I had an interview with Cate (not her actual name) a 24-year-old Korean studying and living in U.S related to the culture of Korea in comparison to that of U.S. after the onset of our interview; it used to be clear to me that the Korean customs are based upon respect for the senior participants of the society. In Korean culture, respect to the seniors is a foundation of Korea's Confucianist traditions. As per the (NCFR, 2011), seniority relies upon on one's age, professional level, and family position. It used to be interesting to listen to Cate discuss passionately about the importance of embracing respect for others mainly the elderly. Of much importance was the fact that her studying in the U.S has not eroded her passion for the Korean traditions. According to (Bhugra, & Becker, 2005), when people move, they don't leave their convictions or colloquialisms of traditions behind regardless of the conditions of their relocation. Their beliefs impact their actions and conduct, which impact how they express themselves before others.
Cate elaborated about the Korean New Year, a very crucial event for East Asians, where Koreans hold a ceremony in the morning. They eat together as a family, but before doing so, the young family members bow to the elder one. This implies that the children bow before their parents. This is so different from my own culture where we partake of all meals together as a family, pray together but do not bow. Cate said that the Koreans do not call the seniors by their names; it is respectful to refer to them as mister or miss. While referring to people of your age group, it shows etiquette to add an honorific term. For instance in the case for a female friend older than you by a year, one would add unni after her name, and for the case of a male friend, it would be oppa after his name (Lee, 2007). These are very strict rules which are faithfully observed to enhance a peaceful coexistence in a good environment. When getting something from the elderly Koreans, always pick with two hands. When entering a house, customs demand that they remove shoes. It was interesting that Cate was accustomed to all these practices and still honored them despite been away from Korea. If one is smoking in the streets and they meet a senior, they should either hide their cigarette or put it off. The Korean teens do it away from their elders and seniors mostly in the stairways. This is different from the U.S culture where social hierarchies are not observed so much. The Korean immigrants who have stayed in the U.S for long enough have started to be assimilated into the way of life of the U.S. Unlike Cate; they are becoming less adaptive to the social hierarchies observed in Korea (Bhugra, & Becker, 2005).
Traditionally in Korea, one ought to bow their heads when greeting the seniors and the elders. Bowing is significant in portraying etiquette to others. Failure to do so is considered bad manners. This is different from the western countries whereby people greet each other by shaking their hands. As indicated by (Sung, 2004) in his research of long-term care facilities, respecting the seniors is a basic factor which determines the life of the elder. As portrayed in Janes response, many actions show respect to the elders, higher social class, teachers and the seniors.
In the Western culture, people even with big age gaps can joke around and share stories. A teenager is even free to address an elder by their first name. However, in Korea, as per Cate, teens do not share the same platform with the elderly. They maintain a distance. This shows the contrast between the U.S culture and the Korean one. It does not imply that people in U.S do not respect the elders, it just tells how much emphasis South Korea puts on respects and how differently they express it. Cate stated that the elders and parents scold those who do not show respect for elders. However, as (Sung, K. 2004) discovered, finding such cases of disrespect is very hard in Korea as the issue of respect and etiquette is taught from a very young age and is a tradition that people do not break. Even the most rebellious teenagers have learned to observe this tradition strictly. When I asked Cate whether she preferred to be treated as equal with the elders, her response was to the point that she is accustomed to her culture, and as such felt, she cannot be on the same level with her elders. She said that she could not treat those elder than her as her equal, it is just natural for her to respect the seniors.
Assimilation seems to have taken a toll on the Korean tradition of respect and etiquette for the seniors. Cate was disturbed that many of her Korean friends living in the U.S had completely ignored their customs and now embraced the new way of life of the U.S. Korean citizens in the U.S. do not anymore subscribe to their customs the way they would do it if they still lived in Korea. As (Bhugra, & Becker, 2005) states when two different cultures come together, various events may take place. They recommend that the procedure of cultural assimilation is much the same as the mental models of moving towards, moving in opposite direction and moving far from the stimuli. This change will be in correspondence with adjustment or simulation, dismissal, and deculturation.
The procedure of cultural assimilation requires two societies to come together, and they may encounter some change. In actuality, one culture may be more dominant than the other. In the same way, the U.S culture becomes more dominant than the Korean culture thus resulting in assimilation. In all Asian immigrant groups, the Korean immigrants are known for their high rate of committing suicide. This may be due to less respect accorded to the Korean immigrant elders, a factor that may be stressing them as cited by (Lee, 2007). In the interview Jane repeatedly emphasized the importance of maintaining respect for elders; however for many of the Korean immigrants, the emphasis on filial piety is fading. OBSERVATIONS
From the interview, I learned that age and social status earn respect in Korea. It got me thinking about the small acts of respect that we ignore. Korean society has very deep respect. Respect for seniors had lingered on from the Confucian past Korea when all the rules surrounded the issue of respect for elders. Other western countries comprehend that parents and elders deserve respect from children, but as children grow to become adults, everyone in life becomes equals. A 22-year-old and a 62-year-old pretty much on the same level and can relate in whatever way they want.
If I have ever met someone so passionate about their culture yet living in another country, it is Cate. Her enthusiasm for the topic of respect for seniors was mind-boggling. I got to learn so much about the customs of Koreans and their value for elder respect. Interesting to note was the fact that even a one-month-old gap is noticeable and one ought to show respect to those elder than them by a month. Despite the fact that some Koreans living in the U.S have been assimilated to the western lifestyle, there are few like Cate whose culture has remained planted in them and cannot be eroded no matter what. Comparing the issue of elder respect between Korea and the U.S is very interesting. Personally, I would prefer the U.S way of showing respect as opposed to the Korean traditions. References
Bhugra, D., & Becker, M. A. (2005). Migration, Cultural Bereavement And Cultural Identity. World Psychiatry, 4(1), 18-24.
Lee, Y. (2007). The Immigration Experience Among Elderly Korean Immigrants. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. Retrieved April 27, 2013 from Academic OneFile.
National Council on Family Relations (NCFR),(2011). Family Relations. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/i40068237
Sung, K. (2004). Elder respect among young adults: A cross-cultural study of Americans and Koreans. Journal of Aging Studies. Retrieved April 27, 2013 from Academic OneFile.
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