Seeing Through a Different Lens: South Korea and the United States

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One of my favorite parts about coming to South Korea has been not only gaining a better understanding about South Korea itself, but also observing how people view the United States.

When it comes to South Korea, I found myself learning aspects of their history and politics, that I had never heard of before; this was particularly interesting to me considering the role the United States played within their modern history. I loved learning about this because it was a facet of the Korean experience and existence that you are literally unable to gain understanding about through the music, dramas, and other types of popular culture that is drawing many people’s attention to South Korea at the moment. Furthermore, I have also been able to learn further about North Korea, outside of the often biased information that you would get within the United States.

In terms of society as a whole here in South Korea, I have found that there are many conveniences here that I will be missing once I return home. The first of which being the unspoken rules of interacting with other people. While some people might come into South Korea or Japan and find these rules to be suffocating, I find myself appreciating the miniscule level of orderliness that it provides. For example, standing on the right side of an escalator so that people who are walking up the elevator, rather than standing still, can get by. Another example would be that in my entire time here I have yet to see someone be rude or act entitled towards service workers. Not only is this looked down upon by people here, even if someone were to act rude, it is not likely that you would see the situation escalate to the level of violence or verbal abuse that you would see in the United States. While this level of public restraint is appreciated, it is often done solely to maintain that public appearance, so it is possible for people to find this behavior ingenuine or uncomfortable. Other things that I find I will miss are public transportation and general safety. In my hometown, there is public transportation, but it is known to be dirty, unreliable, and dangerous. So, living here in South Korea I have enjoyed not only the efficiency and cleanliness of public transport, but also how accessible it is. I will also miss how common it is to walk around at any point in time and without regard to if you are a man or woman without severe concern for your safety. Of course, you should always practice vigilance and be aware of your surroundings, but crime itself is not very common in South Korea, especially if you compare it to the United States. Overall, I will miss the independence that being in South Korea allowed me.

In terms of differences between expectations and reality, I cannot say that I can think of many. Perhaps, it is because I did not come here with only k-dramas as the foundation of my knowledge, but nothing seemed to be different from my expectations. I thought the food would be delicious, the transportation would be fast, and cities would be colorful and interesting, and I was proven correct on all accounts! Perhaps the one thing people should keep in mind is that there is a stereotype here against foreign women, wherein they are seen as sexually liberated and often only sought out for one-night stands, especially in clubbing areas. So, it is better to be mindful of that if people approach you for a relationship.

When it comes to the United States, not only have I met fellow American’s who have given me different perspectives on the United States, but I have also been able to get a feel on how people view the United States as a country from an international perspective. Being raised in a smaller, rural, and oftentimes narrow-minded, area, I sometimes couldn’t imagine why people would try so hard to come to America. However, after meeting people here who had family who did just that, or who grew up in areas that had more cultural diversity, I was able to see the United States as these groups did and gain a new appreciation. On the other hand, people here tend to view America through the scope of what television and social media has taught them, similar to how many people have used K-dramas and K-pop. In this way, sometimes it was hard to show people that America wasn’t just like the stereotypes portrayed it. Honestly, though, I think the hardest thing to convince people of, was that Kentucky Fried Chicken wasn’t actually that big of a deal in the United States! It surprised quite a few people, especially since I was from Kentucky and that’s all they could relate the name to. It was quite amusing!