My trip was great, my friend was a fabulous host. For a couple days we went down to this island called Jeju where he had a good friend, and this island was amazing. The air was so fresh, the water so clear, the beaches so beautiful and and the sand so nice. What I'm basically saying is, I want to move to this wonderful island and spend the rest of my life. Yes, it was that great.
I could bore you with details of my trip, but instead I will go over some of the cultural aspects of it, in my opinion I found it so completely different from China, and actually slightly more similar to American culture, but that's coming from Chinese perspective, not American perspective ;)
As I begin my analysis, I have a feeling it won't be completely satisfactory for a couple reasons. One, I'm going to compare it to Chinese as well as American culture, and I was only there for a week, which is really just a toe in the ocean of culture.
First thing, age, is really important in Korean culture. About a two/three year age gap can make all the difference, about whether you can befriend this person or not, and what words you will use when speaking to them. In China, we don't really have that. Age is still more important that America, but not to the extent of Korea. In China, I should respect my elder's, and I shouldn't date an older guy, I should be married before I turn 30, but otherwise age is not so big.
Politeness. America has a pretty polite culture, not to the extent, of perhaps, England. But in America, a lot of people use the word “sorry” when you bump into someone, or “excuse me” when trying to get by, and of course we ALWAYS say “thank you”. Korea is also a very polite culture, especially with the word “thank you”! If I had been coming from America, I could have gotten that one down fine, but in China we don't have these “polite words.” So, Chinese may come across as rude, but the thought is (unless your talking to a superior), you don't really need them. If my friend has something I can say “Give it to me” and its not considered rude. If I'm at a store and someone hands something to me, I don't need to say thanks, in fact I can just grunt and its acceptable! But I'm pretty nice, I usually send a smile. Anyways, this drove my friend crazy. He kept asking me, “Why aren't you saying thank you?!” And he would have to whisper it in my ear, to remind me if someone was doing something especially nice. Hopefully any lapses on politeness were forgiven, since I am a foreigner.
Bowing. In Korea you bow. In China you don't. Maybe for martial arts, but I don't know anything about that. Again, age can come into this. You don't wave at someone older, but you can wave at your friends. Also, when I was introduced to guys (closer to my age), they would shake my hands and we would keep shaking until the greetings were over. I can't say much about this, but I noticed it with others to. So the hand shake is different than America, but in China we don't ever shake hands.
I think for me one of the nicest things was not getting stared at, and people talking to me like I might know the language. Of course I don't, I couldn't even remember “thank you”, but I know the language in China and everyone always assumes I don't, and it gets tiresome. I think this just reflects how Korea has been opened to foreigners way longer than China has.
Do I recommend going to Korea? Yes, I do, it is a wonderful country. What if you don't know Korean? I can't say much on this, since my friend is Korean, so pretty much babysat me all week, but my experience was not a ton of people speak English. At the shopping places that many people go, they have translators and people willing to give directions (wearing red clothes) to any who need, and at the airport many people speak English and they have translators too. But I think if you go, you just want to make sure your a little prepared before hand, with a map, your hotel written out (in the Korean language-you could probably print it) and things like that. Korea is wonderful, go.