Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Heart Koreans- 1

I don't know that I've mentioned that I teach mostly Korean students.

When I decided to take this job, I was under the impression that I would be teaching Chinese kids. Which doesn't really make sense since it's an international school. I was just ignorant on what an international school was. And then I thought I got it all straightened out when I went to my two week training course before I moved over here. It was going to be full of Westerners. Isn't that what all international schools are made up of? Americans and Europeans? Apparently not. At my school about 90% of the high school is made up of Korean students and the other 10% include other Asians, Westerners and a few Chinese with Canadian/USA green cards.

Why is this important? Well, because I'm teaching a culture inside a culture inside a culture. A Korean heavy culture inside an American school inside China. It's all very Inception-y isn't it?

I wasn't familiar AT ALL with my K-kids or their culture when I moved here. I had no idea what kind of food they ate, what kind of learners they were, how to differentiate between their language and Chinese (don't tell them that, it's very offensive to both Chinese and Koreans that I couldn't hear the difference. Now I can. They sound completely different. But it took a good three months or so). I've learned A LOT about Korean pop culture, the dating scene, daily life, family life...for instance...
  • Koreans are very nationalistic. They love their country and their culture. More than probably any other group of people I've ever come across.
  • They stay in packs. They are very loyal to each other. Not often do they let foreigners in to their groups and when they do, you're in for life (this is quite difficult on our non-Korean students)
  • They work extremely hard. I'm talking 15 hours a day going to school + another 3-5 hours on homework. 
  • Everything they do now is for the future. It's all about university. Every activity, class, grade, certificate, trip they complete is with their transcripts in mind. 
I could make a much longer list but I want to get to the main point of this post. Which is the Korean dating scene. Being in a dating relationship is very important in Korean culture. I don't mean that everyone must be dating someone. In fact, it's quite the opposite. My students don't date each other very often. And I don't think there's anything like casual dating. You're either full-on together or you're not.

So when a couple starts dating it's quite momentous. I'm not quite sure if I get how big of a deal it is but I do know that there are many high expectations, specifically of the girl. Many gifts should be given, purses should be carried, nice dinners should be eaten. In fact, if you don't have money, you probably won't get a girlfriend because you can't afford her.

Two things I find very...interesting about Korean dating culture (well, besides the man carrying the woman's purse everywhere which also happens in Chinese culture).

1. Matching outfits- it's is an expectation on holidays, special relationship days (100 day anniversaries which we'll get to later), and really any other day that the female chooses that the couple will match. And I don't mean color-coordinate. I'm mean FULL ON MATCH. I kid you NOT, there are stores all over Korea called "couple stores" where couples can go in and buy his/her outfits.

Exhibit 1- Not too bad

Exhibit 2- Too far

Exhibit 3- A Couple Store

 2. 100 Days- In Korean dating culture, everything is counted in days, not months or years. At least until marriage and then I don't really know what happens. So, if I ask a student how long they've been dating someone, the answer will NOT be "almost 2 weeks". It will be "11days". Or "800 days". The 100 day mark is very important, regardless of whether it's 100 days or 500 days. Each one will be celebrated with gifts. Apparently, on the first 100 day anniversary, a common gift to give (at least in high school) is stars. Stars, you say? Yes, stars. Origami folded stars. I learned this today. My students are working on a project so some of my girls had these thin strips of paper and were so expertly making these stars. I was amazed. "How do you all know how to make these so well?" "Oh we must know how to do it so that we can give them to a boy on our 100 day anniversary." ??? "Are you dating anyone now?" "No, but we need to know how to do it for the future." Oh... So, the stores actually sell this paper that's specifically made to use for these origami stars.

Strips of paper used  for stars

Jar of Stars- More is always better

Isn't this fascinating stuff? I have so much more to tell you about K-Culture but I'm thinking about doing a series of posts on it. So stay tuned. 

P.S. If you're a student and you're reading this, I'd love to hear your thoughts or correct me if I'm wrong about something. 


Anonymous said...

Jen, I find this all very interesting. Just FYI: your dad carries my purse sometimes and doesn't seem to mind at all. It's kind of a badge of a long marriage. Sometimes my purse doesn't match his outfit, but he doesn't let that bother him! I like the idea of much gift-giving. I think maybe we ought to start that up (a gift for every 100 days of marriage--I think I could replendish the house with all new stuff!)

Love you, Mom

Kee Wook Lee said...

Interesting and very thoughtful article Ms. Brown! As Korean, I definitely agree with your main points. "Many gifts should be given, purses should be carried, nice dinners should be eaten. In fact, if you don't have money, you probably won't get a girlfriend because you can't afford her.
" is changing now. Yuna Kim talked to me the other day saying she hates a guy who carries small purse that a girl carries. She thinks that it's wierd (or gay in other word). Also about the "money, it's 50% percent chance that a Korean boy finds a girl who is willing to pay for food and other stuffs as well. It's not that all Korean girls don't want to pay or always want to eat nice food (but, if a guy has a job then it's entirely different story) :) I am looking forward to read your articles about Korean culture!!!

Abs said...

I'm surprised you haven't seen the stars before! Or maybe it is that you have seen them, but you didn't know what they were for? (I didn't know what they were for until you said this) My students taught me how to make them last year. Claire and I (with the help of Ashley) have filled 2 containers full of stars. I was told (when I was dating Adam) that I should write a message inside for him, so then while I was away, he could open one up a day.... that did not happen.. haha
Ashley and Claire have stars in their room to count down the days of school.

Jen said...

Mom, your purse is the size of a car. Of course he carries it, no one else can lift it. I also think he should give you gifts and it should be retroactive. Let's see... 38(?)x 365= 13,870/100= 138 gift. Let him know he needs to get on it.

Keewook, I love that you commented. That's interesting that you say 50%...does that mean the girl pays the other 50%? Or that they pay separately? And about the purse thing...I kind of agree with Yuna.

Abby, I've never seen it before. It's a little strange to me but has the potential to be really sweet. Especially if each star has a note written on it. Aren't you glad you didn't do it for whats-his-name? He could still have unopened stars sitting in his house right now...yikes. But I really like the idea about counting down on school days. Maybe I'll do that next year.

Anonymous said...


That's cool, I did not know the stars had a purpose aside from general fun-to-fold-ness! Some of my Chinese college students taught me how to make them one day when I was waiting out the 2-hour lunch break on campus in their dorm room because I couldn't face the cold empty teacher's lounge. (Bless them!) Now I wonder if it's a Chinese tradition as well.... I can see how writing a little message inside would be really sweet, though of course not once you've broken up. I wonder if it's OK that I taught my third graders how to make these, or if their parents are going "Why is my son making teen-girly romance stars???" LOL

QMIS Music said...


Having only ever taught at international schools in China, I'm not really surprised by the Korea trivia, but I did laugh with a sense of mutual understanding about coming to China to teach Chinese kids at an international school. :)

Anonymous said...

I think I like the Korean culture. In my American high school, the students are focused on what feels good for the moment. Teaching is often a carefully planned entertainment act since many American students have five minute attention spans. I really wonder how well educators are preparing them for the "real World." And, the funny thing is we are trained to plan many different activities per lesson to keep interest. A good American teacher is a a well trained performer. Dating....too risk-ay of a subject to post on line. We could sure learn something from Korean parents!

Can't wait to eat some peanut butter with you soon...Momma M