Where to begin? Earlier this year our family took a two week trip to South Korea. Our time was concentrated in Seoul where we found plenty to keep us occupied.
Ours is a large family, most certainly by South Korean standards, and we weren’t sure what to expect regarding our reception. We certainly received a lot of stares but we found on the whole that children made our family more approachable, not less. We felt warmly welcomed, with many a people reaching out to make contact with us while telling us how blessed we are to have such a family. We could not disagree.
Whether you have five kids or one, let us put any fears you might have to rest when it comes to visiting Seoul.
Here are some things that we learned:
1. Etiquette matters. Showing due respect for one’s elders, for example, is a big deal in S. Korea and understanding this is important. But there are all sort of ways in which good manners will breed good interactions with the locals. Here is a short book we’d recommend reading before your visit: Etiquette Guide to Korea: Know the Rules that Make the Difference!. Read it and practice some of these rules with your children before you go. They really will make a difference! When a local understood that we meant to show them respect, we were me with warm smiles and happy laughter (I’m sure at some of our foibles).
2. Just as important as learning the proper etiquette is learning a few key phrases. Learn to say thank you in Korean, and also how to say hello. Practice your pronunciation before you go and follow the cues of others when there. Everyone was delighted by what little knowledge of their language that we were in possession of and they cooed joyfully whenever our kids spoke to them appropriately. Basically, educate yourself as to language and customs before traveling. You’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in your traveling experience.
3. The subway is clean, neat, tidy and very reliable. The subway map looks confusing when you first look at it, but begin to use it and it starts to make quick sense. We were a little wary of trekking our kids through the subway but it ended up suiting us perfectly. We did, however, learn not to use the subway at rush hour but tried to plan our outings to avoid the after work crowd of people heading home after a busy day at work. At that point, the subway is crowded enough that you have to pay close attention to making sure everyone in your party is with you and that becomes stressful when you have little ones.
4. People in South Korea really do love children. We were met with such kindness everywhere we went. It was not uncommon for shop owners to give free gifts of food or trinkets to our kids. They were also handed candy on the subway and it was a delight to the giver to be able to watch our children enjoy the gift. In America, if a stranger gives you candy you are told not to eat it. In S. Korea it seemed rude not to. Rest assured, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice saying thank you!
5. Be prepared for people to want to take pictures of your children if they have blonde or red hair. It just happens. Prepare your kids for it and talk about how to handle those situations graciously.
6. Shopping areas (i.e., outdoor markets) are an absolute blast in Seoul. In fact, one of our kids’ favorite things that we did in Seoul was “to go shopping” which sounds suspect but the hustle and bustle of the markets with the bartering and hollering is a real thrill. It’s really fun to walk through a market. It’s also super hard to find a public restroom so take advantage of the last facility you see (likely at the subway station).
Enjoy Seoul! This is a city that has so much to offer and children are quite welcome there. We’ve visited four times now and each time it is a completely new adventure. We love it and definitely plan on going again some day.