Facts About South Korea

Population

50 million

Geography

Located on a peninsula that juts south and slightly eastward from the Asian continent, the Korean land mass stretches into the Pacific Ocean between the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and the Yellow Sea.

Rugged and scenic, with mountains that taper off to coastal plains in the west and south, the region is divided by the Demilitarized Zone which separates the Republic of Korea in the south from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north. The information in this site deals solely with the Republic of Korea (South Korea.) North Korea, under the dictatorship of Kim Jong Ill, lives under an oppressive dictatorship and does not allow many visitors.

Climate

South Korea lies in the temperate zone and experiences four distinct seasons. Spring, which begins in late March or early April, has average temperatures of about 50°F – 55°F/10°C – 12°C, and brings considerable rainfall. Hot and rainy summers make the vegetation lush. Monsoon season begins at the end of June and lasts until August, during which time temperatures in South Korea range from 68°F – 86°F/20°C – 30°C. Autumn is perhaps the most pleasant season; cool, dry air and a spectacular showing of foliage from September to November counter the languid humidity of the monsoon season. Winters are cold and dry, and last from December to February.

Politics

In spite of a constitution supporting a democratic system of government, Korea has been plagued with dictatorships since the end of World War II. The future has looked promising in recent years despite occasional skirmishes with North Korea. Americans don’t always understand the grief Koreans experience because of the division of their country. Recent studies have shown that one in five South Koreans has at least one living relative north of the Demilitarized Zone. Reunification of the peninsula is, and will continue to be, the key political issue of the decade. Some Korean college students harbor resentment at what they perceive as U.S. interference in the reunification process. The American presence, with a large military force, is highly visible. Keep in mind, though, that despite some feelings of general mistrust toward the U.S. government, most younger Koreans bear no ill will toward individual Americans. As is true of most cultures, respect earns respect.

Religion

Although Buddhism and Shamanism still have a number of adherents, Christianity is the dominant religion of South Korea. About 23 percent of the population belongs to various sects of Buddhism, while roughly 30 percent are Christian. This makes South Korea second only to the Philippines in the number of Christians per country in Asia. South Korean Christians are fundamentalist in belief and evangelical in practice, so don’t be surprised to have your spiritual beliefs questioned on the subway. A small percentage of the population also belongs to Ch’ondogyo, a native religion that grew as a reaction to Western influences. Although Confucianism is not practiced widely, it is the foundation of much of South Korean thought.

Currency

The South Korean form of currency is the won, its value in comparison to US and Canadian dollars changes on a daily basis.

Safety Issues

Occasional political riots can become quite violent and have been known to be terminated by the release of tear gas. Students riot over many things – corrupt government, tuition hikes, and the American military presence. These demonstrations are held in front of universities, near U.S. Army installations, in front of city hall, and at Seoul station. Hannam Village, Army family housing, has also been the site of several riots. If you avoid these areas you should be safe.

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