Understanding Korean Culture
I’ve been in Korea now for just over a week, and I’ve already fallen hard for the warm sun, the fried chicken, and the fascinating people who inhabit this beautiful land. I have to admit, I knew very little about Korean culture before I arrived, but in the short time I’ve been here I’ve already learned so much.
Koreans have had a common language, shared culture and defined borders for over a thousand years. They have this connection with each other that I find fascinating; a respect for one another that is present in not only the language, but in their day-to-day interactions with one another.
I’ve already grown used to the stares as well as the giggling gaggle of children that shout “hello” to me, perhaps the only English phrase they feel confident enough to bellow.
As a country, it has the cultural diversity of a rural German town. When Koreans trace back their ancestral trees, all they find are Koreans. Most of my students only see westerners at school (as teachers) and many people have never seen any at all. I’ve already grown used to the stares as well as the giggling gaggle of children that shout “hello” to me, perhaps the only English phrase they feel confident enough to bellow.
Despite this, they spent much of the 19th and 20th centuries occupied by other nations. China and Japan have both laid claim to Korea in the past, stronger powers have torn it apart and to this day, they fight a war with their other half. These setbacks have only served to strengthen the Koreans. They are fiercely patriotic. Their fellow countrymen aren’t just neighbors and friends, they are brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles.
So when a ferry full of Korean students capsized off of the south coast of the country last week, it was a national tragedy. People stayed home from work to mourn their children. Many of my students were absent from school. The streets of my city were quiet all weekend.
I am envious of the brotherhood the Korean people share with one another. As a foreigner here, it can often make you feel on the outside. Will we ever be their brothers and sisters? Probably not, but I feel a deeper respect and understanding for their culture and the community.