South Korea is a developed country in Northern Eastern Asia that occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. It borders the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and North Korea. South Korea lies in the North Temperate Zone and their terrain is mostly mountainous. It covers a total area of 99,392 square kilometers, and has a population of 50 million people. The capital and largest city is Seoul, and it has a population of 9,794,304 people. It is a presidential republic and it also has a mixed economic system where the economy has a variety of private freedom, combined with centralized economic planning and government regulations. Its main language is Korean, used together with Hangul, the Korean alphabet. It is export driven, focusing on automobiles, electronics, machinery, ships, and robotics. It is famous for electronic brands such as LG & Samsung, Hallyu, also known as the “Korean Wave”, and kimchi, it’s signature side dish. It is the 4th largest economy in Asia, the 15th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and 12th largest in the world by purchasing power parity (PPP). Cultural Analysis
South Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world, racially and linguistically. It has its own culture, language, dress and cuisine, which is separate and very distinct from its neighboring countries. Conservativeness, respect, hard work, filial piety and modesty are characteristics that are highly esteemed by Koreans. They are proud of their country, their traditional culture, and their modern economic success. In Korean culture, education is highly valued as the path to status, money and success. Parents start educating their children as soon as they can in order to make their child the best in everything, as they believe that such early practices will help transition their child into a successful businessperson in the future working world.
Similar to other Asian people like the Chinese and Japanese, the Koreans have a strong cultural identity as one whole family. However, they showcase distinct physical characteristics, which differentiate them from other Asian people. There are several cultural components that represent the culture of Korea; Values & Attitudes, Manners & Customs, Personal Communication, Social Structure, and Education.
Values & Attitudes
Family is the most important part of Korean life. It is the top priority to any Korean as the family’s welfare is much more important than the needs of any individual. In Confucian tradition, the father is the head of the family, and it is his responsibility to provide food, clothing, shelter, and to approve the marriages of family members. The eldest son has special duties; first to his parents, then to his brothers from oldest to youngest, then to his sons, then to his wife, and lastly to his daughters. Members of the family are tied to each other closely as they believe that the actions of one family member can reflect on the rest of the family.
Manners & Customs
Manners represent an individual by the way they dress, behave, communicate, and their etiquette, while customs refer to the traditional way that a culture is practice individually, or by a group of people. Workers are expected to bow to their seniors when they greet them, and to use only formal language to their seniors, as it is rude to speak informally to someone of higher rank. In Korean businesses, meetings are often held in evenings at a restaurant or bar. Drinking is part of the Korean culture, as Koreans believe that drinking helps to bond colleagues in the company, and an offered drink must never be refused as it is considered to be rude. Along with drinking, Karaoke is a popular activity after meetings. People who attend the meeting are usually expected to sing a solo song. Personal Communication
In South Korea, the Korean language is the most frequently used language and the Koreans use Hangul as the main writing system. Quoted from kwintessential.co.uk, “The Korean language is spoken by more than 65 million people living on the peninsula and its outlying islands as well as 5.5 million Koreans living in other parts of the world. The fact that all Koreans speak and write the same language has been a crucial factor in their strong national identity.” In the present time, Korea boasts many dialects, including the standard dialect used in Seoul and central areas. Even though there are several dialects, they are similar enough for listeners to understand each other without trouble.
Social structure, quoted from britannica.com, is “in sociology, the distinctive, stable arrangement of institutions whereby human beings in a society interact and live together.” In terms of Korea’s social structure, the majority of people belong to the middle class, consisting of “civil servants, salaried white-collar workers in large private companies, and professionals with specialized training, such as engineers, health care professionals, university professors, architects, and journalists.” (www.mongabay.com)
Be it traditional or modern Korea, education is still very important. People at the top of companies require blue ribbon educational backgrounds, as education gives them cultural sophistication and technical expertise that is needed to manage large complex organizations. According to mongabay.com, “Despite impressive increases in university enrollments, the central importance of education credentials for social advancement has tend to widen the gap between the middle and lower classes. Income distribution is more unequal than in Japan or Taiwan, with pronounced disparities between college and secondary-school graduates.
Many workers know that their comparatively low wages make it virtually impossible for them to give their children a college education, a heavy financial burden even for middle-class families. In the workplace, university graduate managers often treat men and women with a middle school or secondary school education with open contempt. The latter addresses them with rude or abrupt words whose impact is amplified by the status sensitive nature of the Korean language. The result has been bitter resentment and increasing labor militancy bordering on political opposition to the status quo.” (www.mongabay.com) Impact on International Business through culture
Culture plays an important part in operating a business in South Korea as cultural practices and values affect how Korean people do business. An analysis on the culture and citizens will be done by using the framework of Hofstede’s five dimensions, which include; Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity/Femininity, and Long-term/Short-term Orientation.
Hofstede’s five dimensions
Here, an overview is presented showcasing the important factors of South Korean culture that is relative to other cultures from other countries.
This dimension refers to the difference in social power. The higher the rank, the more power or authority one has in society. The lower the rank, the less power or authority one has. It concepts with the fact that everyone is society is not equal, and it brings out the attitude of the culture towards those inequalities. According to geert-hofstede.com, “At a score of 60, South Korea is a hierarchical society. This means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat.”
Individualism refers to “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members.” (geert-hofstede.com). It relates to how much an individual chooses to express themselves, how much is “I”, and how much is “we”. In South Korea, according to geert-hofstede.com, “with a score of 18, is considered a collectivistic society. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group. In collectivist societies offence leads to shame and loss of face, employer/employee relationships are perceived in moral terms (like a family link), hiring and promotion decisions take account of the employee’s in-group, management is the management of groups.” Uncertainty Avoidance
The dimension refers to the fact that the future is never predictable, and how much a company is willing to take a risk on certain circumstances. This ambiguity encourages anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. “The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these” is reflected in the UAI score. “At 85, South Korea is one of the most uncertainty avoiding countries in the world. Countries exhibiting high uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work) time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation.” (geert-hofstede.com)
Masculinity and femininity refers to how aggressive a culture is, in terms of achieving success and dealing with competition. A high score indicates that the society is masculine, and is driven by competition, achievement, and success. This trait is developed in school and it continues throughout organizational behavior. A low score means that the society is feminine, and dominant values in the society include “caring for others” and “quality of life”. A feminine society is one where the quality of life is a sign of success, and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. According to geert-hofstede.com, “South Korea scores 39 on this dimension and is thus considered a feminine society. In feminine countries the focus is on “working in order to live”, managers strive for consensus, people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation. Incentives such as free time and flexibility are favored. Focus is on well-being, status is not shown. An effective manager is a supportive one, and decision making is achieved through involvement.”
Long or short-term orientation refers to “the extent to which a society shows a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view.” Stated in geert-hofstede.com, “At 75, South Korea scores as one of the long term oriented societies. Notion of the one and only almighty God is not familiar to South Koreans. People live their lives guided by virtues and practical good examples. In corporate South Korea, you see long term orientation in the, higher own capital rate, priority to steady growth of market share rather than to a quarterly profit, and so on. They all serve the durability of the companies. The idea behind it is that the companies are not here to make money every quarter for the share holders, but to serve the stake holders and society at large for many generations to come.” Conclusion
In conclusion, South Korea is deemed worthy as a set up venue for an international business. Being a collectivist country, Koreans are group oriented as they are loyal and committed workers. They are also highly avoidant on uncertainty as they are not risk takers, and their culture believes in rules and security. This factor directions a safe approach so that money won’t be lost. Also, they house a feminine approach as they value equality, solidarity, and quality in their working lives. Their managers are supportive ones as conflicts are resolved by compromises and negotiations, and incentives such as free time and flexibility are favoured. They are also long-term oriented as they are guided by virtues and practical good examples in life. Instead of making money every quarter for their shareholders, they focus more on serving the stakeholders for as many generations as possible. With its skilled workforce, which breeds positive values and attitudes towards work and life, South Korea is thus, the choice for this essay.
• Mongabay. (N.D). Retrieved from http://www.mongabay.com/reference/country_studies/south-korea/SOCIETY.html http://www.mongabay.com/history/south_korea/south_korea-social_classes_in_contemporary_south_korea.html
• Payne, N. (2012, 10 8). Kwintessential. Retrieved from http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/south-korea-country-profile.html
• Britannica. (N.D). Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/551478/social-structure
• Geert-hofstede. (N.D). Retrieved from
For more information on South Korea:
• Library of Congress – Federal Research Division. (2005, 5). Retrieved from http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/South_Korea.pdf