Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The Educational Summer Vacation: Studying South Korea

Since 2012, my kids and I have been learning about countries around the world during summer vacation. You can read more about how it started here, or you can just jump in with us and read about what we did this week.

This week we picked South Korea, which the kids swore up and down that we'd done already, but I knew we hadn't. To settle the debate, we went through our stack of hand-drawn flags of the countries we do every summer and South Korea's flag wasn't there.

So here's what we learned about this week.

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We started by reading a short easy reader called Living In... South Korea while the kids found South Korea on the wall map and filled out their passport pages (not fancy, but you can print them for free here.)

The kids have recently pointed out that I could've designed their passport pages better and differently, but in this house you get what you get and you don't get upset.

Then my daughter looked up the flag of Korea and sketched it out.

They had a little trouble with deciding which lines were broken and which were solid, but I think they got it eventually.

South Korea is the most densely populated country second to Bangladesh. Up until WWII it was just Korea, but part of the agreement afterward was the division between communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. 

After finishing the flag, we watched this short YouTube overview of the country. (There's also this video of the history of Korea for older learners.)

At bedtime we read a fun picture book called The Green Frogs: A Korean Folk Tale about some frogs who never listen to their mom. It was a little weird, but told a moral in a way about listening to your parents which I really can't complain about.


Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is considered a megacity because it has a population of over 10 million people. For reference, that's 2 million more people than New York City, but Seoul is 75 square miles smaller.

We watched this video to get a sense of how busy the city of Seoul is, but then we also watched some other videos to show how 700-year-old years old, like Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village, are just nestled right in to the city. (On some of these videos you can see the skyscrapers behind them.) 

There are also 3,358 islands belonging to South Korea, and we watched another drone video on one of them called Oedo Botania, kind of like a botanical garden stretching across an entire island.

The most distinctively-shaped building in Seoul is the North Seoul Tower, so when it was time for the kids to follow this tutorial to make a sunset skyline of Seoul, I asked them to put the tower somewhere in it. 

The 8 -year-old.

The 10-year-old.

The 12-year-old.

Can you spot the North Seoul Tower in each cityscape?


I always thought that written Korean looks super-scary, but I never knew it was simpler than it looks. Turns out that I just didn't know a secret: syllable blocks. 

Image courtesy of Fluent in Korean

Each character isn't very complicated. It only looks that way because the characters are combined into blocks of syllables. Once I knew that, it's pretty easy to pick them out. 

We practiced writing English phrases in syllable blocks to get my kids thinking in a different way:

"Unremarkable Files" if English used syllable blocks.

And then we watched some videos to learn how to say "hello," "please," and "thank you," pausing to see if the kids could find the individual characters in each of the syllable blocks in that written phrase. 

(This video might help if your kids are having a little difficulty with the concept.)

Properly speaking, written Korean is called Hangul (han means "Korean" and gul means "letter") and it has a pretty interesting history. 

In the 15th century, Koreans were using Chinese characters which meant that only very educated people could read and write. Hangul was designed to be simpler and more intuitive, where the shape of each letter imitated the shape of your lips or tongue when pronouncing it. (More on that is in this video.)

Reading the picture book The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi was the perfect way to finish off today. It taught the kids about the Korean language and also about friendship and being respectful of each others' differences.


Did you know that Taekwondo is Korean? It literally means "the way of the foot and fist."

Luckily, my daughter has a yellow belt in Taekwondo and has been taking lessons at a local dojang for a few years, so she was able to teach us to do a few moves. If you don't have someone like my daughter at home, you might have fun copying these videos on basic forms, front kicks, and roundhouse kicks.

For dinner, we went out to a Korean restaurant.

Starter bowls of bean sprouts, kimchi, and other vegetables.

We made kimchi when we studied North Korea a few summers ago, and I wasn't really a fan. But this place's kimchi was to die for, especially the spicy kimchi. 

Not sure if I thought that because we don't make very good kimchi or because kimchi is a little bit of an acquired taste. Probably both. 

Bi bim bap.

Squid stir-fry.

It was a very good meal, but also pricey. We justified that because it was our anniversary, and we never buy each other presents so this was kind of it.


Korea has a rich musical history, going from this:

To this:

How that evolution happened, I'm still not sure. But in the last several years, k-pop has become so popular in the United States, even my 12-year-old already knew at least a little about it.

We watched a few videos of both traditional and modern Korean music, and then as a craft, my younger kids made fans inspired by the traditional Korean fan dance. It was super-simple, just decorate a piece of paper with your design, accordion fold, and tape the end.

Ignore my son's orange nebulizer mask in the picture. We were multi-tasking.

We had a great "visit" to South Korea this week, learned a lot, and had some fun. Some of the books I got for the kids and left strategically placed around the house were:

I also got an adult novel called The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, which I haven't had time read but I hope to get around to it soon.

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1 comment:

Mea Mustone said...

I know you're the Church of Latter Day Saints but this could be a cool experience for your teens. :)