My Firsthand Experience on Korean Culture
My Firsthand Experience on Korean Culture
  • Andrew Stone
  • 승인 2012.09.05 20:10
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Three months ago I left my Hometown of Minneapolis in the United States to head off for Pohang, a town I had never heard of in which there was not a single person that I knew. This was a very strange experience for me since I had lived in the same city since the day I was born and I have had many of the same friends since I entered kindergarten. Before I arrived, I expected that the highlights of my trip would be a beautiful scenery, interesting foods and a good research experience at POSTECH. I truly enjoyed each of those things while I was in Korea, but now that I am back home and people ask me ten times a day “what was your favorite thing about Korea?”, my answer is none of those, but rather, it is the people I met.
My very first week in Pohang I was by myself attempting to find dinner in Hyoja market. I wandered from store to store looking for a restaurant that might be good. As English is my first language and the only words I could say in Korean were ?nnyeonghaseyo” and “Gamsahamnida”, it was hard to find a good meal or even know what each restaurant had to offer. At each restaurant, I walked up to the door, saw the Korean menu, kindly thanked the owner using the two words I knew and moved on. Eventually I came to a chicken restaurant and as I was about to continue my routine of moving on, a man about 50 years old came to my aid and invited me to sit at the table next to him. After helping me order he welcomed me into a conversation with two of his friends. Following this, he offered me some of his chicken and would not take no for an answer as he poured me a glass of beer. His English was very rough so our ability to communicate ideas was limited but he strongly suggested that I learn one thing while I am in Korea. He told me that Korean culture places a lot of emphasis on other people’s feelings. Probably partly because of how little time I had spent in Korea and also because of the language barrier, I was not 100% sure what he meant by that, but, because he repeated it so many times, I did not forget it.
It was later in the trip that I noticed how often people do things as a group in Korea. The most common example of this is eating. In America, most of the time when I go to a restaurant I order my own food, get my own plate and pay my own bill. In Korea it is much more common to share a meal among the group and split the bill evenly among everyone. Similarly with drinking, in America I usually order my own drink and have it all to myself. In Korea, the group orders some soju and finishes it together and eventually everyone stumbles home. I think that the simple act of doing things as a group helps make everyone enjoy the experience and feel accepted. Throughout my time in Korea I always felt welcome and truly enjoyed being a part of these groups whenever I was with people. At times, I felt more comfortable in Korea than I do back in the States.
I’ve now realized that what that man said to me has quietly become clear in my mind. Korean culture places emphasis on other people’s feelings by including everybody in the group. During my time at POSTECH I always felt welcome and cannot thank everybody enough for hosting me. While I really enjoyed the beautiful mountains, raw fish and interesting research, I will always remember the people I met and how kind they were to me, so thank you Postechians.