Learning about Korea was quite of a culture shock at first, but then I felt more at ease. Interviewing people for me was the most challenging aspect of the whole project. When asking people off the street to answer a few questions, I would get all kinds of
reactions. Some people seemed to be scared, and others thought I was trying to sell them something. At the end being persistent paid off nicely because I ran into a few people, who were not only knowledgeable, but also were more than happy to answer questions. Now, I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the information I learned during the field interviewing process. First, I will talk about some of the history and background of Korea. Next, I will talk about the major values and attitudes that Koreans practice everyday. Lastly, I will share with you the wonderful experience I had in my first visit to a Korean restaurant.
The Korean’s background can be traced back to the Neolithic age, when the half-human, half-divine Tan’gun founded the Korean State. Tan’gun, supposedly, “the ancestor of all Koreans is said to have flourished, marking a beginning to the Korean Legacy” (Wyte, R., 2001). Through an interviewee, I found out that the dominant religion in Korea before was Buddhism, but over the years it had been replaced by a new religion called, Confucianism. When I asked the interviewee what kind of impact it had on the society as a whole, he responded that there wasn’t much of an impact since most of the Buddhism teachings were adapted by the new religion. The interviewee described Confucianism to have a strong emphasis on family, education, and group behavior.
It is important to know the different customs and attitudes people from different countries have in order to build strong bonds. From an interviewee perspective Koreans are said to have two different roles, one for when their in public and another for when their at home. For example, in public Koreans normally will not greet or act kindly to strangers. Normally, Koreans do not feel obligated to greet in a friendly fashion strangers they run into in public. The interviewee commented that when visitors visit his country they are quick to label Koreans as being self centered, because they are unaware of the different roles. Visitors form a stereotype, by seeing “behavior that confirms to their expectations even when it is absent and ignoring vital information such as knowledge when it is incongruous with their expectations” (Ting-Toomey, S., & Chung L. C., 2005). Unlike in public, Koreans will be most courteous to guest or strangers in their home environment. An interviewee told me that whenever families in Korea have visitors over, they will try to find something in common, in order to feel connected in some way. The common grounds the interviewee mentioned were; marital status, education, religion, and career.
Confucianism has provided Koreans culture many widespread teachings, such as to have respect and obedience toward seniors at all times. Korea is known to have a large power distance where “the acceptance of unequal power distributions, and hierarchical rights based on the basis of age, rank, and seniority play a strong role” (Ting-Toomey, S., & Chung L. C., 2005). An interviewee said that usually when an elder enters a room it is customary for everyone to stand and remain standing until the elder has taken their seat. I was also told that in the interviewees’ family, it is considered inappropriate for young people to eat, drink alcohol, or smoke in the presence of parents and teachers. Another “Confusion teaching, which has been implemented in the Korean culture is the attitude towards women” (Robinson, M., 2004). An interviewee, who grew up in Korea told me, that in the past, women were taught to be obedient to her parents; when married, to her husband; and in old age, to her son. I also discovered, that today much of the old traditions in Korea have changed for the better. Just like in America today women are starting to take predominant roles in the educational and professional fields. Today it seems, that in both countries the feminism and masculinity roles are not predominant as before, but still exist in some parts.
As each culture is unique in their own way, so are the different food choices they make. Some cultures enjoy food for the taste and others for the nutrients. For example, when I asked an interviewee what was special about their food he said, “Every plant and animal in their diet has either, some herbal or medicinal quality”. Some of the many wild and exotic plants, that make up a Korean diet are “wild aster, royal fern bracken, marsh plant, day lily, aralia shoots and broad bellflowers” (Robinson, M., 2004). A very popular and traditional dish for the Koreans is dogs. Koreans believe “dog to be a special kind of meat, which gives the body energy, stamina, and protein” (Wyte, R., 2001). An interviewee told me, that dogs is prepared in a type of soup they call poshinintang, which means body strengthening soup. Dog soup is usually served in a very hot bowl with vegetables and spices. The dog meat is prepared in thick slices with a generous helping of red pepper and soybean paste. The interviewee said he had never tried the soup, but heard the meat tasted almost like roast.
For our group class project we all decided to eat at a nice elegant Korean restaurant. This was my first experience eating at a Korean restaurant, so I was exited and nervous. At the table we sat in, I noticed some wet moist tolls and also a gas grill in the middle. The only eating utensils we had were a spoon and some chopsticks, no knife was included. I later discovered that everything would be cut into little bite size pieces so no knife was necessary. Glancing at the menu I noticed many different types of dishes, which consisted primarily of beef and seafood. A popular dish that I noticed on the menu was bulgogi, also known as “Korean barbecue”. Bulgogi was described to be strips of beef marinated in sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and then cooked over a gas grill at the table. I was very delighted to also find ribs; another popular dish prepared and cooked the same way as the bulgogi. The rest of the menu consisted mostly of fish and different assortment of seafood.
After, we all made up our minds and ordered our meals the waitress brought out tableware. The tableware consisted of one soup bowl for each person along with various small and large plates, which were side dishes. One side bowl in particular I remember is a small bowl of what looked like grey string noodles. When I picked up the bowl to examine it closer I noticed little eyes, quickly discovering, that it was little string fishes. I myself was not daring enough to try the string fishes, nor were any one of my group members. A dish with fish that I did try was a special type of broth, which was almost clear and smelled extremely fishy. The broth had different spices floating on top and also small square pieces of fish at the bottom. A group member at the table decided to try it first and by the look on her face was not too satisfied with the bold fishy taste. At first, I was reluctant to try it myself but I built up enough courage to try it anyways. The broth had a very strong garlic taste combined with a very strong fishy taste, which did not taste great at all.
After waiting for about half an hour our main dishes were finally brought out in giant size bowls. If I was asked to sum up what Korean food tasted like in three simple words, I would have to say “spicy, fiery, and earthy.” The ribs that I ordered had a very strong bold taste of garlic and red chili. The different types of foods the waiter brought out were unique, each having its very own texture and aroma. Some aromas were pleasant and others smelled like ocean sea weed. Each one of us had our own healthy serving of vegetables, along with purple sticky rice. The rice was of a purple color and of a sticky texture. I thought, since the rice was of a different color it would taste different but the taste was no different than, that of regular white rice.
In the Korean culture rice is a big part of every meal. The rice is served in a metal chrome plated rice bowl covered with a lid to keep the steam trapped inside. As part of the Korean culture it is customary to only eat the rice with a spoon and never with chopsticks (Wyte, R., 2001). Soon after learning the customs with rice I recalled haven used my chopsticks to eat my rice. I also thought this incident was a great example of a one-sided attention mishap. A perfect definition of one-sided attention is when “only one person is aware of the intercultural l mistake, and the other person has no sense, that a cultural mistake has been committed” (Ting-Toomey, S., & Chung L. C., 2005). It is now clear to me the importance of being familiar with the customs and traditions of other cultures. In the future if I ever decide to go into a Korean restaurant again I will be sure not to make the same mistake again.
In my report I have covered a great deal of information on the truly unique and remarkable Korean Culture. First, I walked you through the Korean history and explained where some of the customs came from. Next, I touched a bit on the different traditions and attitudes, which today make up the Korean culture. Lastly, I shared with you my very own personal experience in a Korean restaurant and explained a bit about the popular dishes. I believe through learning about the Korean culture I have developed a greater appreciation for a different culture other than my own. Learning about a different culture has also changed my perspective about my own culture. I learned that even though people may be from two very distant continents they can still have lots of the same customs and values. I hope you have enjoyed reading my paper and have learned a bit of useful information that you may take with you. This has truly been an experience I will never forget and will take from it many valuable lessons.
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Robinson, Markus (2004). Korea. Springfield, IL: Holt, Rinehart Publishing
Ting-Toomey, S., & Chung L. C. (2005). Understanding Intercultural Comm. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company
Wyte, R. (2001). Living in South Korea. Thousand Oaks, CA: P & J Publishing Company.