As a professor leading a study abroad program in South Korea for American students, I am familiar with the most popular activities.
- Eating Korean barbecue.
- Hanging out in Hongdae – Seoul’s hotspot among young people.
- Shopping at a beauty supply store.
- Tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
These are activities that do not need to be introduced to students. They find out about themselves through Korean media consumption.
However, with its unique blend of traditional and modern aspects, South Korea offers a wealth of activities for international visitors, including those wishing to deepen their understanding of cross-cultural psychology.
So, for visitors to South Korea who want to go beyond the typical “top 5 things to do in South Korea” tourist list and tackle cross-cultural themes, here are some recommendations from a psychology professor (complete Disclosure: I have no financial affiliation with any of the activities/sites described below):
1. Learn about collective trauma and its lasting impact (PY Kim, 2020)
In addition to the aforementioned DMZ visit, Seoul’s War and Women’s Human Rights Museum (sometimes called the “Comfort Women Memorial Hall”) is a powerful place to deepen your understanding of the nation’s collective suffering. The memorial is in a relatively small space — the building feels like a larger home and the entire place can be toured in about an hour or two — but the emotional and cognitive impact is substantial. Feel the national unrest and anger about what has fallen victim to Learn how sexual violence against women was organized at the organizational level. And I vow to do my part to ensure that this kind of atrocity never happens again.
2. Learn about conformity to the norm As a core value in Asia (BSK Kim et al., 1999)
Match and witness large groups of thousands at a professional baseball game. The baseball game itself is the same, but the crowd cheers in unison and the singing and choreography is incessant. Quite an experience for those unfamiliar with the Korean baseball scene. It is also an opportunity to understand that following norms is an important cultural practice in South Korea.
3. Engage in the topic Proximityor Personal Space (Hall, 1966)
In many parts of Korea, the boundaries between private and public spaces tend to blur. Cross-cultural psychology sometimes even explains this in terms of boundaries. In the context of interdependence, boundaries between individuals and others may be less clear (eg, Markus & Kitayama, 1991). To literally feel this type of border intrusion, walk through a crowded market. Bonus points if you can brave a subway train during commute hours and truly feel the overlap between public and private spaces.
4. Introduce religion in a cross-cultural environment
Visit a Buddhist temple. Many temples are open to foreign tourists. Learn how traditional cultural values and practices influence the way religions are practiced today (e.g. prayers for children’s educational success, singing religious chants in unison) . You don’t have to be religious (or Buddhist) to see how traditional religions like Buddhism continue to influence modern practices in Korea. If you get the chance, consider the Templestay experience.