Korean vs American Culture
There are a variety of people from all over the world living in America. So, many of them don’t understand each other’s culture.
I’m from Korea and I know a lot about Korea. Since I have been living in America for five months, I realize there is a big difference between the two countries, and it’s important to know those differences.
First is how Korean people show respect for elders. Younger people bow their heads to older people in Korea. The younger people bow their heads slightly to show respect. If they’re about the same age (and they are adults), they both bow. Addressing an elder by their name is rude, so Koreans call teacher, ‘teacher’. January 1stis a very special holiday in Korea just like America. All of the children in Korea bow to their aunts, uncles, and grandparents while saying, “Happy New Year”. The relatives give advice to the children and also give them money. The bowing is different than the general bow. For this holiday, the boys kneel down on both knees and the girls kneel down on one knee because it is a custom for New Yea r. In America younger people use the words Mr., Mrs., Miss, Sir, and Ma’am to show respect. As a young Korean man, I recognize that there’s a more comfortable and open expression with teachers and elders in America which can be confusing for people from Korea. This is because there are no words to sort people out.
The second thing is about school. In elementary and middle school, Korean students go to school at 8am and come back home at 3pm. But in high school, they go to school at 6am and come back at about 6pm, because Koreans must study hard before they get into college. They must study hard because it is very competitive. In Korea, students have a 10 or 20 minute break time after each 40 or 50 minute class and an hour for lunch time. After students have lunch, boys usually play soccer outside or go to the school store, buy some snacks, and talk with friends. Girls usually walk around the school or go to the school store. The school store is a place that you buy supplies, snacks, and drinks. The subjects studied at Korean high schools are the same as those at American high schools except for classes of Korean, Chinese characters, and Home Skills. Students in America go to school by 8am and come back home at 4pm. They have shorter breaks and must get to their next class within 5 minutes. Subjects are similar to Korean subjects. But the biggest difference is that American students seem very happy, because they have more opportunities to do whatever they want and they aren’t required to study as much as Koreans do. But I think that both countries have students who probably study hard and some that don’t.
The third difference is food. Koreans mainly eat rice and side dishes for meals. One of the most favorite side dishes among Koreans is Kimchi. It is a spicy and healthy fermented food containing cabbage, onion, green onion, garlic, fermented fish sauce, and red pepper powder. It is generally thought that Kimchi is one of the five healthiest foods in the world. Also, some researchers reported that Koreans were safe from SARS when the world was feared with it. It might have been due to the frequent consumption of Kimchi. However, some Western people don’t like Kimchi because of its strong garlic flavor. Another popular side dish is Chopchae.It is made of sweet potato starch noodle, carrot, beef, mushroom, spinach and special spices. It is favored by both Koreans and Americans. One day my mom made it for a special lunch party at UGA.
Participating people (90% of whom were American) brought their own dishes and voted for the most favorite dish of the day. The Chopchae my mom made was placed by the first prize. My favorite side dish is Bulgogi. It is thinly sliced beef or pork mixed with some onions, mushroom and marinated in soy sauce. The preparation steps of these Korean foods are pretty delicate. Recently Koreans are getting busier so they have to buy fast food meals from restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza. I am not familiar with American food. Most Koreans think hamburgers or sandwiches are traditional American foods. They are simple to prepare and convenient to eat on the way to go somewhere. I like hamburgers, pizza, and fried chicken.
The fourth difference is what Koreans call academy. Korean high school students usually go to this academic private school after school. They can learn English, math, music, art, taekwondo, science and so on at the corresponding academy. However, a high percentage of high school students in Korea go to academy after school and learn English and math to achieve higher scores on all tests at school rather than learning music or sports. It is very common for Korean high school students to study school subjects at private academy until midnight. It is hard to find and enroll in any sports teams for high school students who don’t want to major in sports at university. In America, there are various sports and art clubs in high school, which are not oriented to study school subjects. Students can choose whatever they want to do after school. They appear to have more free time than Korean high school students. Here is a good example to see the cultural difference in afterschool activities between Korea and America. Recently, I registered for a private soccer team here, the Athens United Soccer Association. Therefore, I have to spend about 2-3 hours to travel and practice soccer every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and another whole day for a game every Saturday. If I don’t want to major in physical education in college, it is almost impossible to do this in Korea. Most Koreans think that high school students have to study math or English rather than playing outside if they want to attend a high level university. Instead of going to academy Americans do their homework, study, play sports, participate in music activities, watch TV, and shop.
The fifth difference is music. Recently, Korean singers are traveling through the world. In former days, they were popular in Japan, China, and the Southeast Asian countries. Last year in Taiwan, the male 12 person group called ‘Superjunior’ made an album and that album was placed in the first rank over 56 weeks. Also this year, Korean singers are spreading through the internet, and they had some concerts in Paris, London, and New York. But still they are not very well known and they have to work hard to be heard. For many years American singers have traveled around the world. Some of them are very popular in faraway countries. For an example, in the Korean school where I used to go, lots of students enjoy American songs. English exams in Korea use the American songs to test listening such as “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson.
The sixth difference is entertainment. On weekends Korean students watch movies and share meals or play computer games and soccer. In Korea the internet speed is the fastest in the world. In Korea they have places called “PC Room” for enjoying using the internet. People pay about one dollar to use the internet for one hour. Korean students meet at the PC Room and play online games together. Most Korean students do not have video games at home so they play computer games instead.
The seventh difference is buildings. Korea is a small country, therefore buildings are high. So most of Korean schools are five floors high, and people live in 15 floor apartments. Also buildings are close to each other. School, academy, and stores are in a 1mile area where a person lives. In the case of my Korean apartment, it takes 30seconds to get to the store by walking from the apartment. In America, buildings in big cities are high, but in some states like Georgia buildings are low and large. In a lot of places the buildings are spread out.
The last difference is religion. In Korea 29.2% of people are Christian, 22.8% are Buddhist and 1.1% practice other religions. 46.9% of people have no religion. In America 76-80% of people are Christian, 4% are Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim and others don’t have religion.
These are some of the differences between Korean and American cultures. So if we understand other countries’ cultures and customs, we can make a better school, a better society, and a better world.