11/13/2018. 12:44. P4
My MT Experience & The Three Attributes.
/Category: Global/Intercultural Fluency/
/Guide Question: What are some of the personal characteristics that your host country’s culture values in individuals? How does that differ from the US?/
Among the many personal qualities that South Koreans value, today I will talk about three characteristics that I have found to be quite distinguished from American society.
The first one is the ability to drink. Let me put it into the context of a recent experience. Early this semester, I joined some school clubs and most of them were holding “MT’s.” “MT” or “membership training” is a weekend trip where you stay overnight in a pension and do activities while drinking (and eating!) all night. To be honest, I don’t really drink so I was very worried because I knew that the drinking culture is very big here in Korea and is a fundamental part of their culture. I thought that not accepting a drink would be very rude, so I drank as much as I could. I didn’t mind it at all because when Koreans drink, it’s usually accompanied by food (Korean BBQ! Nothing like meat to keep you sober! 😊). In the US, people usually either had dinner or happy hour; food or drinks. Sometimes happy hour includes drinks with hors d’œuvres or some small plates, but Koreans usually like to mix the two together, which I find really great and really time-efficient! Whenever I pass by a meat grilling place, there’s always a group of businessmen, friends, or grandfathers, talking and laughing together while downing soju bottles as they surround the grill. I’ve come to realize that the essence of drinking is actually the cultivation of closer relationships. And so, when I say the ability to drink, I don’t mean that they value how much you can drink (although that happens too), but behind all those soju bottles is the ability to form relationships and get along with others.
It reminded me of my retreat session in high school. In my high school in the Philippines, during junior and senior year, we would go to a “retreat,” where we would go on an overnight trip somewhere or have a sleepover in school (or was it two nights?) and just do activities and bond together. However, for these retreats, we did it at the end of the academic year, so we have already built relationships by then and were just sharing experiences together and enjoying our time. This MT on the other hand was for building those relationships. Not going to lie, it was crazy, but it was a fun experience that does not exist in the US. I got to know all these people from different countries that I mentioned in my post 3. Even just observing, it really is good to see people from different backgrounds talking and enjoying themselves. Maybe our world leaders need to go to an MT and have a Korean BBQ session with some soju? We also played some Korean drinking games to facilitate the relationship-building.
Our club president and vice president livin’ it up! lol
Of course, there is the other side to this, which points me to the second attribute. Koreans also value hard work, and they do work very hard. Sometimes, the hierarchical culture that they have makes things more stressful too. I have yet to confirm the working environment personally, but after a tough day of work, drinking and going karaoke is their way to release stress. Work hard, play hard! “America is a boring heaven. Korea is a fun hell.” I’ve heard this phrase many times and what it means is that USA has a better work environment (?) and life in Korea is tougher than the US (? I don’t know about that though. They have cheap health care and you don’t have to worry about being shot when you go to school?). But anyway, it’s considered “boring” since there’s really not much to do because places close early, and if you are going somewhere you have to drive about 30 minutes to get somewhere (unless if you’re in New York I guess). Seoul is like NY in that it never sleeps! There is always something to do, it’s relatively safe to walk around at night, and since the transportation is very effective, you can go wherever you want. Personally, I have always enjoyed my late-night walks with friends, walking around the city and listening to buskers, or walking around my neighborhood and having a cheap drink and eating street food in front of the convenience store while enjoying the night breeze, wondering when I can permanently stay here. The US doesn’t have this kind of life, so I understand why it can be referred as “boring”. Try hanging out in front of 7-11 and still be in one piece in the morning haha!
Busking at Hongdae!
The third value is respect. Korean culture has a social hierarchy pretty much like Japan and it shows in all aspects of their culture. In the language itself, the structure changes depending on who you talk to. I’m learning that there are some verb endings that I cannot use to “higher” people – the elderly, your boss, a teacher, etc. There are words I need to use to refer to an elderly’s house, meal, name, etc. When someone is older than you, you have to address them by translations of “older sister” or “older brother.” The Tagalog language has the same thing so it’s nothing new to me, but the US doesn’t have this because I think the US values equality and individuality more. I could never get used to calling my boss, or my professor by their first names. Koreans also use “we” to refer to some nouns. For example, in English, the correct term is “my country” but the Korean translation would use the pronoun “our,” or saying, “I love my mother,” the Korean translation is “I love our mom.” Even in drinking, this respect is present. I’ve learned that you always (?) pour a shot for other people and refilling your glass by yourself is rude. Also, when you are drinking with older people or people with higher status, you have to accept the glass with both hands and turn sideways to drink (?). I’m leaving question marks because I think the situation varies. I’m still a newbie at this, I have so much to learn.