South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (Hangul: 대한민국; hanja: 大韓民國; RR: Daehan Minguk, lit. The Republic of Great Han; ROK), and commonly referred to as Korea, is a sovereign state in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The name Korea is derived from the ancient Kingdom of Goguryeo, also known as Koryŏ. It shares land borders with North Korea to the north, and oversea borders with Japan to the east and China to the west. Roughly half of the country's 51 million people reside in the Seoul Capital Area, the second largest in the world with over 25 million residents.
South Korea occupies the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, which extends some 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Asian mainland. This mountainous peninsula is flanked by the Yellow Sea to the west, and Sea of Japan (East Sea) to the east. Its southern tip lies on the Korea Strait and the East China Sea.
The country, including all its islands, lies between latitudes 33° and 39°N, and longitudes 124° and 130°E. Its total area is 100,032 square kilometres (38,622.57 sq mi).
South Korea's terrain is mostly mountainous, most of which is not arable. Lowlands, located primarily in the west and southeast, make up only 30% of the total land area.
About three thousand islands, mostly small and uninhabited, lie off the western and southern coasts of South Korea. Jeju-do is about 100 kilometres (about 60 mi) off the southern coast of South Korea. It is the country's largest island, with an area of 1,845 square kilometres (712 sq mi). Jeju is also the site of South Korea's highest point: Hallasan, an extinct volcano, reaches 1,950 meters (6,398 ft) above sea level. The easternmost islands of South Korea include Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo), while Marado and Socotra Rock are the southernmost islands of South Korea.
South Korean mainstream culture, including televised drama, films, and popular music, also generates significant exports to various parts of the world. This phenomenon, often called "Hallyu" or the "Korean Wave", has swept many countries in Asia and other parts of the world.
Until the 1990s, trot and ballads dominated Korean popular music. The emergence of the rap group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, also known as K-pop, as the group incorporated elements of popular musical genres of rap, rock, and techno into its music. Hip hop, dance and ballad oriented acts have become dominant in the Korean popular music scene, though trot is still popular among older Koreans. Many K-pop stars and groups are also well known abroad, especially in other parts of Asia. A solo artist known as Psy has recently topped charts around the world with his hit "Gangnam Style".
Since the success of the film Shiri in 1999, Korean film has begun to gain recognition internationally. Domestic film has a dominant share of the market, partly because of the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.
Under its current constitution the state is sometimes referred to as the Sixth Republic of South Korea. Like many democratic states, South Korea has a government divided into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The executive and legislative branches operate primarily at the national level, although various ministries in the executive branch also carry out local functions. Local governments are semi-autonomous, and contain executive and legislative bodies of their own. The judicial branch operates at both the national and local levels. South Korea is a constitutional democracy.
The South Korean government's structure is determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This document has been revised several times since its first promulgation in 1948 at independence. However, it has retained many broad characteristics and with the exception of the short-lived Second Republic of South Korea, the country has always had a presidential system with an independent chief executive. The first direct election was also held in 1948. Although South Korea experienced a series of military dictatorships from the 1960s up until the 1980s, it has since developed into a successful liberal democracy. Today, the CIA World Factbook describes South Korea's democracy as a "fully functioning modern democracy".
Education in South Korea is a serious matter in South Korean life and highly valued in the national culture and is regarded as crucial to socioeconomic success in South Korean society. Widely known around the world as an academic achievement oriented society, educational success within the South Korean paradigm is the primary determinant of socioeconomic status in South Korea earmarked by the promise of prestige white collar professional jobs with a large corporate chaebol such as LG or Samsung or within the public sector such as the South Korean government. South Koreans view education as the main propeller of social mobility for themselves and their family as a gateway to the South Korean educated middle class. Graduating from a top university is the ultimate marker of high status and the pressure to succeed academically is deeply ingrained at an early age. South Korea is highly ranked in education, although the rigor of its educational system has been criticized. Much pressure for Korean students is held within the annual college entrance exam, where one's entire life and future is determined by it. The college entrance examination is critical in the life of South Korean families where gaining entry to one of the three most prestigious “SKY” universities (Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei) will basically determine socioeconomic status for the rest of their lives and enhance the chances secure a highly-paid job in one of the South Korean chaebols (private sector conglomerates) or with the public sector such as the South Korean government.