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  • Living in Korea
  • Adaptation to Korea
  • Family Culture

Family Culture

Characteristics of Korean Families

Family life in Korea is unique. Marriage immigrants who understand the characteristics of Korean families can more easily adjust to their new families and understand the culture of Korea. Family culture can vary by family and by region, but Korean culture is largely based on Confucianism. The family culture of Korea has some similarities to that of other Confucian-influenced countries, but has diverted from its traditional roots through the course of rapid industrialization.

Family Relations

  • In Korea, a harmonious family is just as important as each member's happiness.
  • Hierarchy is important within the family. Children should be taught to respect their elders and to express their opinions in a polite manner.
  • Some grown-up children live with their parents and support them. However, the aged parents’ will to be independent and live with their own spouses at home is getting stronger.
  • Due to diversified society, change in views, and many other factors, the forms of families have also become diverse. Personal and social acceptance on various forms of families such as single-parent, grandparent-grandchildren, multicultural, adoptive, reconstituted families, etc. is becoming higher.

Husband and Wife Relationship

  • The husband and wife relationship is important, but your role as a son or daughter and a parent plays a large part as well.
  • It is becoming more common that husband and wife make decisions together, and that men and women have the same responsibility in family support, childcare, and house chores.
  • The higher the communicative satisfaction and the satisfaction on pressure of child-rearing are, the higher the overall satisfaction in marriage.

Adapting to Family Life

Through marriage, individuals with different family relationships, lifestyles, and thoughts become one family. Therefore, it is very important to adjust the differences in ideas about family life in the beginning of the marriage. Be aware that the differences in thoughts may be bigger in international marriages where two people from different cultural backgrounds meet. If you are experiencing difficulties with your spouse because of these differences, keep the following in mind.

  • Try to understand each other's family culture
  • Learn more about family traditions from your husband and in-laws
  • Solve problems through communication
  • Seek help from others
  • Contact a professional counseling center: Danuri Call Center (☎1577-1366)

Language Etiquette

Unlike other countries, you can call or address someone with different titles and designations other than their names in Korea. On top of that, Korean names and names in Chinese characters are often mixed and used as titles and designations. Thus, the use of an incorrect appellation or designation could offend others. 'Hoching(appellation)' is what you use to call someone directly and 'Chingho(designation)' is used when referring a third person to the person you are speaking to. Combined, they are called 'Chingho(designation)'.

Titles and Designations of Family Members

In Korea, family members address each other using specific titles that signify their relationship to one another.. The family trees below detail some of the different names used to address the husband's and wife's family members. Honorific language is used for seniors, and regular language is used for younger family members. Names and titles may vary slightly depending on family and generations, so it is always best to ask when in doubt

Family tree
Lines are used to represents family relations. A horizontal line indicates a marriage, while a vertical line refers to a parent-children relationship.

Honorific and Casual Expressions

In Korea, there are slight differences in language style depending on the difference in age, relation, and social status of the speaker and the listener. These differences can be broadly described as two speaking styles: honorific and casual

  • The honorific level is used towards elders.
  • Casual speech is used when speaking to a friend or someone younger than you.
    ex> bap meokda (have a meal: casual) / jinji japsusida (have a meal: honorific)
    Gomaweo (Thank you: casual) / Gamsa-deurimnida (Thank you: honorific)
    Jal isseo (Bye: casual) / Annyeong-hi gyesipsio (Bye: honorific)

Important Days of Celebration for Families

In family life, there are many significant events that take place, such as births, marriages, or deaths of family members or friends. These are important to both the individual and the family, and it is important to spend time together as a family on these occasions.

Births

  • Baekil (One Hundredth Day): In Korea, the hundredth day following the birth of a child is cause for celebration. Typical foods served at a hundredth day celebration include steamed rice cakes, honey cakes made from red bean, and seaweed soup. The child is dressed in new clothes to celebrate this special day.
  • First Birthday: Relatives and close friends are invited to the baby's first birthday party. The baby is usually dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean garments), and a special table is prepared. Traditionally, baekseolgi (steamed white rice cake), songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cake), and susukyungdan (a kind of honey cake made of glutinous kaoliang) are set on the table. There is also a special ritual called doljabi (first birthday grab). Depending on what the baby grabs, a different blessing is said for the child and his/her future. In recent years, it is more common for restaurants and other event halls to prepare the birthday table instead of the parents.
현대식 돌상차림
Modern First Birthday Table
  • Birthdays: With regards to one's elders, birthdays are referred to as “saengshin”. In Korea, seaweed soup is cooked for breakfast on birthdays. Sometimes, relatives and friends are invited to celebrate together. The invited guests prepare birthday gifts or give money.

Marriage

Both traditional and modern weddings take place in Korea, but these days traditional weddings are disappearing in favor of more modern weddings. Modern weddings are performed at wedding halls, hotels, churches, and temples. During the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom wears a tuxedo, and the bride wears a dress. Even after a modern ceremony, the official greeting to parents and relatives is sometimes done in traditional way. This is called ‘pyeback.’ Over the past 10 years, the average marriage ages (first marriages) for both men and women have steadily increased (according to the National Statistical Office).

Hoegap and Gohiyeon (Banquets to wish for longevity)

  • Hoegap: Hoegap is when a person turns 60 (61 in Korean age). Children typically prepare a large party for their parents, celebrating their long and healthy lives. Hoegap was even more significant in the past when the average lifespan was relatively short. As the average lifespan has increased over the years, Hoegap celebrations have gotten simpler. In the past, a large feast was held as the major means of celebration, but in recent years, it is becoming increasingly common for a child to send their parents on vacation, or give them a heartfelt gift and some money.
  • Gohiyeon: Gohiyeon is when a person turns 70 (71 years old in Korean age). Relatives and close friends are invited, and a bigger party is held than in previous years. Some people also bring presents to the party.

Funerals

At funerals, the family of the deceased prepares clothes of mourning and the deceased is dressed in special garments as well. Typically, the garments for the deceased are prepared in advance for the elderly while they are still alive. These garments differ by household and region. In some cases, the deceased is dressed in hemp clothes, in black or white. Guests attending a munsang* should avoid wearing bright colors, and dress in black or white. During munsang, it is important to pay your respects and pray together with the family. Money is also offered to the family as a means of showing condolences.

Munsang
Visiting the family of the deceased to offer condolences

Ceremonies

A ritual ceremony to honor the memory of departed parents is held on the anniversary day or the night before. It may be done in different ways. The participants dress plainly and honor the memory of the deceased. It may be different depending on family culture, religion, etc

차례상
Death Memorial Service
  • Death Memorial Service: This is a service performed on the night that a person passes away. Normally, Koreans continue to perform the service on the anniversary of their ancestors' death, up to two generations back
  • Family Memorial Service: Performed at festivals such as the New Year's Day, Hansik, and Chuseok.
Comparison of Services
Form Death Memorial Service Family Memorial Service
Order Three cups of wine and a memorial address One cup of wine
Time Night of the anniversary of the death Morning of the festival
Clothing Plain clothes Fancy clothes are okay
Food Rice, soup, etc. Festival food
Other Candles are lit No candles

Comparison of Services

Useful Information

How to prepare for the family memorial service
The table setting will differ depending on family customs and regional culture. The table of the service should look towards the North, and a folding screen is placed on its back side. In general, starting from the inside of the screen, foods are placed in five rows. An odd number of fruits and pancakes (jeon) should be set out.
  • 1st row: Ancestral tablet, tteokguk (rice-cake soup), songpyeon (half-moon shaped rice cake), and glass
  • 2nd row: Roasted foods such as fish jeon or sanjeok (Korean kebab)

    Eodongyukseo (魚東肉西): Fishes are placed on the east side, and meats are placed on the west side
    Dudongmiseo (頭東尾西): Heads of fishes are placed on the east side, and tails of fishes are on the west side.

  • 3rd row: Tofu or beef soup, etc.
  • 4th row: Side dishes such as vegetables, jerky and kimchi and sikhye (sweet rice drink)

    Jwapouhye (左脯右醯): Jerky is place on the left end, and sikhye is placed on the right end

  • 5th row: Fruits such as jujube, chestnuts, yakgwa, pears and apples

    Joyulisi (棗栗梨枾): Jujube, chestnuts, pears and dried persimmon are placed from the left side
    Hongdongbaekseo (紅東白西): Red fruits are placed on the East side, and white fruits are placed on the west side

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