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Margarita Thomas

US Music & Culture 1040, Shelton
Cultural Semester Project

For this Cultural Semester Project I interviewed my friend Mie Kyong. I have known her for
almost two years. She is a hard worker, a good friend, a wonderful wife, and a mother of three smart
and kind boys. She also watches my daughter about once a week.
Mie is South Korean and came to the United States of America in 1995 because she wanted to
study to be a Special Education teacher. She tells me that in South Korea there were not many good
Special Education programs. She says there are good programs now, but not in 1995. With a GPA of
4.4 (the highest in South Korea is 4.5) Mie was able to find a very good job at LG, and she made
enough money to save for her education here.
Mie immigrated permanently to the United States because she found her husband while she was
in college and got married. She had a green card at the beginning, but later became a United States
citizen and gave up her South Korean citizenship to protect her children. In Korea, children carry their
mother's citizenship, no matter where they are born, which would require male children to complete
two years of military service, this is not the case for female children though. It used to be that pregnant
women will go to the United States to have their babies to get United States citizenship and this way
avoid military service. The government soon realized that this was a very common practice so laws
changed and now children's citizenship is automatically the same as the mother's citizenship. I didn't
see why it was such a big problem since her kids were being raised here, and South Korea can not
make them do anything if they live here. She explained to me, however, that if they were to visit Korea
after being 18 years old, the Korean government would make them stay to fulfill their military duty.
The main cultural aspect for South Koreans is respect for elders, according to the

hierarchical roles of Confucianism, children are educated to respect and obey

their parents (Kim & Rye, 2005; Lee & Mock, 2005). pag 259. For instance, public transportation
has seats assigned just for the elderly. Nobody can sit on those seats unless they are elderly, and people
must offer their seat to the elderly if there are no seats available. People even have to address the
elderly a different way when they talk to them. After every single phrase, there is a respect word said
at the end. It is like the equivalent of Sir or Madam, and younger people are not allowed to call
them by name, even if they are family. They will be referred to as father, mother, uncle, aunt, etc.
The family structure is very traditional. The father is the head of the house and has the
responsibility of being the main provider. Fathers continued to provide for their children even into
adulthood, usually until they were married. When Mie was young the average age for someone to be
wed was 27, these days it is about 34 years old. Things have changed and mothers are in the workforce
as much as men, and this has also modified life for children as well. Regular working hours are 09:00
A.M to 06:00 P.M., but according to my friend Mie, people always get out of work late. Working
hours in South Korea are among the longest in the world, averaging nearly 55 per week. (Timothy and
The Korean's Confucian heritage has provided them with a great reverence for education, and
literacy rates are some of the highest in the world: 97% for women and 99.3% for men. (Timothy and
Jeneen). Children go to school during the day and to institute (another school, not just child care) after
school until, sometimes, 10:00 P.M. Consequently, kids in Korea now all have cellphones so they can
have some communication with their working parents. The South Korean family dynamics are an
enormous burden to families since the father is supposed to maintain and pay for the children's
education, buy a house for each of his sons and pay for the daughter's wedding. These kinds of
traditions makes parents have to take on loans that they will have to pay on for most of their lives. The
Korean educational system is very competitive with exhaustive curriculum. For males there is also a
two year military service requirement. This means parents need to continue to support their children for

at least 6 years after their equvalent of high school. Even after all this education, it is difficult to find a
job. To increase the competitiveness of their children, most of the kids attend institute on a regular
basis, learn other languages, and acquire other skills, and certifications that might help them find jobs
in the future. In addition to the formal education system, many children (and adults) take extra
lessons, such as language courses. English is one of the most popular languages, as it is associated
with better job opportunities. (Bowden 47). My friend Mie has the competitiveness of her culture
ingrained in her. Her children are supposed to come everyday from school and do their homework, if
they say that they don't have any homework, Mie will provide them with her homework, mainly
Math and English so her children are always ahead.
The extra time and money needed to raise children in Korea is one of the main causes why
families may decide to have only one or two children, making abortion a very common practice for
women. Another cause for having fewer children is the delayed age of marriage which is about 34 years
old. On the other hand, children are supposed to take care of their parents when they are old. It is the
responsibility of the children to pay their parents monthly to make up for their lost wages when they
retire until they die. This can be a problem because some children refuse, or are not able to pay their
parents when they retire, causing them to struggle and some have to turn to government for help in
their old age. The elderly in Korean society are traditionally cared for by their children. Parents spend
their earnings and savings to help their children to establish their own lives, and in return, they expect
to be cared for in their later years. This pattern is changing under the pressures of modern life, higher
living costs and longer life expectancies. (Bowden 22) parents are now saving money while
working, whereas traditionally they would have spent any income on their children. Many elderly
people, however -especially those in rural areas - are unable to meet their own expenses. Their children
are burdened by higher costs of living (Seoul is the seventh most expensive city in the world to live in),
and many find it difficult to offer support to their aging parents. A national pensions program has been
established to try to support workers when they retire, but this is not yet fully developed. As a result,

people continue to work into their late 60's (longer than in some other developed economies) in order to
afford to live. (Bowden 22-23).
Another source of stress in the everyday life of South Koreans is the relationship with their
boss. Due to having to work late many days, workers are often invited to drink by their bosses. It is a
show of respect to accept these invitations and because of the high competitiveness of the jobs, workers
are afraid to decline these invitations. They are afraid to decline because somebody else will accept and
their boss might like the person that accepts the invitation better. Some people struggle with not
wanting to drink alcohol and having to drink because of their job. My friend Mie didn't drink because
of her religion. She was very afraid of what her boss might think but she was lucky and her boss took it
very well. From then on her boss would order drinks for everyone and an orange juice for her.
My friend Mie told me that the main traditional holidays in South Korea are in January
and August. In January, the biggest holiday in South Korea is celebrated. For the lunar New Year
(Sol), which is either in late January or early February, there are three days set aside for family
celebrations that include honoring parents and grandparents, shooting off firecrackers to frighten away
evil spirits, and eating holiday foods. (Timothy and Gall). To celebrate the new year everyone has
three to four days off, and people dress on their traditional clothes, called HanboK, and go to their
parents house to have dinner. They eat a big meal prepared by the women. One of the main dishes is
Tuk Kuk which are some rice cakes cut in slices and cooked with beef soup. After the meal, the
children bow to their parents in a show of respect, and wish them health and to live a long life. If
children still live in the house, parents give money to their children, if children are out of the house,
they give money to their parents and afterwords, parents wish the same wishes back to their children.
This is a very important day for everyone in Korea, everyone turns one year older, another way to say it
is that it is everyone's birthday. In Korea, when a child is born, automatically it is 1 year old, they count
pregnancy as 1 year. My friend Mie has a child that was born December 31, this child was 2 years old
the following day. Birth dates are only used to know who is older.

The end of August is the other big holiday. They celebrate the harvest. All kinds of food are
cooked: vegetables, plants, grains, and all kinds of meat. They go to eat at their parents house and play
together, and have a good time interacting with each other. The harvest festival of Chusok in early
September, often called the Korean Thanksgiving. (Timothy and Jeneen)
The traditional music in South Korea was sung by farmers (for most of their history the
majority were farmers) while they were working to make their jobs easier. They sang to maintain a
rhythm while working to increase performance and lighten the work. They also sang when they rested
and on lunch breaks. Singing is a very important part of Korean culture.
Currently the most popular form of music is K-Pop (Korean Pop). One of the main singers of
this genre is Psy. He sang in New York, on national television Gang Nam Style for New Years, two
years ago. Gang Nam Style by Psy, addresses the South Korean culture of competitiveness, when it
says, referring to himself : a guy that has bulging ideas rather than muscles and on top of the
running man is the flying man comparing himself to other men.
Koreans like to dance to this kind of music and it has become internationally popular because
the Government supports, advertises, and exports Korean culture. Strong monetary and regulatory
government intervention in the production and distribution of culture has been central to facilitating the
success of Korean cultural industries. (Dwyer). This kind of music sounds like regular pop, the only
difference is that the lyrics are in Korean instead of English. K-Pop has arrived in China, Japan &
Europe. The rise of Hallyu, or Korean Wave, a term describing the swiftly increasing international
popularity of Korean pop culture (Dwyer). South Korean music has had influences from the United
states from genres like disco, hip hop and R&B. They happen to love Michael Jackson, his music as
well as his dance moves (as it can be observed in the Gang Nam Style, the little boy dancing at the
South Korean society is a society that respects elders. Parents try to give their children
everything that they need to succeed in life, and children take care of their parents when they are old.

They are hard working people that value education. South Korea is still a very traditional country
where men, women, children, and extended family have their place and have special roles to play. The
culture is also highly competitive requiring a huge amount of effort to succeed.


Kim, HyejinProuty, Anne M.Smith, Douglas B.Ko, Mei-juWetchler, Joseph L.Oh, Jea-Eun.
"Differentiation Of Self And Its Relationship With Family Functioning In South Koreans."
American Journal Of Family Therapy 42.3 (2014): 257-265. Psychology and Behavioral
Sciences Collection. Web. 9 July 2015.

Dwyer, Janet Ingraham. "Hong, Euny. The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the
World Through Pop Culture." Library Journal 2014: 110. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9
July 2015.

Bowden, Rob. Countries of the World. New York: Facts on File, 2005. Print. South Korea.

South Koreans. World mak Encyclopedia of Culture and Daily Life. E. Timothy L. Gall and jeneen
Hobby. 2


ed. Vol. 4: Asia & Oceania. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 893-897. Student Resources in

Context. Web. 17 July 2015.