Comparing and Contrasting Korea and USA: No Judgement Needed

Bao Yang is a student at Mount Mary College and a Classmates Connecting Cultures Blogger corresponding with the Social Work Club at Mount Mary. Bao is currently studying abroad with ISA in Seoul, Korea.

Of course it makes sense to have models for a cosmetic store. But models/celebrities endorse almost everything in South Korea. In addition, right now Psy's face from Gangnam Style is plastered everywhere.
Of course it makes sense to have models for a cosmetic store. But models/celebrities endorse almost everything in South Korea. In addition, right now Psy’s face from Gangnam Style is plastered everywhere.

Being competent about diversity can be stressful for a Social Work major, but taking an anthropology class about a certain society doesn’t really give access into the different aspects of a another world. It’s hard to understand the minds of the people in a society without living among the locals. Remember that no problem or idea is simple. Everything within a society is interconnected with something else.

But too often it is easy to scoff at ways in which we aren’t familiar with and don’t understand. Take for example, the grueling Korean high schools where kids are expected to attend school from early in the morning to late at night. From an American standpoint this may seem cruel and unusual as well as child abuse.

Look at it through a Korean standpoint and we can see that the Koreans feel that education is a privilege not a right. Students need to work hard if they want to obtain their goals. It is important to also note that South Korea still remembers the images of a desolate country after the Korean war – which was just 50 short years ago.

It doesn’t matter who is right in such issues. As a social worker, our job is to be aware of these circumstances and to understand and create the best plan to help the client. After all, the best client/social worker relationships rely on trust and communication.

With that being said, I have compared and contrasted some things about the U.S. and South Korea through my eyes, to get a better understanding of the society.

This nifty little idea saves a lot of energy. Once you leave the room, you're suppose to take out the card which shuts off the electricity to the room.
This nifty little idea saves a lot of energy. Once you leave the room, you’re suppose to take out the card which shuts off the electricity to the room.
This looks like a bridge but it is actually the subway line near Konkuk. Public transportation is not only fast but easy to understand.
This looks like a bridge but it is actually the subway line near Konkuk. Public transportation is not only fast but easy to understand.
This is the bike rack in front of a Konkuk dorm building. Biking is a common form of transportation in Seoul since most anything can be bought in walking distance, not to mention their eco-friendly attitude.
This is the bike rack in front of a Konkuk dorm building. Biking is a common form of transportation in Seoul since most anything can be bought in walking distance, not to mention their eco-friendly attitude.

South Korea

USA

  1. Eco-friendly Society

    1. Fines will be given to those who don’t comply

    2. In the dorms, there is this system where you take out a card when you are out of the room to shut off all the electricity

  2. Homogenous mix of people

    1. Foreigners are easily spotted

    2. School children are known to say “hi” to foreigners as they have never seen one before

  3. Public transportation is easy to use – T money card for Seoul specifically

  4. First female president

  5. Sneezes and coughs are not required to be covered, and “bless you” is not a common reply

  6. Most laundry is hang dry

  7. Smoking is a social thing and drugs are strictly banned from use or selling. Also, it is almost impossible to get drugs in South Korea and there are stiff penalties for those who use them.

  8. Fashion styles

    1. Most girls wear heels, leggings, etc. year round. Jeans are not very popular. Girls wear skirst like we wear jeans – almost every day.

    2. Beauty is very important

    3. Guys make effort

  9. Plastic surgery is big thing. Double eyelid surgery, shaving jaw, anything to look more western.

  10. Always on their phones doing something. They have a texting and walking problem.

  11. High school is hard, college is easy. They have a difficult examination to enter college.

  12. Bombardment of media and TV

    1. They even have advertisements in the bathroom stalls

    2. Almost everything is endorsed by a celebrity: soda, restaurants, water, men models for bras, etc.

  13. The market is brutal

    1. Different makeup store all lined up on the same street

    2. Sometimes even have the same store on the same block (Might be a space issue though)

  1. Voluntary compliance with environmental policies

    1. Incentive program such as cash for aluminum cans

  2. Heterogeneous mix of people

    1. It’s hard to tell if someone is a foreigner even if they have an accent

    2. Foreigners can “blend in” well in American life

  3. Cars are the main transportation used by a majority of people

  4. First black president

  5. Covering your coughs is common decency
    1. Mildly germaphobic culture due to our individualistic culture

  6. Dryers are mostly used for drying clothes

  7. Smoking is known to be a horrible addiction. Drugs can be easily attained.

  8. Some girls make an effort to dress up. There’s also a standard: jeans and heavy clothes in the winter; skirts, dresses in the warmer months. Guys aren’t expected to make an effort.

  9. Plastic surgery is usually used for breast, nose and is not overly common

  10. Not always on our phones – reserved for younger people. Have a problem with texting and driving.

  11. College is hard, high school is easy

    1. No college examination, just application process

  12. Bombardment of media is bad but not as extensive as Korea. We have TV, Internet, phone, and billboards, etc.

  13. The market is different in America. Stores selling the same thing usually are usually far apart and a drive is required. Also competition usually has a winner who monopolizes an area.

Author: yangb2013

I am a sophomore at Mount Mary College. I'm studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea.

8 thoughts

    1. I’m not sure. I really didn’t research or see anything about first female tattoo artist. But I would think your assumption is correct since South Korea is a very conservative country.

    1. Yeah, it’s interesting how you don’t really hear about these things until you actually get here and see all the ads and such about it. That goes to show, you really can’t get a good understanding of a country through the textbook.

  1. Yang, your comparison of US and Korean societies is really fascinating. Your photos thoroughly support your personal observations. It is so interesting to “see” through your eyes. Will you be visiting non-urban areas, too? What are your experiences with the classes you are taking?

    Mary Ann Suppes

    1. Hi Mary Ann

      I will be visitng Busan soon, which is suppose to be ‘quieter’ than Seoul. The classes here are super funny. In that they think 5 page term paper are really hard, when in American universities, 5 pages is a godsend. The teacher also don’t assign too much homework or reading. You’re suppose to learn through the power point that they made. The text book are just supplementary to the class, not what the teacher goes off on.

      Bao ________________________________________

      1. Bao, I loved your description of the classes and teaching/learning styles in Korean universities. You are going to get really spoiled! Hopefully, though, less homework makes it possible for you to get out and explore Seol. There must be so much to see! Have you had a chance to visit any museums, places of worship, etc? It sounds as if you have learned how to take care of yourself quite well, using public transportation–even a bicycle? I’ll be eager to hear more about Busan and how it compares to Seol.

  2. I’m enjoying your perspective as a social worker!

    I’d be interested in knowing how or why these aspects of Korean culture came to be. A good example was the effect of the Post war on attitudes towards education.

    Is this a hierarchical society where formerly only a certain class was expected to be educated? That might account for the privilege vs. right difference about education.

    What role does Buddhism or Confucianism play in their cultural choices? What are the top ten cultural rules that make up their worldview?
    I find that if you know the worldview, it makes it so much easier to understand the “whys” behind cultural preferences.
    For instance, American individualism is a reaction to hierarchical limitations in Europe (landowners came from upper classes, and if you were born in a lower class it was unlikely you’d ever own land, let alone go any further than your class), and religious persecution.
    Why are Koreans more collectivistic?

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