1o (More) Shocking Facts about Korean Schools

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Last Updated on July 9, 2020 by Christine Kaaloa

10 more shocking facts about korean schools, teaching in Korea, teaching at EPIK Korea, 10 shocking facts about korean schools1o (More) Shocking Facts about Korean Schools

The cultural differences of working in the Korean classroom can be a real trip for a westerner! Korean culture can essentially feel like a real mystery. Either you’re left open-mouthed at every corner or you’re still trying to understand the Korean logic of things.

Back in March when I first arrived, I was just uncovering my new environment.

Read 10 surprising facts about the  Korean school (Part 1)

Today, it’s become a  routine. Yet as much as I live the daily idiosyncrasies and tics of my kimchi habitat, some of this stuff still boggles the mind.

10 (More) Shocking Facts about the Korean Public School:

1. Every Korean elementary student learns from the same textbook.

Occasionally around town, you may hear a fellow English teacher humming the most recent song of your 4th grade lesson. It’s a bit eerie. Call it the national curriculum, but every Korean public school  teaches from the same textbooks. Furthermore, each grade learns the same lesson at around the same week!

So if you’re an NET and wondering why your Korean co-teacher is reluctant to stray ” off-book” (a gripe of some), just remember- your 40 min class textbook lesson is clocked by the entire nation!

The good news about this is that it actually makes it easy for Korean teachers and native English teachers to recycle and exchange lesson plan ideas and games. If you’re a teacher, www.waygook.org is the *best resource*; this site will lend you ideas of what Korean public students are currently learning.

And the bad news?

This shared curriculum changed as of 2011; schools are now responsible for choosing their own textbooks.

SAM 3924


2. Korean school lunches are delicious.

Occasionally you’ll see weird things in your school lunch tray- soups with half bodies of fish floating around, squid or other mystery seafood.

The good news is that aside from appearances (and occasionally, off-putting smells), Korean school lunches are actually delicious and healthy. No microwaveable stuff here.

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public schoolMonday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Tuesday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Wednesday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Thursday

korean school lunches, teaching in EPIK Korea, teaching in Korean schools, teaching in Korea, Korean public school Friday

3. Koreans love their toothbrushes.

If home is where you lay your toothbrush, better bring your pillow to school. Koreans teachers keep a toothbrush at school and brush after every meal. With all the kimchi, fishy and garlic-drenched foods they serve at meals, I’ve come to keep a toothbrush at work, as well.

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4. Toilet paper: Never leave the classroom without it!

Wouldn’t you think toilet paper would be one item your workplace would supply?

But no, the public school restrooms don’t always have toilet paper, even if it’s the teacher bathroom. In my school we must all bring our toilet paper to work and take it with us  to  the restroom.

How do elementary kids manage?

Each classroom has their own toilet paper roll. If a kid wants to use the restroom, they tear a piece from this roll and take it with them.  Better wad up or learn to gauge well; there’s no second chances if you should find yourself half-wiped!

korean toilets, toilet paper in korea, teaching in korea, toilet paperWho thought Korea would be so stingy with their t.p. usage?

5. Hand washing: Cold vs Clean Hygiene

It’s hard to say whether Koreans kids practice good hygiene or not. Considering that the winter tap water is often ice-freezing, the bathroom never has any heat and there never being much soap by the sink, I’m thinking the answer is … not.

  • Reason 1- Where’s the soap?  

A school restroom is the last place you’d want to ration hygiene but like toilet paper, they also consistently lack soap! This lack however, is one of the major annoyances with public restrooms all around Korea. Half of the restrooms I’ve been to in this country don’t have either soap, toilet paper or both!

cleanliness signs, sanitary regulations signWithout soap, it kinda defeats the purpose of posting this sign.

  • Reason 2– Public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated   

During winter, public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated. It’s because Korea doesn’t like to heat public places. Furthermore, tap water is often so ice cold, that your fingertips will go into shock as soon as you wet them! Getting the kids to wash their hands like the poster (above photo), is just as likely as getting shivering adults like myself to do so.

  • Reason 3-  Community soap

I’ve never felt dirty from washing my hands, until I moved to Korea.  The culture appears germophobic with sick masks, house slippers and UV sterilized cups, yet many restrooms offer a “community bar of soap” for hand washing use (see Reason 1 for the exception ). When I went to public school, we had soap dispensers in the bathroom. Let me ask you– after “doing your business”, do you really want to clean yourself with the soap that everyone has used to clean themselves up with? This could account for the reason our teacher’s office has a huge bottle of hand sanitizer.

public school bathroomThis photo was taken in a bathroom that actually has soap!
The probable reason is that it’s because it’s right next to our health room. .

6. Water is for drinking after you’ve had your meal.

Forget what the West say about keeping well-hydrated. The East says something different.  In Korea, you don’t drink your water until after you’ve eaten and when you finally do, you’ve got a kiddie cup’s worth to quench your thirst!

I  wonder if Korea suffers from a lot of constipation?

Read 10 Funny quirks you didn’t know about Koreans

korean quirks, cultural quirks, water in korea, koreans don't drink water, hygiene in koreaIn Korea, metal drinking cups are taken from a UV sterilizing storage cabinet.

7.   Asians have bad vision.

Seems like the Asian genes may be recessive when it comes to 20/20 vision.

Do you know that , at least one- third of my students wear prescription glasses? This averages out to nine students out of a class of 27 kids (I’ve counted).

Lasik eye surgery is common in Korea, so I’ve heard… I guess now we know why!

This is when I realized those glasses are lenslessphoto by:  sierraromeo
Faux glasses are the rage as fashionable Koreans buy glasses with no actual glass..

8. Children with disabilities in classroom.

The remarkable thing about the Korean public school is that it doesn’t discriminate.

From handicapped students with wheelchair disabilities to Special Ed,… the public school classroom is a mixed bag and I get them all.

9. Food allergies are uncommon

Nuts, wheat, strawberries, peanuts,milk, eggs, shellfish, soy...  In the western culture, these foods are deadly to the growing population of those with food allergies.

When  it comes to food allergies in Korea however, Koreans seem to have a special immunity gene. Perhaps it’s due to the fact, the Korean diet is fairly healthy with a lot of fresh foods? Aside from the abundance of carbs and chili pepper in their dishes, their foods are vegetable heavy and “fast” foods are still cooked home-style and without a lot of deep-frying, microwaving, preservatives or added processing.

Read Fear Factor Korea: How Fresh Do Koreans Like their Food?

10.  Everything is ‘Ki Bi Bo’ !

Rock, Paper, Scissors (aka Ki Bi Bo!) is a game played by children across the world, but in my book, Korean students earn the Olympic gold medal for it. They can play it pairs, in groups and as a classroom. This however, isn’t the prize skill– it’s the speed at which they can play it.

Watching them do it in groups larger than five is amazing; somehow, among a sea of hands, they’re able to assess count and in one beat, do it again.

Best of all, you can collect the focus of your wildest class, just by playing this with them a few times.

ki bi bo game, rock paper scissors game, korean games, korean school games, games to play in korea, popular games in korea

Bonus video playlist about teaching in Korea:

Know of more interesting and shocking facts about Korean schools? 


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  • Some of you do need to understand that these things were posted 8-10 years ago. It’s not that the information is inaccurate, it’s just outdated.

  • I’m sorry but half of your informations are wrong, and I know because I went to the Korean elementary school before I moved to Korea. (Korean moms are very strict with the lunch menus and ask for the menus to be healthy/ lookism is a very serious thing in Korea so most students are slender and we don’t even have slurpees in stores beccause no one ever buys it) I made some fixes for some of your informations: First of all, we have diffrent textbooks for each subjects and each textbook has the topics we nee to learn. Second of all, we have toilet papers and soaps in the schools and even in the public restrooms, I guess it really depends on where you go to but most places have them. Thirdly, you can go and get water any time you want and you don’t specifically have to drink water after the meal. I usually don’t drink water during mean because when you drink water during your meals, you the food goes to fat more easily. Fourthly, it is true that many Koreans have bad eyesights, and that’s because in Asia what most kids do is stare into their books and study (sadly). Fifthly, you are right there aren’t many allergies so we get lunch from the school. Anything else I didn’t say are all true and I hope you use a little more accurate informations next time:)

  • Some of these stuff is definitely accurate some isn’t. Needs elaborating a lot which i guess there’s no room to do.

    The textbooks are NOT nationwide at all. Many of my friends use different books even within the same city.

    Soap is always provided in my schools. Toilet paper is usually outside the individual stalls and is usually gone by the time I get there.

    Lunch can be delicious…but it can also be up to 900 calories or more and not healthy at all…also we pay extra for them. I would definitely disagree that its mostly healthy food too. Koreans LOVE fast food and cheap convenience store food. Even the home cooked stuff can be absolutely loaded with sugar.

    Children with disabilities is classrooms also depends on the school. It’s actually not as great as it seems…in schools I’ve worked in where they are included in the classroom they are often left sitting at the back with nothing to do. I’ve been told to leave them out of games because they won’t understand and often they just go to sleep. It’s really shocking and heart breaking. My current school has a special ed department and it’s absolutely fantastic. They sometimes go to regular class but they also get to learn practical skills in special subjects and have somewhere to retreat when the school is just too much for them.

    The water thing is true but it certainly doesn’t mean they are dehydrated. Ever notice you ALWAYS get a (usually pretty watery) soup? They use it to cleanse the palette and hydrate during meals.

    • Textbooks are restricted to handful of varieties though. They are made by private publisher but should be supervised by the government.

    • I agree with the kids with disabilities, they are usually left out but you see, korean moms are strict with the lunch menus so if you get food that are unhealthy, the parents will call the school and talk to the teachers. HAHAHAHAHAHA sadly

      • I agree with the kids with disabilities, they are usually left out but you see, korean moms are strict with the lunch menus so if you get food that are unhealthy, the parents will call the school and talk to the teachers. and of course you need to pay for your lunch, food desn’t just come out of nowhere and you can also bring your own lunch

  • Hi! My name is Anna Lee, and I’m a Korean American high school student. I attend high school in America, and I am about to start a Korean culture club at my high school. One of my plans for the club is to create a pen pal program, but the modern way (through cell phones! Specifically kakaotalk, the popular Korean messaging app.) I was looking for a high school I could exchange contact information with so I could expand knowledge about Korean culture at my school. Please let me know if you’re interested!! I love this article and I’d love to promote Korean culture at my school.

    • Alyssa Shores
      March 15, 2019 4:50 am

      I would love to. I am definitely interested and I am also learning korean on my phone, so please let me know what you have to offer

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