On Thursday night, September 15, I’ll be hopping on a plane to teach English for a year in the Sultanate of Oman.  From February 2010 to February 2011, I taught English in the Republic of Korea (ROK).  In this post, I’m going to do a brief comparison of the two countries.  All facts and figures are taken from the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia.

The Republic of Korea (ROK), is known by Americans as South Korea.  The flag, known as Taegeukgi (also spelled Taegukgiin convention), has three parts: a white background; a red and blue taegeuk in the center; and four black trigrams, one in each corner of the flag. The general design of the flag also derives from traditional use of the tricolor symbol (red, blue and yellow) by Koreans starting from the early era of Korean history. The white background symbolizes “cleanliness of the people.” The Taegeuk represents the origin of all things in the universe. Together, they represent a continuous movement within infinity, the two merging as one.

In another interpretation of the Korean flag, white is a traditional Korean color and represents peace and purity; the blue section represents the negative cosmic forces of the yin, while the red symbolizes the opposite positive forces of the yang; each trigram (kwae) denotes one of the four universal elements, which together express the principle of movement and harmony.

The national flag of Oman, Arabic علم عمان‎) consists of three stripes (white, green and red) with a red bar on the left that contains the national emblem of Oman. The white stands for peace and prosperity, the green for fertility and the Green Mountains, and the red for battles against foreign invaders. The red is also the color of the former flag of the nation when it was known simply as the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman.

Korea is located in Eastern Asia, on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. It is smaller than Oman, with an area of 99,720 sq km, slightly larger than the state of Indiana.  It has 2,413 km of coastline.  The South Korean terrain is mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains are in the west and south.  Its climate is temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than winter.

Korea’s natural resources are coal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum, lead, and hydro-power potential.  Natural hazards include occasional typhoons that bring high winds and floods; low-level seismic activity is common in the southwest.  It has a strategic location on the Korea Strait.

Oman is in the Middle East, bordering the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, between Yemen and UAE.  Its area is 309,500 sq km, or slightly smaller than Kansas.  It has 2,092 km of coastline.  The Oman terrain is central desert plain, with rugged mountains in the north and south.  Its climate is dry desert; hot, humid along coast; hot, dry interior; strong southwest summer monsoon (May to September) in the far south.

Oman’s natural resources are petroleum, copper, asbestos, some marble, limestone, chromium, gypsum, and natural gas.  Natural hazards include summer winds that often raise large sandstorms and dust storms in the interior; periodic droughts occur.

Despite the fact that Korea is 1/3 the size of Oman, the population in Korea is almost 49 million compared to 3 million in Oman!  Where the median age in Korea is 39.8 years, the median age in Oman is 22.4 years.  Where Muscat, the capital of Oman, has a population of 634,000, the population in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is nearly 10 million.

The major language in Korea is Korean, with English taught widely in junior high and high school.  Korea spends 4.2% of GDP on education, whereas Oman spends 3.9% of GDP.  The major languages in Oman are Arabic (official), English, Baluchi, Urdu, and Indian dialects.  The ethnic makeup of Oman is 72% Omanis and 28% expatriate workers and GCC (Gulf Corporation Council) nationals.

The religious makeup of Oman is Ibadhi Muslim 75%, other (includes Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim, Hindu)  is 25%.  In Korea, 26% are Christian, 23% are Buddhist, and 49% claim no religion.

Korea’s government is a republic with President LEE Myung-bak, serving as head of state since 25 February 2008.  Oman is a hereditary monarchy with Sultan and Prime Minister QABOOS bin Said Al-Said (sultan since 23 July 1970 and prime minister since 23 July 1972) at its head; he is both the chief of state and head of government.

In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies, and currently is among the world’s 20 largest economies, rated as 13th largest by GDP.  Oman is a middle-income economy that is heavily dependent on dwindling oil resources. Because of declining reserves, Muscat has actively pursued a development plan that focuses on diversification, industrialization, and privatization, with the objective of reducing the oil sector’s contribution to GDP to 9% by 2020.  Oman is ranked 81st in the world according to GDP.

Korea’s agricultural products include rice, root crops, barley, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs, chickens, milk, eggs, and fish and is involved in industries such as electronics, telecommunications, automobile production, chemicals, shipbuilding, and steel.  Oman’s agricultural products are dates, limes, bananas, alfalfa, vegetables, camels, cattle and fish and its major industries include crude oil production and refining, natural and liquefied natural gas (LNG) production; construction, cement, copper, steel, chemicals, and optic fiber.

Korea has a mandatory requirement for military service: 20-30 years of age for compulsory military service, with middle school education required; conscript service obligation – 21 months (Army, Marines), 23 months (Navy), 24 months (Air Force); 18-26 years of age for voluntary military service.  Oman does not have mandatory military service: 18-30 years of age for voluntary military service; there was no conscription as of 2010.

A Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953. There are periodic incidents with North Korea in the Yellow Sea over the Northern Limit Line, which South Korea claims as a maritime boundary.  During my one year in Korea, North Korea attacked South Korea in minor attacks twice.  South Korea and Japan claim Liancourt Rocks (Dok-do/Take-shima), occupied by South Korea since 1954.

A boundary agreement was reportedly signed and ratified with UAE in 2003 for Oman’s entire border, including Oman’s Musandam Peninsula and Al Madhah exclave, but details of the alignment have not been made public.

These two countries seem as different as two countries can possibly be, so I am really excited and privileged to be able to experience both of these cultures close-up!