A Brief History of South Korea Then and Now

by nylonpink

I was excited to be invited to the Korean Cultural Center and the Korea Tourism Organization to learn all about Korea's history and the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games Seminar. 

If you are planning on traveling to Korea, you probably already know that Korea is famous for it's kimchi, Korean BBQ, Celadon pottery, beaches, diet, tae kwon do, Kpop music, Korea Dramas, and plastic surgery.

Korea is on such an upswing today and is such a leader of industry that you may not know that they rose up from much more humble conditions. 

Photographer: Gary Craig

After World War II

After World War II Korea was the 3rd poorest country in the world. 

General Macarthur predicted that it would never recover from poverty. Boy was he wrong. Korea is currently the 12th largest trading nation in the world. It is 10th in the world in Olympic Medals. They lead the world in top of the line electronics products. To get some perspective on these accomplishments, Korea as a country is only the size of California.

Photographer: Homer Williams

Korea has been called 'The Volleyball Country',  located right between China and Japan who have always wanted to own a piece of Korea but Korea has managed to stand on its own two feet.

In the 1960s when the country was still recovering from poverty, many Korean immigrated to work in different countries such as the Middle East to work on oil rigs, some men became miners in Germany and women as caregivers.  All these workers on foreign soil sent the money that they earned back to Korea. The money sent from abroad revitalized the Korean economy and the Korean government topped it all off by investing in villages, adding jobs to modernize the villages.  All these factors were super effective in boosting the economy and Korea stopped borrowing money from other countries

The ABCD Business Model

The ABCD business model is key to Korea's success in rising from the ashes of poverty. ABCD is an acronym that stands  for Agility, Benchmark, Conversion, Dedication. 

  • Agility: Korea is quick to respond to market changes
  • Benchmark: Korea is always raising the bar for itself by a lot. For example: Samsung made 17 Billion last year, but it still asks itself, "How can I do much better?"
  • Convert: Korea is always able to convert and transform.
  • Dedication: Focused dedication on accomplishment and success.


Korea was a monarchy with the caste system prior to Japanese occupation. After WWII, the Caste System was totally discarded and the playing field for success became more even.  One way to climb the ladder was the education system. Education became a priority and all Korean moms were Tiger Moms. Korean society is extremely competitive in the field of education.

In Korea the ultimate measure of success is graduating from one of the top universities. The social circle and network that you will gain from attending one of these universities puts the students on  the road to financial success.

Photographer: Dickson Phua

Tutoring/Cram Schools are considered superior to regular schools. The parents will give more weight and listen to the advice of the cram school teachers even over the regular school teachers. Even Obama said that we should all follow the Korean Educational System. Even students regard their cram schools studies as superior to their regular classes.

The typical life of a student starts at 6am in the morning with their first tutorial lesson. After that, they head off to regular school, after school the bus picks them up to take them off  the cram school and they don't come home until 9pm or 10pm.

There is a new wave of English teachers active in Korea, almost everyone is able to speak English in Korea - especially the younger generation. Besides learning English at school, young students can also learn english via Robots known as "Engkey" featuring voice recognition technology. An expensive version of the Engkey comes with a screen with a featuring a real life English speaking teacher.

Korea Today

Photographer: Chingazo

Fun Facts about Korea

  • Baseball is one of the most popular past times in South Korea. Samsung owns the Lions Team, Hyundai owns the Unicorns,  Kia owns the Tigers, and and NC owns the Dinos.
  • Korea's largest church is the Yoido Full Gospel Church and each service holds 200,000 worshippers. The service is held in 16 different languages and the church has a total of one million members. David Cho, the leader of the church is under investigation for tax evasion (oopsie!).
  • Korean men spend 900 million dollars a year on makeup!!
  • Since 1998, millions of people have flocked to Korea's famous mud bath at The Boryeong Mud Fesitval in Daecheon Beach. The mud is really good for your skin. It's been capitalized by the Korea beauty industry, which features the mud in many of it's beauty products.

The Top 5 Korean Companies Today


LG, which stands for Lucky Goldstar was originally two separate companies that merged. They produce many household products used in every home in Korea


Lotte is not only a brand, it's a hotel and amusement park.  They originally made their mark selling margarine. The CEO lived in Japan and started Lotte in Japan. From there the company expanded into Korea.


in 2012, there were several lawsuits between Samsung and Apple and they both finally admitted that they stole patents from each other. If Apple wants to steal from you, you're probably doing something right!


Hyundai started with 40 employees in the construction industry. They are known here in the States for their automobiles. What you might not know is that they also produce ships, forklifts and other forms of transportation.

Sk Hynix

Sk Hynix is known for manufacturing the semiconductors in your phone. Their computer chips are used in electronic goods all over  the world. Korea is currently experimenting with putting semiconductors on the road to make buses operate autonomously using solar panels, without using oil, gas or electricity. That's pretty innovative!

Korea TodayMakes more ships than any other country, its blindsiding people with the pace at which it is going in accelerated growth. It's very dynamic, energetic, fast moving country. Frenetic pace of the economy and sheer energy people are willing to invest. World class music, cinema and entertainment.

Korean Pop culture

Korean pop culture has taken Asia by storm, many of its stars are also gaining fame in the US. Hallyu is the name of this phenomenon and Korea's pop culture is called the countries biggest weapon. Super KPOP star Rain has been selected by People Magazine as one of the most beautiful people in the world. Quentin Tarantino is a fan of director Boon Joon, calling him 'Spielberg in His Prime'.

Photographer: Christina Zacharis

The Evolution of the Fashion Industry

The Korean fashion industry has really taken over. It is emerging at such an incredible pace. All of the world's eyes might be on China but if you talk to luxury goods companies, retailers, and respected Italian manufacturers they all say that the most magical part of the world in fashion right now is South Korea. Top Korean brands like Shingate, Lotte, Hyundai rival anything in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Unique Korean Customs

Renting a home

In Korea, most people rent their homes rather than own their homes. If you have a large amount of cash, you can give for example, $30,000 to your landlord and live on the property for a year. When you move our,  you get the 30,000 back, so essentially you are able to live there for free! While you are living there, the landlord puts the money in the bank and invests it. These days people are a bit less cash-rich so it is more common to rent month to month.

Baby's First Birthday

In Korea, its easy to give gifts, just put cash in a red envelope and you're all set! None of your time is wasted over trying to choose the perfect gift. Baby’s First Birthday is a significant event, (as is one's 80th birthday). Certain items are laid out around the baby, and whatever the baby selects is supposed to  dictate the direction of his life. If, for example, he choses a stethoscope he’ll become a doctor, if he chooses a pen he may be a writer, choosing a thread means a long life, and dates symbolize fertility.

Korea's Valentines Day

March 14th is the date of Korea's version of Valentines Day but the women purchase the men's gifts. Don't worry girls, when you give your man a gift in Korea, it means that he needs to buy you three gifts in exchange. Valentines day is celebrated almost every month, its expensive to be in love in Korea! For example June 14th = Kiss Day, December 14th = hug day, May 14th = Yellow Rose Day, and April 14th = Black Day.

Source: Instagram @allkdrama

In Korea, when you say "When are we going to eat noodles", what is really means is "When are we going to get married". So if you are single "Black Day" you'll make sure to eat Zhajiangmian in hopes of getting married or finding a lover.

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