Situated on a peninsula between northeastern China and Japan, Korea was once known as “the Hermit Kingdom” due to its isolated location and lack of contact with foreign countries; today, however, it is an advanced economy with a tremendous presence in international commerce.  South Korea is a modern democratic republic, and enjoys membership in the OECD and APEC, as well as close relations with the United States.

Korea is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, with a written history of over 2,000 years, during which it borrowed heavily from the cultures of China and, to a lesser extent, Japan.  A unified kingdom occupied the Korean Peninsula for most of its history, up until the country’s annexation by Japan in 1910.  The subsequent years, including World War II, were a time of severe hardship for the people, and modern Korean society still bears many scars from the era of Japanese rule.  The peninsula was liberated in 1945, but competing Soviet and US interests led to its partition into two states; the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south.  These two governments fought the Korean War in the 1950s, which soon escalated into a major international conflict.

South_Korea_2

Despite the heavy toll of these tragedies, South Korea pushed massive economic and industrial development in the ensuing decades.  Today it is one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, with an economy of more than $1 trillion per year.  It has emerged from four decades of authoritarian rule to become a fully democratic nation with a high standard of living and widespread prosperity.  Dominated by technology, especially consumer electronics, it has become a global research hub, and is home to several multi-national corporations, including Hyundai-Kia and Samsung, the latter of which would count as the world’s 34th largest economy alone if ranked separately.  Korea’s high-tech economy is supported by a widely educated populace; the importance placed on education in Korean culture, combined with an advanced, competitive educational system, have ranked South Koreans first in the world in scientific literacy, and second in mathematic literacy.

In the 21st century, Korea has become one of the world’s top ten cultural exporters, and immigration is growing alongside appreciation for Korean culture abroad.  Business and education are two major draws for foreigners, and there are many migrant laborers as well, mostly from other Asian countries.  Marriage has become an increasingly important reason for immigration, owing to a large rural gender gap due to urbanization.  As in many countries, there are many opportunities for English teachers, and wages in this field are often significantly higher for foreigners than the local average.

Korean is the official and most widespread language, and with the exception of Jeju Island, most local dialects are mutually comprehensible.  It is written with a phonetic script developed by King Sejong in the fifteenth century, occasionally alongside Chinese characters, which makes reading and writing much easier than in Chinese or JapaneseEnglish is spoken quite widely as a second language.

Links

Country Info:
Official Website of the Republic of Korea
Wikipedia: South Korea
CIA World Factbook Entry

Language:
Wikipedia: Korean Language

Relocation Resources:
Korea at Wikitravel
Life in Korea: Korean Travel, Culture, and Information
JobKorea Job Board