The Number One Country





11/01/2018. 15:01. P3

The Number One Country.

/Category: Global/Intercultural Fluency/

/Guide Question: What have you shared about American culture with the people you have met in your host country? What are some of their pre-conceptions? What have you learned about American culture from the abroad perspective?/

In the middle of the bustling metropolitan of Sinchon in Seoul, built on the side of a mountain, resides one of the oldest universities in South Korea, Yonsei University. It must be all those years of hard work that enables it to stand today with the prestige deserving of a top school. My time here has been enjoyable, and I am learning a lot in the courses I am taking. If only I didn’t have a maximum cap of 18 units, then I would have taken more classes in order to maximize the education I am getting.

Yonsei University: Where we make history!

Ironically, I came here to study about Korean issues but my classes in finance and business often stress the importance of US policies and actions. In the States, I always assumed we study US policies because we were in the US. But here, we study US policies because of their significant impact on the domestic economy. Even though our focus is on Korea, there are external conditions that need to be considered, such as actions of the “Big 4:” US, China, Japan, and the UK. Ultimately, it is here in another country, that I get to realize how influential the American economy actually is. Not only do I see it in my classes, I also feel it when I introduce myself.

Before that, let me admit that during introductions, I always find myself in a bind. During first meetings, people almost always ask where you are from – almost always meaning “what’s your ethnicity?” I caught myself pausing and thinking hard of how to answer. I was born in the United States but raised in the Philippines. I spent a significant portion of my life there, and even though I came back to the United States and have been residing there for almost 8 years, I don’t really identify myself as “American,” unless of course they mean my citizenship. Sometimes I say Philippines and sometimes I say I’m from California just to mix it up a little. Both are true, but it is only when I combine “I’m from California” and “I’m going to live in Korea someday” that people give me the look that I damn lost my mind.

I went to one event once, and I was telling this guy the “combo” sentence, and he was genuinely so stunned. He said something along the lines of, “but you live in America… I thought that’s the dream, to go to America and when you’re there, that’s it.” I asked him why he thinks that way (even though I already knew due to the many times I get this comment). He said it’s because of the job opportunities. It appears that America’s label as “number one” and “the dream country” is still very much alive. Of course, I understood where this is coming from, especially since I come from a poor country. America is very much deserving of recognition, and during my time there, I have only experienced good things – thankfully and luckily, if I may say so – but it kind of makes me sad because I really don’t like the mentality that there is only one “PLACE.” As I’ve made a point in a prior post, we are all just trying to live our own lives as happily as possible. Find the place for you. It might be America, it might be somewhere else too.

This kind of “number one” thinking not only breeds arrogance and ignorance, but it disrupts progress. Even if I live in America for now, I hope that we do not foster this kind of thinking. I hope that even if we, who live in the States, consider ourselves “number one”, we prove it humbly with actions of continuous improvement, not by how loud or how frequent we tell others. Perhaps it’s the international relations student in me talking, but I really do think countries all over the world have their own merit, and accordingly, each have their own shortcomings too. In fact, although I have come to realize the impact of the American economy to other nations, I am also learning things that I might not have learned if I took these courses in the States.

For instance, in my business classes I’m taking in Korea, America is no doubt a huge player but there are huge competitors we are learning more about as well. It’s akin to choosing seats in the movie theater. When I was in the States, I was sitting at the seat closest to the screen because the American economy is considered the most powerful. However, studying abroad is like sitting at farther seats, giving you a better view. You still see the main screen, but you also see the sides and the background, forming a clearer perspective of the bigger picture. The influence of the American economy has been declining over the years, something that I didn’t hear even once during my education in the States.

Perhaps it’s good then that programs like these encourage students to go abroad and observe life from a different vantage point because truly, it is quite irrelevant to talk about the “American market,” “Chinese market,” “German market,” when we now operate in a global market. Slowly dying are the days where nationality stays put within borders, today, nationalities and identities are being shared from places far from where they originated, celebrated with people who come from somewhere else.

Yonsei University is actually famous for its international programs. There are so many foreigners in my school!! Wherever you go on campus, you can easily hear an English conversation or a French conversation just as much as a Korean conversation. This is the first time I have experienced this kind of diversity, which is really saying something because I go to school in California. California is known for its diversity, but is it really diversity if 80% of the people I meet identify as American? Or ______ – American? Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this is the first time in my life that I am experiencing a classroom that is really representative of the world. In my 2nd month alone, I’ve met people from France, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Mongolia, Belgium, Finland, Indonesia, Poland, China, Japan, Britain, Thailand, Netherlands, Mexico, Australia, Italy, and Spain. It’s great to see people of different backgrounds come together and enjoy life together. It seems as if this generation, from all over the world, are “getting out there” and experiencing life somewhere else. Through programs like this, we can continue to maintain a future society where people are respectful and inclusive of others.


(Enjoying a drink with friends from Canada, Oregon, France, and Germany!)

I have not really shared anything about the American culture because the proper opportunity and context to do so has not happened yet. Also, I don’t really want to compare because firstly, I don’t want to imply that one is better than the other, and in the end, it doesn’t even matter because everything depends on context. For instance, at the most basic level, we all know America values individuality, but Korea is collective in its thinking. Who is to say which is better? But since I will be working in the USA first, and moving to Korea after about 2-3 years, and hoping I can have some experience in Europe too somewhere in between, I hope to observe the different working cultures and through that, I hope that I can somehow be an instrument of change to make the lives of my future firm’s employees better. I’m also aiming to bring value to my company by improving employee morale and consequently, productivity. I’m hoping I can find an internship next summer to jumpstart that experience, but either way, the company that I will be working for in the USA seems to really take care of its employees, so I hope to share that. I am in no position yet to make judgments regarding the Korean working culture because I have yet to experience it, but one does hear of stories. I’m very concerned in particular with women’s rights and their status. And so, since the USA is more advanced (although still far from what it wants to achieve), Korea is young in its fight. So, if I was to really share something, I want to be a part of that platform in making sure my future firm compensates employees fairly and recognizes that women are just as valuable and deserve to be treated as such.