Helpline (☎1577-1366).

02 Language Etiquette

Unlike other countries, you can call or address someone with different titles and designations otherthan their names in Korea. On top of that, Korean names and names in Chinese characters are oftenmixed and used as titles and designations. Thus, the use of an incorrect appellation or designation couldoffend others. 'Hoching(appellation)' is what you use to call someone directly and 'Jiching(designation)'is used when referring a third person to the person you are speaking to. Combined, they are called'Chingho(title)'.

(1) Honorific and Casual Expressions

In Korea, there are slight differences in language style depending on the difference in age, relation, and social status of the speaker and the listener. These differences can be broadly described as two speaking styles: honorific and casual.

  • The honorific level is used towards elders.
  • Casual speech is used when speaking to a friend or someone younger than you.
    bap meokda (have a meal: casual) / jinji japsusida (have a meal: honorific)
    Gomaweo (Thank you: casual) / Gamsa-deurimnida (Thank you: honorific)
    Jal isseo (Bye: casual) / Annyeong-hi gyesipsio (Bye: honorific)

03 Important Days of Celebration for Families

In family life, there are many significant events that take place, such as births, marriages, or deaths offamily members or friends. These are important to both the individual and the family, and it is importantto spend time together as a family on these occasions.

(1) Births

  • Baekil (One Hundredth Day): In Korea, the hundredth day following the birth of a child is cause forcelebration. Typical foods served at a hundredth day celebration include steamed rice cakes, honeycakes made from red bean, and seaweed soup. The child is dressed in new clothes to celebrate thisspecial day.
  • First Birthday: Relatives and close friends are invited to the baby's first birthday party. The baby isusually dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean garments), and a special table is prepared. Traditionally,baekseolgi (steamed white rice cake), songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cake), and susukyungdan(a kind of honey cake made of glutinous kaoliang) are set on the table. There is also a special ritualcalled doljabi (first birthday grab). Depending on what the baby grabs, a different blessing is said forthe child and his/her future. In recent years, it is more common for restaurants and other event hallsto prepare the birthday table instead of the parents.
  • Birthdays: With regards to one's elders, birthdays are referred to as “saengshin”. In Korea, seaweedsoup is cooked for breakfast on birthdays. Sometimes, relatives and friends are invited to celebratetogether. The invited guests prepare birthday gifts or give money.

(2) Marriage

Both traditional and modern weddings take place in Korea, but these days traditional weddings aredisappearing in favor of more modern weddings. Modern weddings are performed at wedding halls,hotels, churches, and temples. During the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom wears a tuxedo, andthe bride wears a dress. Even after a modern ceremony, the official greeting to parents and relatives issometimes done in traditional way. This is called ‘pyeback.’
Over the past 10 years, the average marriage ages (first marriages) for both men and women havesteadily increased (according to the National Statistical Office).

(3) Hoegap and Gohiyeon (Banquets to wish for longevity)

  • Hoegap: Hoegap is when a person turns 60 (61 in Korean age). Children typically prepare a largeparty for their parents, celebrating their long and healthy lives. Hoegap was even more significant inthe past when the average lifespan was relatively short. As the average lifespan has increased overthe years, Hoegap celebrations have gotten simpler. In the past, a large feast was held as the majormeans of celebration, but in recent years, it is becoming increasingly common for a child to sendtheir parents on vacation, or give them a heartfelt gift and some money.
  • Gohiyeon: Gohiyeon is when a person turns 70 (71 years old in Korean age). Relatives and closefriends are invited, and a bigger party is held than in previous years. Some people also bring presents to the party.

(4) Funerals

At funerals, the family of the deceased prepares clothes of mourning and the deceased is dressedin special garments as well. Typically, the garments for the deceased are prepared in advance forthe elderly while they are still alive. These garments differ by household and region. In some cases,the deceased is dressed in hemp clothes, in black or white. Guests attending a munsang* shouldavoid wearing bright colors, and dress in black or white. During munsang, it is important to pay yourrespects and pray together with the family. Money is also offered to the family as a means of showingcondolences.

  • Munsang: Visiting the family of the deceased to offer condolences

(5) Ceremonies

A ritual ceremony to honor the memory of departed parents is held on the anniversary day or the nightbefore. It may be done in different ways. The participants dress plainly and honor the memory of thedeceased. It may be different depending on family culture, religion, etc.

  • Death Memorial Service : This is a service performed on the night that a person passes away. Normally, Koreans continue to perform the service on the anniversary of their ancestors' death, up to two generations back
  • Family Memorial Service: Performed at festivals such as the New Year's Day, Hansik, and Chuseok
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