Saturday, October 25, 2008

TRAVEL | Coming Back to Korea

The reason why I need to go back to Korea

Pondering on reasons why I need to go back to Korea, I've listed a few:

Cultural Difference.
My experiences. 
What has happened within 10 months? 
Why I want to come back? 
It might help the Filipinos improve their lives like what happened in Korea when they sent Koreans abroad to learn from other countries. 
Learn more how to speak Korean. 
Justify why I can’t speak well I’ve seen so many things but 10 months is not enough to fully understand the system. 

If I go how will I spend my time? 
How will my learning affect Korean society?
To learn, I need to mingle with people. Observe them and learn from them. I am an ambassador of the Philippines therefore I can introduce my country to Korea. Tell them our positive traits.

The Filipinos are great people and we can make a change. 

How? How will I share my experience to my country? What have I learned? What can possibly happen? How will the reception be? What does my country need? What should be developed? What can be a possible contribution from a student like me? Construct an attainable plan. Start from my province.

What can I do? 

Going to another country is always an eye-opening experience. In the Philippines, traveling is always synonymous to being wealthy and people look up to you as someone influential if you have traveled abroad. After all, wealth is power. Filipinos think that traveling is a luxury only the rich can afford. But my family isn’t rich nor influential. So you can just imagine my surprise when I was chosen to be sent to Korea to study for ten months. 

Perhaps I was just fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to fly to Asia’s third most influential country next to Japan and China, Korea. This is my first out of the country trip and my first time to be on my own. But I was never frightened by the thought that I will be alone. In truth, I was more than excited to set foot in a land that has developed so much for the past fifty years. 

My little knowledge of Korea just comes from my occasional acquaintances with Koreans who needed English tutors and few Korean friends who gave me all the more reason to look forward to meeting Korea, its people, and of course the culture. 

Culture indeed is a very interesting element of our existence. Each of us has our own distinct cultures and this is what makes us unique from each other. Living in Korea for 10 months really gave me the opportunity to learn a few differences between Korea and the Philippines and I must say that having known these differences made me see my own country in a very different light.
I have observed a few interesting customs in terms of education, socialization, and mind-setting. 

In terms of education, I can say that Korea has placed so much importance on it. Children are sent to school at an early age and they are taught to value learning. As if school is not enough, Korean children would go to academies to further study what has been taught at school. Sometimes children would stay late at night just to study and make sure they are prepared for school the following day. This kind of system is typical until high school. In the university, students continue to be competitive. 

Socialization in Korea is a fascinating custom too. Koreans are very particular about age and people respect each other accordingly. To a foreigner, it would be surprising that persons of different ages cannot be friends but simple acquaintances. Respect to someone older should always be observed that why it is common to see youngster bowing to their seniors. This emphasis on age also influences the language that’s why in Korean language, there are many ways of constructing words depending on whom you are talking to. In drinking activities, there are many peculiarities that can be observed. Younger ones are expected to follow drinking customs such as pouring 소주 to seniors using two hands. It is also a custom to pour liquor only when the glass is empty. I’ve learned this the hard way. Fairly new to the drinking custom, I kept on pouring people liquor even when their glasses are not yet empty. So a friend of mine told me, “You know that’s impolite!” I was dumbfounded for I never intended to be impolite. From then on, I waited for people to empty their glasses before I start pouring. 

Mind-setting of Koreans are also unique. They are very goal oriented and they strictly follow their schedules. Always on the dot. It is important to meet deadlines so they make sure that they don’t miss it. A simple invitation to drink coffee would have to be consulted from their schedules because they might have some conflict. If they have time, then they would gladly say yes but if not, they will politely refuse. It is just interesting to learn that for Koreans, the order of 약수 is more important than persons requesting. That is, first come, first served basis. 

Other good things which I have observed in Korea are the punctual system, discipline, and word of honor. In Korea, bus and train schedules are sure to depart and arrive according to their indicated time and people get angry if these schedules are not followed. I, together with some fellow foreigners, was supposed to attend a camp in 화천시. We were running late for the bus that time so our 과장님 almost made his car fly just to get to the bus station on time. 

The discipline is also commendable. People do not throw garbage just anywhere and they are aware why it is important to keep their environment clean. “Korea is not a big country, and if people don’t keep cleanliness then many would be affected,” a friend once explained to me why people keep their garbage in their proper waste disposal areas. Also, in supermarkets, it is a usual custom not to give plastic bags, because as my Korean friend explains, “the Korean government would have to alot money for disposal of plastics.” Besides, everyone can always bring their own bags. 

Word of honor is also very important for Koreans. When you say something then you should do it or never say it at all. A classmate of mine once promised to buy me dinner when we were having a class. I have actually forgotten that promise but he still kept that promise saying it’s his duty. Moreover, people would play 가위-바위-보 if they want to settle things. This kind of verbal agreement is taken seriously that everybody sees to it that they do the agreement. I once played with a Korean friend but I didn’t take it seriously so he called me “dirty man.” 

Now why do I stand here in front of you convincing everyone that I deserve to go back when I have already been there? The answer is simple. The roots have already grown but it is yet to sprout into a fully developed and sturdy tree. I have seen and felt but my time was just not enough to fully understand Korean ways. Even my knowledge of the Korean language which is the most essential thing in learning another culture has not been fully realized. I tried to become as proficient with the language as I can but because I was obligated to talk in English, I missed this goal. So this competition is an excellent opportunity to realize what has already been started. 

The Koreans have done it in the past when many brilliant men were sent to other countries to gain knowledge which will be useful to the development of Korea. It is this love of one’s country that separates Korea not just from the Philippines but also from other countries which have yet to seed that much needed patriotism. Yes I have seen this but how this happens I do not know. 

If given the chance, I plan to spend my time in Korea well, to value every moment I am there and to see every second as an opportunity for growth and learning. I have already experienced the Korean ways so it would not be difficult for me to understand the norms nor shall I have a hard time adjusting and for this I can maximize the little time I am in Korea. Mingle with people and keep interacting with them. It is only through constant socialization that I would better understand the Korean ways. 

Consequently, I can reach my goal of learning things which may be helpful to my country. One of my professors in Korea once mentioned that I am not just an individual in Korea but also an ambassador of my country. Through me, Koreans would also learn about my country and they would understand more. While eating 자장면 for dinner with my Korean classmate, he told me that he was surprised because he did not realize that Filipinos are also diligent until he met me in our class. Truly, creating this kind of awareness would bridge cultural gaps and change preconceived notions. 

What can happen after this? Well the possibilities are endless but determined as I am, I would make sure that this opportunity would not go in vain. Yes, I am young and idealist but it is this youth and idealism that will flame the embers of my desire to effect change in the Philippines. Korea has so much to teach and we Filipinos only has to focus and listen to know how to fix this quagmire we are in.

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