March in Korea is About Academia

Have you ever wondered why March is a quiet month in South Korea? Wondering why there isn’t a lot going on around the country? The quiet time exists because March is all about the start of the new academic year. Additionally, March marks a time of great change and turmoil for many in the international community. Let’s talk about it so that it feels easier to manage.

About the Academic Year in South Korea

South Korean schools start the academic year in March and complete the academic year in January. Elementary, middle, and high school classes begin on March 2nd after the March 1st holiday and universities start around the same date. This means much of life for Koreans and international residents center around such an event. This academic schedule may be different from many other countries, especially those in the west.

Back to School Sales Across the Country and Online

During the end of February and the beginning of March businesses across South Korea offer a wide assortment of ‘Back to school” marketing. This is a great time to shop on Coupang, Gmarket, and in malls. Companies are battling it out for the back-to-school dollars. This is just a fun little nugget of information to think about as you plan your shopping year… but we digress.

About the March Shifts in the International Community

Additionally, since many international community members come to Korea as students or educators, the beginning of the academic year may mean a certain amount of chaos and instability within the international community. Many new students and educators arrive, others leave, and some change their locations in Korea.

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International Students Arrive

New international students move to the country in March and begin adjusting to their new academic experience and their new lives. Such a relocation process mixed with studying may be overwhelming and it may take a few months before students feel ready to explore past their immediate area.

Since students arrive right as classes begin, many international university students scramble to find their footing. They are dealing with a new language, new academic expectations, new friends, and – often – the need to find a new part-time job. This can be a very stressful and overwhelming experience that can heavily impact the mental health of international students.

Educators Leave and Arrive in Korea

The beginning of the academic year brings many educators to Korea to replace those that have completed their contracts. Many such educators teach ESL/EFL English courses while others teach at international schools, corporations, and universities.

Such a large population shift means that many communities/individuals remaining in Korea are grieving the loss of friends while arriving educators reach out to build friendships. This crossover may cause tension within the international community due (in part) to the fact that new arrivals search for connection while long-term residents seek to isolate themselves for a time to deal with their sense of loss. In short, emotional needs may be at an annual high while emotional energy dips to an annual low.

This time of turmoil and tension can be found in communities around the world that experience sudden shifts in populations. In fact, the US Military affiliated community also experiences similar struggles during what they call “PCS Season” when a large part of their community finishes their duty station and others move to Korea to replace them.

EFL/ESL Educators Move to New Cities

In addition to more English language educators entering and leaving Korea during March, many also move to new cities during this time. Foreigner groups may be filled with posts that read, “Just moved here and looking to meet new friends.” During this time those that relocate may mourn the loss of their old communities and routines in Korea and also post many, “It’s better in…..” posts as they struggle to adapt to new places.

While dealing with the stress of moving, many international residents may act out more online as bids for connection become more necessary. They may either be increasingly agitated or push hard to build new connections. At times, this intensity may feel unsafe and stressful. It’s a time that holding grace for those in turmoil becomes important. It’s a great time to learn more about non-violent communication.

The Impact on International Residents Daily Life

All of these little changes may have a substantial impact on the lives and mental health of many international residents during March.

Fewer Planned Events and Festivals Across Korea

Since Korean families and young adults are busy with the beginning of the school year, they may not engage in a wide number of extra activities. This means that most of Korea doesn’t organize many events, activities, and festivals during this time. Instead, organizers wait for May when people have more free time.

Since many international educators are starting their academic year and there has been a big turnover in the community, international residents also aren’t planning events. Instead, they are organizing their lives, going to work, and getting set up for the year. Very few international community leaders have time to plan things or attend things in March.

For many international residents who have lived in Korea for over 6 months the quietness of March can be frustrating as they strive to get outside and explore the country in the warmer weather. Korean nationals also feel this struggle. They too want to be outside in the spring air but instead must focus on the needs of students returning to school.

Such a drop in activities during March may lead international residents to feel isolated. We often see this in the communities South of Seoul moderate. As winter ends international residents want to get back out and explore. It feels frustrating to find organized events few and far between. Understanding that this is part of the cycle of life in Korea can help make March feel more normal.

March May be Subtly Emotionally Draining

All of this change means that the international residents in South Korea may feel higher levels of stress during March. New arrivals are stressed and reaching for support. Long-time residents feel stressed by hearing the same requests for help on repeat for years. Koreans are stressed as they balance family and the start of a new school year.

March Means Connecting with Empathy

Taking time for self-care, empathy, and reflection will help March flow by with greater ease. It’s going to get better as everyone settles into their new routine. If you are a new arrival remember that many of those who have lived here for a long while may not feel emotionally able to make new connections right away. If you have lived in Korea for a while, hold space for new arrivals who are struggling to settle and find stability. We have all been there.

Additionally, hold this same grace and empathy for yourself. As a member of the international community living in South Korea, you live in a constant state of loss. You lose connection to things from your former home. You must let go of friends as they leave. You evolve past parts of yourself and become a new person with new experiences. Make March a month of love and kindness for yourself.

March Can be the BEST Time for Making Friends

That said, March also may end up being the perfect time to meet new people and make new friends. Many new international students and educators are looking for things to do and people to meet. As the year moves on, friendship groups form, and meeting new people may become increasingly difficult. So moving out of your comfort zone in March is a brilliant idea.

March Means the Perfect Time to Rest

Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some time at home and get organized for your year along with everyone else. Take advantage of this slower time to do important self-care like medical appointments, salon appointments, vet appointments – basically everything you don’t want to do when all the fun starts in April.

March Means Fewer Crowds While Traveling

With much of society focused on Academia, March can be the perfect time for travel. Weekend trips to the south or the mountains may be just what you need to support your mental health. Earlier in the month hiking can be an excellent pastime and later in the month flower festivals become the thing to do.