First night out in Korea: This is how the story goes!

So you are feeling ecstatic maybe even a little smug for successfully finishing your first teaching week in Korea. Your last class is done and you are packing up to leave when a bunch of your adult students come up to you. After a bit of probing from the other members of the group, one of them muster up enough courage to shyly ask you if you have any plans for the night and then proceeds to invite you to hangout with them for some Korean food and a few drinks. Images of your plans for exploring the city flash through your mind as you consider their offer. After about a minute of pondering you decide ‘Why not’ after all you came here to experience the culture and what better way to do it then hangout with a bunch of locals and let them show you the ropes. What you don’t know is that this experience will be unlike anything you have ever experienced before and will definitely set the tone for the rest of your stay in this ‘Land of Morning Calm’.

One of the student offers to give you a ride and finally you arrive at the location. You walk in the place and are greeted by the delicious aroma of grilled meat. The food comes and it tastes as good as it smells. Then the little green bottle arrives. You look askance at the student next to you and he launches into an explanation of the origins of this all time favorite Korean rice drink “Soju”, Which is then followed by several students trying to teach you about the different drinking etiquettes in Korea. Soon after the explanation the drink is poured and everyone says ‘kon bae’ ( 건배 cheers in Korean). Everyone takes a shot, and so do you. It burns a little as it goes down and you realize its like a korean version of soft vodka.

The night wears on. You move on to the second location: this time for some beer and chicken. Beer is flowing freely, everyone is tipsy and animated, you are feeling happy when suddenly someone ask you if you have ‘Kakao’. “What is that?” you innocently ask. At this point people are tipsy and therefore, no longer embarrassed or nervous about using English. As one of the student tries to explain the nuance of what exactly ‘kakao’ is with his limited English, another student takes the phone (more like yanks it but not in a bad way) in the true Korean way from your hand. Being the new waygookin (외국인) that you are, this behavior is a bit shocking for you. You are still in shock as you hear a few clicking sounds and are still recovering from the shock as a few minutes later the phone is handed back to you. Lo and behold, you have your very own kakao id. Now you have joined the ranks of millions of Korean, and other waygookin’s who are the members of this cyber community called KAKAO.

Yet more drinks follow. At this point you are a bit too tipsy. You remember moving to a third location…you remember singing ‘I believe I can fly’ at the top of your lungs and you vaguely remember dancing (more like jumping up and down) to ‘YMCA’, but nothing much after that.

As you stumble back to your apartment, smelling of soju and still humming ‘Hotel California’ you smile to yourself as you think about what a crazy night it was, and how it was not at all what you had in mind. After fumbling a few times you finally manage to open the door, stumble over to your bed and crash. You hear some strange female voice saying what sounds like ‘Ka Tok’ before sleep claims you.

Next morning you wake up bleary eyes and fumble for your phone to check the time. You are greeted instead with all these ‘Welcome to Korea’ and ‘Teacher yesterday was fun’ messages from your students. You grin while nursing a terrible headache and a hangover and think to yourself ‘it was worth it’.

Truly welcome to Korea my new waygookin friend”.

Although, it sounds hilarious this is a very real scenario in Korea. Anyone who has lived and work in Korea can relate to it.

This post is just to give you a rough idea of how Korean drinking culture works. Korea has a unique social drinking culture unlike anywhere else in the world. A typical drinking night-out in Korea includes several rounds usually 3 or 4.

Round 1 (il cha/ 일차): Round one is dinner and soju. Dinner usually consists of grilled meat (pork or beef) served with various side dishes. People enjoy their meal with shots of soju. It is common to have rice or noodles (Naengmyeon냉면 or 국수 ) after everyone has had their fill of grilled meat. This round is important for people in the group to get to know each other well. As a result drinking shots after shots of soju is common.

Round 2 (i cha/ 이차): Round two is normally chicken and beer (Chi-Mc 치맥). After dinner it is not unusual for most groups to head out for some beer. Since most places require customers to order a side dish (an ju – 안주) it is customary to order chicken or a large platter of fruit. During this round the beer flows freely. You may also be introduced to some new Korean cocktails like somaek (소맥) which is Soju and beer or a “bomb drink” poktanju (폭탄주) which consists of a shot glass of soju dropped into a pint of beer and it is drunk quickly.

Round 3 (sam cha/ 삼차): It is common to go to karaoke or singing room ( noraebang 노래방) for round three. At this point most of the people in the group are full, tipsy or drunk. So this round is good for taking a break for those who have had too much. For people who are still in the mood for a few drinks you can order beer in most singing rooms. This round involves singing songs, drinking beer and dancing. Basically just having a good time.


Round 4 (sa cha/ 사차): Most people in the group are by now ready to head home. Many people will say their goodbyes and hop in the taxi however, you will have a few people who still want to drink more. Round four is for them. This round has a few options to choose from..hof, western style bar or a night club.

Once you are done with round four probably the sun is coming up. All the remaining members in the group are drunk and everyone had a blast!

This is more or less how drinking nights go in Korea. It’s a lot of fun and I would recommend to pace yourself.

Some basic Do’s and Don’ts include:

  • don’t pour your own drink
  • always fill up the other person’s glass when it’s empty
  • use both hands for pouring drinks and while receiving a drink from others

There are many other rules and etiquette but these are a few basic one’s.


Drinking in Korea can be fun when done in moderation like everything else. Also, remember to follow the local rules and regulations and you will have a wonderful time.



Leave a Reply