What Korean Search Results Tell Us

What Korean Search Results Tell Us

Like everyone else, I look for information online through search engines. I use both Korean and English sites, and use both languages on Google (the biggest search engine in the world) to diversify my pool of resources. It became apparent that the results were very different depending on the input language.

There is a lot you can learn about other people (and therefore society) by looking at what comes up on search engines, as the image deemed most popular and representative of the word will appear first.

So by comparing the top 20 results in Korean and English, we can get a little insight into the different Eastern and Western cultures. For convenience, English search results will appear on the left in BLUE and Korean search results will appear on the right in GREEN.

NB: The Google image search algorithm is very complex, and sometimes generic stock images appear higher in results, even if they do not reflect real searches. This experiment is just for fun.

1. Food/음식


Starting off with something very simple, the national dishes show a clear cultural difference. In English, there are stock images of raw fruits and vegetables as well as junk food like hamburgers, hotdogs, pizzas and doughnuts. The two polar opposites seem to be covered on the first page of results. On the Korean side, all the ‘food’ appears to be cooked dishes, including traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap, jiggae and junk/street food like ramen and ddukbokki. There are also non-korean dishes like hamburger and pasta, but these are still very popular in Korea now.

Korea is known for its great cuisine, so it is no wonder that the results would be of vibrant coloured traditional dishes. Most of the dishes that appear are everyday common cheap dishes that everyone consumes such as kimbap and jjajangmyun. Overall, the Korean images show a better representation of normal food than the English results.

2. Student/학생


What the West considers a model student seem to be college students. The images seem to be the standard college stock photos of smiling multicultural young adults with books. However the term ‘학생’ in Korea seem to encompass all young people in general (ranging from primary to secondary school education), but in reality many adults in Korea stay in education till 27.

It is most likely because the West deems college education to be  most important, but in Korea middle school is the most important period of schooling due to university entrance exams.

Even the stock images of the model student says a lot about Korean education system. The young students are wearing typical Korean school uniform and there are glimpses of the Korean green chalk board and tables that furnish every classroom. There are also images of cram schools (hagwons) and you can see a few pictures of Korean students with their heads down and working.

3. Office Worker/직장인


Korean work culture is probably the toughest subculture in Korea, as it is very different from the West. In England an office worker is stereotypically characterised by paper work, phone calls, boredom and stress. These English search results do not reveal much about the reality of office work, and instead confirm these simple stereotypes.

Korean work culture is demanding to say the least. The hours are much longer (overtime sometimes unpaid), and the hectic speedy office lifestyle is summarised as the ‘bbali bbali’ culture (literally meaning ‘quickly quickly’). Both the Korean and English search results show the stress of the office life, however the Korean results seem to focus more heavily on multitasking, speed and stress.

4. Bullying/왕따


The English search results depict the bully as an evil caricature and criticises bullying in a clear and blunt way. In the Korean results, the images mainly show the victim and highlight the torment of being excluded.

‘Bullying’ is often translated to ‘왕따’ in Korean, however it more more accurately translates to ‘outcast’. Bullying in Korea is many viewed as a group effort, rather than the English depictions of one bully attacking one victim. There is a stronger emphasis of bully’s violence in the West, whereas being outcasted can also be passive aggressive. Being well integrated and accepted in society is of utmost importance.

5. Beauty/ 미인


Korea’s beauty culture is taking over the world, but how does Korea’s mainstream beauty compare with the West? Many people criticise Korean beauty to be too focused on one ideal look, and mocking how everyone looks the same (which is sometimes true). However we forget that the West also has an ideal idea of beauty. While trends come and go, beauty tends to be almond eyes, sharp nose, slim jaw etc. All the results are Caucasian despite many different ethnicities in English speaking countries.

The English search results show beauty as makeup and health, as some images show heavy coloured makeup and spa stock images, showing that beauty and health go hand in hand.

‘미인’ is a term given to a beautiful person. All the Korean search results show pale skin, big eyes and long black hair (nothing that hasn’t been seen before). Unlike the English results, nearly all the images of Korean beauty are of Korean celebrities (IU, Kim Yuna, Song Hyekyo) rather than models. The makeup seems minimal and there is a heavy emphasis on youth.


Overall, there is a lot more that I would like to explore on the different internet cultures of Korea and the West, however I think that Google results show a little glimpse into the two cultures.

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