Prior to living in South Korea, I was not familiar with Korean culture. This has allowed me to develop unique impressions of South Korean culture purely through personal experiences. If your judgment is tainted from preconceived expectations, it is difficult to develop meaningful impressions of a culture. However, I have constructed an interesting comparison to my life in Australia. There are many positive attributes within Korean life, especially study, fashion, and communication. Whilst living in Seoul, I have chosen to fix my eyes on cultural strengths in order to improve these areas of my life in Australia.
First of all, my Korean study life has challenged my commitment to my studies in Australia. Whilst studying abroad, I feel inspired by Korean classmates to be more committed to my studies and motivated to achieving higher grades. Initially, I was shocked by how concerned some Korean students were about their grades. However, this has encouraged me to develop a stronger commitment to my education.
Australian students tend to adopt a relaxed attitude regarding study life. I live in the Gold Coast, known as a tropical paradise. Surrounded by beaches with irresistible surf, mountains and tropical rainforests, many young people yearn to spend weekends seeking adventure outdoors. With so many exhilarating activities, they are distracted from their studies. Our admiration for nature and adventure often results in a priority of our hobbies as opposed to studying.
We also have a strong mate-ship (friendship) culture. There tends to be social pressure to attend every social gathering with close friends, which involves sacrificing precious study time. There is also a commonly adopted term among Australian university students: “P’s get Degrees.” It means, as long as you can “pass” your subjects, you will end up with a degree at the end of your study period. Many young adults use this term to justify hanging out instead of studying. This reinforces the relaxed attitude towards our commitment to studies that lacks motivation to excel.
In Australia it can also be difficult for graduates to secure a job. After years of studying some do not end up in their desired career. Many employers in Australia seek employees with a university degree and prior work experience. Interestingly, workplaces do not usually focus on university grades. In most circumstances, employers prefer students with greater work experience to those with top scores and they do not place high priority on their grades.
From my point of view, having access to elite education is a privilege. I try to remind myself of this fact often. It is far too easy to complain of the hard work university life involves. But in reality, we are living the dream of many other young adults in the world who never get this opportunity. Although it is inevitable that university is stressful, I always try and reinforce my gratitude ? I can study what I am passionate about. I admire that in Australia we value friendship; however, we could be better friends by encouraging each other in our studies. We can develop a diligent work ethic whilst studying, which is carried over and reflected throughout your career.
Secondly, I enjoy how many people take pride in their style and everyday presentation. Additionally, I admire people who prioritize self-care such as skin care and protection. This is an important topic because often people develop a negative mindset towards caring for your own appearance. I appreciate a person’s courage to be unique in their style and beauty decisions, however they choose to do so. Fashion, make-up and hair can be used as a form of expression of someone’s personality. From my perspective, observing how people choose to express themselves can be very fascinating.
On the Gold Coast the weather is warm and sunny for the majority of the year. Therefore, we enjoy a very relaxed and beachy style. Staple outfits for the guys consist of a singlet, boardies (swim shorts) and thongs in the summertime, for young ladies, a cool summer dress with hair styled in a messy bun or with beachy waves. Unfortunately, we do not get to experiment with the beauty of winter layers. It is also very common for men and women to wear active wear when shopping, going to a cafe, or just heading out in general.
People spend a lot of their time outdoors. However, they often neglect self-care, especially when it comes to skin protection. In Australia, particularly the Gold Coast, there is a strong culture for sunbaking, spending hours on the weekend sun tanning or swimming in the ocean. Yet, this comes at the expense of extensive skin damage and painful sunburn. Many people also apply oils instead of wearing sunscreen, to attract the sun and build a darker tan.
There have been many attempts to promote sun safety; however, the trend is still strong. The skin cancer rates are extremely high as a result, yet many people choose to ignore it to attain a summer glow. Although I am also guilty of neglecting adequate skin protection myself, I hope to take greater caution.
My final positive observation is the strength in communication through KakaoTalk. Initially I was shocked when I received quick replies to messages, more so when this occurred on a regular basis. In today’s society we inevitably cannot avoid technology, and it really is the crux of our connection with each other. Based on these experiences I feel more connected with my Korean friends. I also find this trait builds a sense of trust and reliability with each other.
In comparison, Australians use many platforms such as text messages, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Regarding response time, we are very slow compared to Korean standards. Unless there is some urgency, you could be waiting up to a few days for a response. This isn’t intentional; people are busy and often read your message but forget to respond. However, this has many negative effects and can leave people feeling lonely and rejected. It also affects long distance friendships and relationships as people get too lost in their overflowing schedules. I believe that we should utilize technology to our advantage in order to keep better connected with each other.
Studying in South Korea has been one of my greatest life experiences thus far. I have embraced the privilege to learn from a different culture, through focusing on their strengths. Cultural diversity can be one of the greatest beauties in this world. It allows you to see life from a different perspective. I hope that in whichever part of the world and culture we find ourselves, we can keep our eyes fixed on the positive strengths and challenge ourselves to improve those areas of our lives. As Maya Angelou states, there is “beauty and strength in diversity,” something I hope we all strive to understand.
By Rebekah Woodeson