One of my classes here at Korea University asked a question about the difference between my country and Korea. I thought that I might share some of the differences I have seen so far.
I can’t just say there was one main difference from my country and Korea; there are various differences that I took notice so far in my stay in Korea. However, instead of writing about the differences in the United States, I’m going to narrow it down to one state: Wisconsin. I am born and raised in Wisconsin. I will explain from my point of view as a minority (Hmong American) in Wisconsin, United States and now a foreigner in Korea the differences I have faced.
I had a whole different view of Korea before I came. I learnt about the culture from my Korean language professor. I assumed that Koreans were nice, polite, and respectful, especially to the elders compare to the Americans in the United States. Being raised as a Hmong American, I learned to respect the elders, to be polite to people around me whether they are strangers, my teachers, friends, and fellow classmates. Having been around Caucasians Americans in Wisconsin most of my life, they were not as respectful. They were some that were rude and impolite. At my middle school and high school, consisting of at more Caucasians than minorities, the students and sometimes the teachers single out the minorities. I really thought that Koreans were the opposite; well, at least I thought most of them would be. When Koreans walk past, whether from in front or behind, they don’t say anything. They will push their way through, as if we’re not there. Sure some will try to dodge but if they’re in a rush they ram into you without apologizing or without saying a simple “excuse me.” On the subway, I will see elders coming in and are not able to get a seat. The younger people do not even stand up to give up their seat for the elderly. But I do admit that a lot of Americans do not do that either on the city buses. However, they give up their seats more often than in Korea. But as I said earlier I am raised as a Hmong American, not just American, and I find it not polite and respectful from a Hmong American point of view. Another difference that I have seen in the subway is that no one is allowed to sit at the elder/disable seats, even if there is no one sitting there. In Wisconsin, people still sit in those seats but if they see an elderly or a disabled person they will stand up. Here, in Korea, you are not allowed to sit there. The first time my friends sat there, people looked up and stared at them and then looked away.
Mentioning the staring reminds me of another difference here in Korea. Being a foreigner here is more prominent than in the states. Back in the states there is a mix of ethnicity so being a foreigner is not as noticeable. Many Koreans can tell if you are a foreigner, especially if we don’t speak in English. For me, they turn and stare when they hear my friends and I speak in English.
We can tell they stare because they do a full 180 degree turn just to look. Their eyes are fixated on us until they seem
to be satisfied with looking. However, when I went to a restaurant with two tall, distinctive friend, who “really” looked foreign, they whole restaurant turned and look. I was able to feel all the eyes staring. It’s felt like we were on a runway.
Another difference that I notice is that there are a lot of food stands. Food stands only shows up during our festivals or amusement parks in Wisconsin. The food stands has more of a variety of snacks/foods that people are able to buy. What I really notice among the food in Korea is that the fast food restaurants’, especially the American fast food, are not freshly made. The burgers and fries are made maybe about 30 minutes to an hour before hand and is put into a heater to keep them warm. This makes the toppings in the burger and the fries soggy and not so fresh. Also while being here in Korea; the fruits are really expensive compare to Wisconsin. I love to eat fruits, but since I have been here in Korea I can’t have fruits on a daily basis, because it is way too expensive for my budget.
-Koreans think I’m Chinese: They even talk to me in Chinese even though I tell them I am not Chinese
-One similar encounter between the states and Korea (Person=an American/a Korean) (Me= Lisa Hli Xiong): Person: “Are you Chinese?”
Me: “No, I’m Hmong”
Person: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I am from the States.”
Person: “No, where are you really from?”
Me: “I’m from the States. Born and Raised in Wisconsin.”
Person: “No, where are your parents from?”
Me: “They’re from Laos”
Person: “Oh, okay”
I feel that it seems hard for people to believe that I am an American when I tell them. Sometimes I feel as if some
Koreans only think Caucasians and African Americans are considered American.