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South Korea is a unitary presidential constitutional republic.
It is a developed country with a high standard of living. South Korea is divided into eight provinces with the capital in Seoul. Park Geun-hye is the president of the country and the first woman to be elected as President in South Korea.
The church was first sent to Korea in 1951, which means that the church is still relatively new.The church has grown significantly since it was established as a mission in 1962 with seven branches. As the Church is relatively young in Korea, most members are first-generation members or second-generation members. In addition to finding and teaching investigators, an important aspect of missionary service in Korea is strengthening the members.
As of 2013, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported 85,628 members, 16 stakes, 6 districts,and 128 Congregations (83 wards, and 45 branches,) 4 missions, and 1 temple in South Korea.
Korean food is largely based on rice, noodles, vegetables and meat. Kimchi (fermented side dish made out of vegetables and different seasonings – usually pretty spicy) is a very popular dish and can be served almost with everything. Many Korean dishes are spicy but delicious.
Koreans eat some form of kimchi and rice at every meal. Korean cuisine is based on vegetables, with occasional asian noodles, and bits of meat. As beef is extraordinarily expensive, chicken is most available. Korean food is amazingly healthy, and Koreans hate bland food, so all food has a lot of taste, most of the time that takes the form of spicy food (from asian peppers). Since Koreans have inhabited the peninsula for over 3,000 years, they have become masters at making good use of the food items they have. In other words, Korean food is amazingly delicious! For missionaries there are cheap options, and even some more American-esque food, like $5 pizzas (with Korean flair, like sweet potatoes and corn on it), and $3 toast sandwiches that are amazing!
South Korea has a very intricate public transportation system. Between bus, metro, train and taxis, you can get from anywhere to anywhere. The transportation is relatively cheap, and very efficient. As missionaries will stay in their areas, the most common form of transportation is bus, foot and taxi. On most forms of transportation, there are designated senior/pregnant/disabled seating reserved. Regardless of if the bus/train/metro is empty or full, it is seen as disrespectful for a missionary to sit in those areas. Also, if the bus/train/metro is full, it is appropriate to give up your seat for an elderly person. They will try to refuse, but that is just part of the culture, and the appropriate response is to insist that they take your seat. During rush hour, the public transportation can be very crowded.
Korea has exceedingly low crime rates.
Most financial transactions are cash-based, and the largest bill is equivalent to a $10, so people often carry many bills, with little or no fear of being robbed. Refer to the area map for areas that are best to avoid and stay close to the Spirit.
Koreans celebrate two major holidays: Chuseok (Fall Harvest Thanksgiving) and Lunar New Year. These holidays are based on the lunar calendar, so actual dates change from year to year. For each of these holidays, the entire country shuts down for between 2-5 days, and everyone goes to the family patriarch’s home to celebrate together and pay homage to ancestors. Each spring/early summer everyone gets a day off of work to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Similar to westernized customs, the women are primarily responsible for feeding and cleaning for the holidays. In Korean customs, male-to-female interactions are very limited. It is inappropriate for a male missionary to shake hands with females. Language and proper form and address is an important aspect of Korean culture.
Bowing can be considered as shaking hands, so as a rule of thumb, bow when people bow to you. Sometimes people bow while shaking hands, and it’s polite to return the gesture. Respecting elder generations is also an important part of the Korean culture.
안녕하세요? Ahnyoung-ha-seyo, “Are you at peace?” (Greetings, Good morning, good day, hello)
반갑습니다. Pan-gap-sum-nida. “Nice to meet you.”
수고하세요. Soogo-ha-seyo, “Go work hard.” (Appropriate parting phrase)
좋은 하루 되세요. Cho-un haru dwa-seyo, “Have a good day.”
감사합니다. Kam-sa-ham-nida. “Thank you.”
예수 그리스도 후기 성도 교회. Ye-su Ku-ri-su-do Hoo-gi Sungdo Kyo-hway, “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”
선교사. Sun-kyo-sa. “Missionary”
한국. Hangook “Korea”
대한민국. Dae-han-min-gook “The Great United Beautiful Country” (Full name of Korea)
화이팅! Hwa-ee-ting! “Fighting!” (Go team! Huzzah! Yay!)
-Slip-on Dress Shoes (inside houses and restaurants everyone takes their shoes off. Lace-up shoes get in the way)
-Sturdy umbrella (Korea goes through a yearly typhoon season which usually lasts for an entire month. The winds and storm will break any non-sturdy umbrella)
-American Toothpaste and Deodorant (Korean stores sell these, but most American missionaries prefer to bring their own, or have their own shipped)
-No electronics (different power cords, and most transmitters do not work, and actually fry your electronics)
-Electronic translator (available for purchase in Korea, helpful language study aid)
-Thermal garments and thin garments (Korea has exceedingly cold winters and intensely hot and humid summers)
-Small tokens (magnets, postcards) and pictures from home (Koreans love to connect at a personal level, and small gifts are frequent expressions of affection)
Korea is known as the land of the morning calm. Korea is a beautiful country full of amazing and wonderful people. The culture may be difficult to understand at times, but any attempts to embrace the culture or language are very appreciated and respected. Koreans are very professional in appearance and behavior, so it is of the utmost importance to be Christlike and professional as well. Be prepared to fall in love with the country, the language, the culture, and especially the people!
Shipping to Korea –
Flat-rate international shipping (available via USPS) is the best way to mail things from the US to Korea. Once in Korea, the mail system is fast and efficient, and cheap. The Korean mail system is about as reliable as the USPS, occasionally packages get lost or damaged, but the vast majority of the time packages and mail arrive quickly. All physical mail and packages go to the mission office, and each mission will determine how frequently to mail out letters, and packages are available at Zone Conferences and other events. **To those shipping packages to missionaries in Korea: As a general rule of thumb, avoid sending non-perishables. For instance, jerky or other meat products create a customs nightmare, and there is often a high cost for the recipient to pay for importing even small portions of meat.
What items were hard to get or not available?
“Some American beverages were hard to get – like Dr. Pepper or rootbeer. Otherwise, you can find almost everything.”
What did you eat the most of?
“Rice and kimchi”
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Dog. It actually wasn’t that bad.”
“Dog Soup or Live Octopus”
What was most surprising about the culture?
“The amount of years people spend on education. Many people graduate from high school when they are 19.”
“Literally everything is entirely different in Korea. From the light switches going from side to side instead of up to down, to sidewalks being made from individual bricks, to toilet flushers. Korean culture is one of deep humility, high respect for others, and having a mindset of doing what is best for the family and community, not what is best for an individual. To connect well with Koreans (members and non-), you must embrace the culture, even the parts that may not make sense. In Korean culture, food is of the utmost importance. So much time, money, and effort goes into making the food. Therefore, a person must show deep appreciation for the food, and eat every grain of rice given them to show respect for their sacrifice, but also respect for the time in the not-so-distant past when food was scarce.”
What advice would you give to someone going to this Mission?
“Go with no expectations and with a desire to work hard.”
“Love the people, embrace the culture, don’t worry about speaking the language well – few people ever do, but the Lord can still use them to accomplish His purposes. Remember that the Church has only had a presence in South Korea since the mid 1950’s, and is still relatively young. Be patient with the members, and don’t be judgmental or condescending.”
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“How to actually speak the language.”
“Serving a mission in general, especially serving in Korea, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done for a multitude of reasons. But since you, as a missionary, are His representative, He will help and succor you, “[He] will be on your right hand and on your left, and [His] Spirit shall be in your hearts, and [His] angels round about you, to bear you up.” Doctrine & Covenants 84:88. Even though it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, it has brought more joy and blessings than I could ever have imagined. I would do it again in a heartbeat!”
**Did you serve in the Korea Seoul South Mission? If so we would love to hear your advice and your stories! Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org**