The Korean Way

Lilyan Anderson, Staff Writer

What do you know about Korea? Is it the food they eat? K-pop? Or maybe you just know of Kim Jong-un. Regardless of what you know, people often have stereotypical thoughts about Korea and its culture.

Some people don’t know anything about Korea, but there is one major thing you have to realize: the difference between North Korea and South Korea. Currently, both Koreas are being led by different people: Moon Jae-in for the South and Kim Jong-un for the North. North Korea has been and is under Communist rule, and this rule controls all aspects of their daily life. It’s impossible to buy a car, foreigners can’t use currency, there’s no access to Wi-Fi or the Internet, and (it’s kind of absurd) it is forbidden to wear blue jeans. South Korea on the other hand, is more lenient. The only “rules” that you have to follow in South Korea is to respect your elders or people older than you and to do well in school. Unlike here in America where we have the option to join the Army, all able-bodied men are to join the Korean military. In North Korea, young men must be 17, and in South Korea, young men must be between the ages of 18 and 28. All teenagers, regardless of which part of Korea they come from, are allowed to finish school before enlisting.

Since North Korea is one of the most strict and cut-off countries in the world, the main focus of Korea people should be interested in is South Korea. The main things South Korea is known for are K-Pop, Fashion, Samsung and Hyundai, Buddhist Temples, and the 2018 Winter Olympics. But that’s beside the point. The truly interesting things about South Korea are the language, the culture, and the Three Kingdoms.

In South Korea, there was a time where the nation was split up into kingdoms, the kingdom of Silla, Baekje, Goguryeo. These kingdoms were often at war with each other and were spread out over the southern and central parts of the Korean peninsula. As Silla was the weakest of the three kingdoms, it had its own militia called the “Hwarang.” The Hwarang were a group of young men who had an oath to follow and helped protect the people of Silla. Thousands of years later, Korea is not just three kingdoms, as it has many different provinces—nine, to be exact. These provinces might all be in South Korea and all the citizens might speak Korean, but there are different dialects in each one and they use different vowels. In the city of Daegu, they use the vowels i, e, a, eo, o, and u. In the city of Gwangju, they use the vowels i, e, ae, a, ü, ö, u, o, eu, eo. There is also a formal and informal way to pronounce the same words, their aging system is different, and there are different words to call the same person depending on what gender you are (if you’re a younger brother or a younger sister, what you call your older siblings is different). It might seem confusing, but formal and informal use of the Korean language is part of their culture.

Koreans run on a Confucianist belief system. This means that showing respect to your elders and being polite is a major part of living for them. Here in America, some might not respect people older than them, but in Korea age is important. This is also where informal and formal language comes into play. If you’re 15 here in America, in Korea you have to add two more years to your current age (so you’d be 17 if 15 and 15 if 13). Say you were to be formal to your father, you would call him abeonim and informal would be appa. Now, if you were a boy and you had an older brother, you would call him Hyung. If you were a girl and had a brother older than you you’d call him Oppa. The same goes for if you have an older sister except for boys it’s noona and for girls it’s unnie. Korean might seem like a difficult language to learn, but most Koreans shorten a lot of phrases, so it’s a bit easier.

So, what do you know about Korea? Hopefully, you know more now. Korea is an interesting place with an interesting history as well as a culture. Maybe you’ll want to know more about Korean culture, as well as others.