23 In Korean learning journey (:/ korean textbook reviews

[Review/Giveaway] Korea: The Impossible Country

First of a series of Hangukdrama x Tuttle reviews and giveaways!

Korea: The Impossible Country was a book that I’ve heard quite a lot about (all good things) and wanted to read really badly but just never got around to buying it. Was SUPER happy when Tuttle sent me a copy and it became my bedtime / morning novel for a week.


It’s one of those books where you just can’t put it down and would want to finish in one sitting. I know, it’s strange to say that of a non-fiction book and I myself was rather surprised at how addictive, fun and informative I found it. (I had expected it to be good writing, but you know, the rather ‘dry’ kind that take some time to digest)

It completely went beyond my expectations, making it a book I would want to read at one go and then re-read again to ponder over the many issues raised.

Review (and giveaway details – yes I know this is more important! :P) under the cut.

Personally, the best part of the book for me was its tone.

Yes, Daniel Tudor did an exceptional job in writing with depth, covering a range of issues that go beyond Hallyu / Kpop / North-South divide (the usual topics).

But what I really loved was how he managed to present the book not in an authoritative manner (I have no liking for all those self-proclaimed experts of a country), but rather the tone was generally objective and yet you could also see bits of his opinions and perspective as a foreigner living in S.Korea for almost a decade. It’s like seeing and understanding S.Korea from a very unique angle – so close but yet still from the outside. Personally, I find that perspective very valuable and interesting.

As I read each chapter, I never fail to be amazed by the amount of ground he managed to cover – and that of very different issues (from politics, religion, history to culture and modern life) into coherent and well organised writing.


For someone who knows a little about the country..

As someone who has stayed in the country for some time (beyond being a tourist), I found it an exceptionally interesting read. I don’t think I know a lot about S.Korea, but I definitely know more than the average person on the street. That being said, I really gained a lot of knowledge on Korean culture (and more importantly, what brought about it)  that I never quite knew or understood before.

For that, the best parts of the book for me were the chapters devoted to 정 (jeong), 체면 (face) and the idea of 우리 (us) and 남 (them).

I’ve been told several times that I don’t seem to show enough curiosity or care about the other party as I always make it a point that I won’t probe unless you tell me willingly. Every time I get that comment, I always feel quite thrown-off. I’ll be rather flustered and the other party would tell me it’s okay you don’t have to force yourself to ask something ><;;

For me, it’s really to respect the person’s privacy but it’s not until I read the book that I realised that perhaps I did come across as uninterested and not bothering to find out more about the other party or to volunteer information about myself (I’m exceedingly private). Showing interest and asking about the background / life of the other party is a sign of building goodwill and a relationship.

The book also devoted quite a number of pages on the idea of 우리 (us) versus 남 (them), something that I find fascinating and also frustrating at times. This strong in-group and out-group divide was something new to me and prior to being acquainted with Korean (and the culture), I have never felt it that strongly. From my very limited experience in Korea, I did feel frustration at times where it seems like I would never be able to really fit in. Perhaps as a tourist to the country, I would be welcomed and treated like a guest, but if I would want to stay for a long time, I would perhaps be treated as a competitor (for jobs etc). I never quite felt in place as a foreigner who speaks Korean – sometimes I would be subjected to the same standards as a Korean and yet I was never quite part of their group. Perhaps some fault lies in me too.

In the book, the author mentioned how in business transactions, sometimes one party has to willingly suffer a loss first (or get the short end of the stick) and it’s part of building up trust and relationship as the party would probably gain back the loss in the next transaction. Now that I think about it, it’s really quite true. I once did something out of goodwill for the other party and in the end, it turned out I had quite a lot to gain.

As someone who is very interested in both the modern and ancient history of Korea, the book managed to weave in quite a bit of historical facts and events into explaining the (possible) origins or influences on the mindset of Koreans.

The anecdotes were really interesting and it’s quite amazing how the author seems to have many connections to be able to interview so many different people. It reminds me of how amazed I am when influential people in different industries all seem to know each other, something that was also mentioned in the book.But I guess for those who are not part of that group, it feels like you are always standing in front of a wall, too high to climb over. ><

인맥 (connections) is really very very important in the country. It’s also amazing how people take to you very well if you come from the same (prestigious) universities or have some form of shared background with them. It reminded me of how much rapport I can build with a person who graduated from Yonsei and KU (I’ve spent a bit of time in both places). I find it amusing when Koreans give me the admiring look for studying there when I know that being an exchange student is different from getting a degree there. haha but I would gladly accept that connection 😛 It’s also quite interesting how shared experiences can immediately make the other party seem closer to you.

Anyway, If I were to talk about every great thing about the book, the review will never end. It’s that good. (:


For anyone who is interested in the country:

Even for someone who only has a slight interest in the country, or simply want to find out more, this book is an exceptional read. The writing and style is accessible and you wouldn’t need to have any prior knowledge to be able to appreciate or understand the content. In fact, I think it’s an even more amazing read for the average person, and you would definitely have a better understanding of the country beyond kpop (and PSY? haha) after finishing the book.


I’m no wordsmith and many a time, I find myself struggling with expressing myself and to really write out how I feel. You would be able to find more informative (and coherent) reviews out on the Internet but I just want to contribute a little to show my appreciation towards the author and the time and effort he took to write this amazing book.

What I gained from the book is not simply new knowledge and changed perspectives. It made me more motivated to strive and work harder to get closer to the country that I really love and to be someone who is more culturally sensitive and mindful of the bigger world out there. The time and effort put into writing the book must have been no small feat, and I would really want to introduce this amazing book to more people (:






Tuttle has also kindly agreed to giveaway a copy of Korea: The Impossible Country and it’s free shipping to anywhere in the world! 😛 It will be an Instagram giveaway this time (perhaps Twitter next)

How to enter: 

1. Follow Hangukdrama (@seul.key) on Instagram

2. Like the post (Titled “Hangukdrama x Tuttle Giveaway“)

3. In the comments section, leave a comment and mention at least 2 friends who you think would be interested in this book too! If your friends follow step 1-3, they would be considered in the giveaway too!

4. (BONUS) Comment on this blog post too! ^^

I have not decided whether to pick the winner randomly or not, so step 4 can possibly give you an edge 😛

  • The giveaway will end on 22 February 2015 KST 9pm / SGT 8pm
  • Winner will be announced on this blog post and on Instagram
  • All communications from me would be from either seoulareyou@gmail.com or @seul.key (on Instagram)
  • I would only be asking for your NAME, ADDRESS and a TEL NO (if you live outside US)
  • The information will be passed on to Tuttle Publishing, who will then ship the book to you
  • I will not be using or disclosing the information for any other purposes other than facilitating the giveaway[/disclaim]


Thank you Tuttle for sending over the books! ^^

psst. Tell me which book(s) you would want to win next. 😛

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    14 February, 2015 at 11:13 PM

    When I lived in Korea, I never quite thought about 우리 vs. 남 because we’re like that as well (Latin American people) but I think we’re more flexible. I still get fascinated by how similar Koreans and Latinos are (there are differences but it doesn’t makes us feel alienated lol.
    The only thing I never quite understood was the university thing, but that might be because in Puerto Rico there’s only one State University and the rest are private so if you go to the only public university you’re considered smart (it’s a bit hard to get accepted). But it’s not a big deal because what we really care about is that you educate yourself and it doesn’t matter where you do it.Thus, when I said that I was an exchange student at Ewha, usually I got these admiring looks that made me a bit uncomfortable and I felt a bit pressured on reflecting it in the way I acted around people.
    Anyways, I really enjoy your blog a lot!

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Thanks for reading! (: It’s quite interesting to think about the similarities and differences in culture 😀 thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply
    15 February, 2015 at 6:31 AM

    Hi! I was the IG person that was a silent reader for about 4 years (silvertiger312). Thank you (and Tuttle) for this giveaway!!

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:36 AM


  • Reply
    Charles Vought
    15 February, 2015 at 6:43 AM

    An amazing review Shanna! I was looking for a great starter book on Korea and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. A book from the point of view of an expat is something I am interested in. Thanks bunches and keep on writing reviews kk!

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Thanks for reading! You should definitely get this one 😀

  • Reply
    Louise (강젠나/kangxenna on Instagram)
    15 February, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    I commented here yesterday, but I can’t see my comment so I’ll try again. 🙂 Thank you for your blog, I really enjoy your posts. 🙂 This review makes me really really want to read this book.ㅋㅋㅋ I think it will be helpful for when I eventually (hopefully) move to Korea. I’d order it myself, but I can’t afford it because of the shipping fees. 🙁 Anyway, thank you for your site, and thanks to you you and Tuttle for this giveaway. 🙂

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      hello!! sorry the blog likes to eat up comments D: Thanks for liking the post!

  • Reply
    16 February, 2015 at 3:29 AM

    I really enjoy reading this review. It has made me excited about checking out this book. (@itssowonderful) ^_^

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Thanks Marie!

  • Reply
    16 February, 2015 at 9:44 AM

    I already thought it was amazing you host a giveaway like this, but reading your review it made me get even more excited! The book seems to be awesome! Thanks for being so kind with your readers… spcecially here in Brazil is so difficult to find books about South Korea or even Hangul.

    Hope I win!
    Keep it up with your nice work ^^

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Thank you!! (:

  • Reply
    16 February, 2015 at 12:09 PM

    Hi dear,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. I’m always curious about Korea. Haven’t been there yet. Thanks your amazing review about Korea. Can’t wait till next year, I will start planning to go to Korea this coming Spring season. Can’t wait.

    • Reply
      17 February, 2015 at 9:38 AM

      Thanks!! I hope you have a great time there next year! 😀

  • Reply
    Hiyaa Saraswat
    17 February, 2015 at 11:23 AM

    Thanks for sharing your review here 🙂 I’ll buy this book when I’ve saved some more…..broke at this moment ^_^; Again, thanks for sharing 🙂 <3

    • Reply
      24 February, 2015 at 10:31 AM

      Thank you!!

  • Reply
    17 February, 2015 at 1:43 PM

    plz accept my request. i am very much intrested to learn korea. i love dat language.

    • Reply
      24 February, 2015 at 10:32 AM

      Have fun learning Korean!

  • Reply
    17 February, 2015 at 10:22 PM

    I did all the steps on instagram @twibizarre twibizarre@hotmail.com

    I’m actually planning to go to south korea to study for my graduate degree so I feel like this book would be a great insight to everything I should know about korea if I’m going and maybe possibly staying there for a while.

    • Reply
      24 February, 2015 at 10:32 AM

      Wow! (: That’s awesome! Thanks for joining the giveaway

  • Reply
    Wena Sadorra
    18 February, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Seeing the first few paragraphs of this blog entry made me feel the same excitement you felt in reading and re-reading this book. I can connect with you when you said that you prefer books which are objectively written rather than on a very authoritative tone. I’ve lived in Korea for a year in 2008 and have been continuously intertwined with the country and its people ever since. Through the years, I thought I “understood” Korean culture and thinking already but with references like this (coupled with dramas near to reality like Misaeng), I’m drawn to learn more. Thanks for sharing and please keep it up! I’ve been wanting to revive my blog too and one day I hope I can interact more with generous bloggers like you ^^ Happy Seolal! ^^

    • Reply
      24 February, 2015 at 10:33 AM

      Thanks for liking the blog!! 😀

  • Reply
    24 April, 2015 at 9:40 PM

    Hey. i just found your blog, I’m trying to self study Korean from Japanese now, so we’re the exact opposite i think. Fighting to both of us~ and if you ever find a good textbook do let me know^^

  • Leave a Reply to Priih Cancel Reply