A South Korean roller girl in Prague on Czechia's intensifying K-curiosity

From K-pop to bibimbap, Prague’s love affair with all things Korean has exploded in recent years, says Prague-based motion designer Hyunjin Kim.

Jules Eisenchteter

Written by Jules Eisenchteter Published on 10.04.2024 17:05:00 (updated on 10.04.2024) Reading time: 4 minutes

Be it the food and culture, its music or movies, few countries of the Far-East exert as much fascination as South Korea does on the minds of countless Czechs – and Europeans in general.


The relationship is not one-sided – quite far from it. For years, South Korean tourists have chosen Prague as one of their most popular destinations in Europe, coming en masse to uncover the secrets and bask in the beauty of the City of a Hundred Spires.

In 2019, there were nearly 400,000 South Koreans to visit Prague and other places in Central Bohemia, and last year this figure skyrocketed 250 percent year on year to reach 250,000 after years of Covid-19-induced absence.

The reestablishment, in March 2023, of the direct Prague-Seoul flights after three years of interruption played no small part in this renewed boom.

But Prague has not always been this popular for Koreans, and some have pointed to the massive impact of the TV series Lovers in Prague, filmed in 2005, for kick-starting South Korea’s love affair with the Czech capital.

One of them was Hyunjin Kim, a 35-year-old South Korean motion designer based in Prague, who says she initially learned about the city through the hugely popular television drama show.

Then in her early 20s, Hyunjin found through the AIESEC organization a three-month internship at a French logistics company based in Prague, which wanted to target large South Korean businesses and companies – especially in the automotive industry – who set up shop in Czechia.

"I absolutely wanted to get out of the Korean corporate system, and its strict and hierarchical structure." Hyunjin, who is originally from the nation's second-largest city of Busan but majored in business and media in the capital Seoul, tells Expats.cz.

“I barely knew anything about Prague or the Czech Republic, but knew I needed to grab that opportunity, and thought that whatever happened, I would gain some experience abroad."

On the move

Offered a full-time position at the end of her three-month stint, she postponed her original return ticket. This was 11 years ago.

For three years, she continued working for the same French logistics company. "It was a very demanding job," she says, "as I was in direct contact with many South Korean clients who felt they could be more demanding towards me, being Korean, and I could not always count on the support of my managers and colleagues, being the only Korean-speaking employee there."

This formative experience helped Hyunjin realize that, if she wanted to build a career in Europe that wasn’t primarily based on her being or speaking Korean, she had to learn new, hard skills.

Looking for something "creative and practical" in tune with her personal interests, she went back to school to study graphic design at Prague City University (PCU), and soon self-taught herself particular skills in motion design techniques as extensively as she could.

Intern once more at the age of 28 after graduating from PCU, she has since been working at the B&T advertising agency in Nusle, evidently having found her creative and artistic calling in that "motion design niche," as she puts it.

"Creating just static images is boring for me," she jokes.

A quick look at her colorful and dazzling projects clearly backs up her statement, as does her main hobby – roller skating. She and many others took up this activity during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and now share the fun in their informal community Prague Roller Girls (roller boys are welcome too).

"We meet up every Sunday, practice tricks and choreography, and sometimes also travel together to roller rinks abroad, including in Poland and Spain," she tells us.

"Our group is taking part in more and more events. We were hired as extras in a commercial shoot in Bratislava, and recently put up a roller-skating show in Moon Club, in the center of Prague."

A taste of kimchi in Prague

Today, Hyunjin is one of the approximately 3,000 South Korean citizens officially registered as living in Czechia, many of them students or business managers working in Korean-owned companies.

Enthusiastically describing her life here as we met in a Vinohrady bistro, she admits not being that actively involved, including for lack of time, in the South Korean community and events in Prague.

"I usually go back to South Korea every year," Hyunjin nevertheless tells Expats.cz.

“One of the things I miss the most I guess is how easy, convenient, and efficient it is to access healthcare back home. It can be much more complicated here," she says, adding that this quality of care and service is a double-edged sword, being directly linked to South Korea’s highly competitive, perfectionist, and gruesome work culture.

Having lived in Prague for more than a decade, Hyunjin has been a first-hand witness of how much the city has changed, including in its relation to foreigners and South Korean culture.

“In the early 2010s, everyone who learned I was Korean simply kept asking me about Gangnam Style [a popular K-pop song]," she laughs off.

But over the years, and as more and more people started to visit South Korea, their line of inquiry and K-curiosity became more diverse, ranging from popular movies – like Oldboy, Parasite or Train to Busan – to the work-life balance, or lack thereof in the country, and of course the omnipresent K-pop.

KSpace, the first local store entirely dedicated to the global pop phenomenon, recently opened in the center of Prague, while Czechia hosted its first K-pop festival last October in the O2 arena.

Meanwhile, dozens of Korean cosmetics and beauty salons have popped up across the city – not to mention, of course, the Korean restaurants and food stores catering to all those who can’t get enough of kimchi, bibimbap, tteokbokki, and other succulent local delicacies.

Hyunjin’s personal favorite is Salad Bob, a small and inconspicuous Korean cuisine haunt in the Nusle district, which she visits every week, and Shinfood, in Vinohrady, for specialties-based grocery shopping.

Take her word for it. Or don’t, and venture out to find your own top K-spots in Prague.

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