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Speaker’s Corner: How Has Korea Changed?

May 18, 2015

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Let’s start off by saying how awesome this video is, because the first three people in the booth are all part of Eatyourkimchi. Yewon, on the left, helps a lot with research and planning; Rose, in the middle, is our web developer. And Ellwyn on the right edits the Speaker’s Corner videos. So there’s a small intro to them! This video was filmed before Rose’s accident, however. She’s not fully recovered still, but she’s on her way.

Anyhow, we’ve been wanting to post this topic for a long time! It think there are three different perspectives on this topic. There are those of us that have been living in Korea and have watched it change, there are those of us that live outside of Korea but have visited family in Korea during the holiday seasons, and then there are those of us that have never actually been to Korea but have been consuming Korean media via drama, pop music, and movies for a long time. If you’ve never been to Korea but have been observing it via pop culture/media, I think you can still discuss the ways in which you’ve seen Korea change via that medium.

If you look back on our videos from when we first started vlogging, there are already major changes in Korea that took place that can date some of our perspectives. For example, when we first arrived in Korea around seven years ago, simple things like wearing tank tops in the summer was frowned upon, which Rose talked about. I had to buy all these little shrugs and boleros to cover up with, but as the years went on, more and more Korean youth started wearing dresses and tank tops without covering their shoulders. If you’re in a certain job position like being a teacher or a company woman, you should still dress in a more conservative business way (as is the same in most parts of the world) but drop into Hongdae on a hot Saturday afternoon you’ll see a change in wardrobe from when we first arrived.

I also found it really interesting how it was mentioned that the family economy is changing, and you need both parents now providing for the family. And while I’m sure that the cost of living is rapidly increasing, I’m not sure if family dynamics are increasing as quickly here in Korea. Or are they? The birth rate in Korea is really terrible, lowest in the OECD it seems, and maybe more people are avoiding starting families because they’re aware of how much more expensive it is to live now than before. I don’t know. I remember speaking with someone who told me that Canada has pretty bad birth rates as well, but they’re staying afloat with a good immigration policy (woot woot my parents were immigrants as well!) while Korea, on the other hand, has super strict immigration.

So that’s it for now. If you’ve been in Korea for a while, or visited a while ago and have been again recently, we’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s changing in Korea.

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Speaker’s Corner: How Has Korea Changed?

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  1. SOOOOOO, PSYCHED! Flying from Utah to Seattle for this Event!! Can’t wait.

    3 years ago
  2. I have been in Korea for 5 years and man has a lot changed. When I first came here, I was one of a very small number of foreigners in my city and in the past 2 years, suddenly there are foreigners EVERYWHERE, to the point that now, most loudspeakers advertise in English as well as Korean. Also, the prices of things. Food prices have gone up considerably and bus fare has literally doubled in 5 years while the minimum wage has only gone up by a few cents.

    The tattoo thing, too. Tattoos were NEVER seen when I first came here but now I see young people with their tattoos clearly visible everywhere.

    3 years ago
  3. I visited Korea last summer and will move there in July! So I don’t have much to compare to.
    The working is a terrible thing though. My boyfriend works in Seoul, and always complains of having to stay late or go to 회식 (company dinner). He doesn’t have it as bad as many other businessmen as he works for an American company. I worry for him and his health though, as all he does is work work work. That environment is definitely not healthy, and why he wants to return to the states.

    3 years ago
  4. DD

    I agree that younger people does not respect people at certain position than before : older or teachers. Korea is fast moving country and old people can’t be very wise and appropriate for etiquette forever. My grand mother used standard Korean grammar of her generation that actually not currently working: it makes her less educated though she can speak and write Japanese, Chinese and Korean. I hope, people should be more prudent when they need to judge a person.But it is very instant now.

    For teachers, In my high school age, most of students call their teachers in slang, whether they admired the teacher or not. We gossiped about my teachers a lot: Their dress, make-up, posture, anything possible, including the assignment. It may look weird, but you are being a daily magazine model who exposed to them every day for them. Teen age students are definitely insane and have nothing to talk except their pop star, teachers, classes and food around campus. Teachers are the most exposed subject. When a friend doesn’t like a teacher and start the insane talk, nobody will against harnessless chat that will let disappear. If you-as a teacher- shocked by those gossiping at the backside, I’m feel sorry because it is painful. Please just ignore it and discuss with other teachers about it.

    Some teachers in my memory were not worth to respect for me: I really don’t want a teacher who has a back story of sexual harassment. There were highly admired teachers as well. My friend is currently a teacher because she admire her literature teacher. In any case, I had to present my respect every teachers just same because they were teaching us. In many cases, my friends visited their favorite teacher after graduation for appreciate their help and guidance. Some of student were trying to ask you their question after class: because they would talk with you more. If this happened, you were admired and respected. Generally it is not spoken word or etiquette but very subtle approach. This “respecting”thing seems like quite different in american school, almost opposite. If american student’s manner is somewhat too much if it happened in Korean class room and it can be teased forever. Please be aware of this.

    3 years ago
  5. It’s really interesting. I’m Asian myself (Asian-American), and whenever I go home or to another Asian country, I notice that people really do not say “Excuse me” when they bump into you, or thank you when you hold the door for them. I’ve gotten odd looks when I hold a door open!

    For a group of people that pride themselves on always being polite, it’s an oddly curious lack of common courtesy from Asians across the board.

    3 years ago
    • One thing that really made KDramas, Tdramas and Jdramas stand out to my family was the politeness and courtesy to everyone and the respect for elders. My mother loved having that re-enforced on screen, which we’ve lost as a culture in America. Many (Not all, of course) teenagers I have grown up with and schooled with are openly rude and ugly to their parents, siblings and subordinates. Living in the south, I’ve grown up saying “Yes M’am, Thank you” and “Yes Sir” to anyone and everyone. Many people comment on how rare that is, and give what feels like undue praise.

      Also, having been a student and now a teacher, it is the same. Students are polite and sometimes are even “besties” with the their teacher, but can turn around and bash them all day. It is what I have watched go on around me for many years, It is very sad. They judge without knowing the full extent teachers go to in preparation for their classes, their time spent, their energy and their knowledge, however true their critiques are.

      In my opinion, we have lost something so vital to a happy, orderly and thriving culture.

      Last bit (I promise!). As a dancer I’ve been privileged to watch several dance ensembles and dance troups that were partially or entirely of asian dancers and musicians that were highly talented and well know in the dance community. Always inspiring and such a joy to watch!

      3 years ago
      • *In my opinion, we have lost something so vital to a happy, orderly and thriving culture. *RESPECT*.

        3 years ago
  6. Isn’t it bizarre how quickly society changes. In America, just a few years ago (like the example given by the girl being scolded into covering up and not showing her tattoos) here some “marginalized groups” and “illegal substances” went from being stigmatized to being mainstream with overwhelming support. No matter what side you are on, things can change on a dime.

    3 years ago
    • It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” in action. Once you have enough people with a certain view, the rest of society follows in a sudden rush.

      3 years ago
  7. Interesting video. I haven’t been to Korea yet (will go next summer), and most of what I know comes from watching your videos and watching old Roommates episodes. I will say Roommates has gotten my family really interested in going to Korea. I think watching celebrities go to different places in Korea and displaying all the different foods and cultures on the show made my parents more interested than ever.

    I got interested through Kpop, but recently, I’m slowly losing interest. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer Kpop over 99% of the music on the radio. But, I don’t feel like watching new mvs or closely following idols. Might be because nothing stands out as being eye popping, or that nothing new is being done. Kpop becomes too similar in that there isn’t anything new that is pushing the limits. At some point, there’s just an oversaturation of similar tropes. I guess you can say Kpop is slowly evolving into something that loses its individuality? Not really sure how to put it to words…

    3 years ago
    • Same here. I was really into Jpop in high school, then more jrock and indie music in college, then I got really into kpop. I think knowing what I know about korean culture, I think there was just a style that was popular and then all the groups kind-of switched to something else. It feels less in your face than what it was.

      Even still I can’t believe how much Korean music has changed in the last 15 years! I look at Baby V.O.X and S.E.S and think about what they wore and what the songs sounded like and thinking it was only 15-18 years ago! I mean it is a long time, by comparing it to the fashion and music in the US from that time period, it is very different/dated?

      3 years ago
  8. First off, I want to point out that this video is accidentally filed as KMM instead of Speaker’s Corner.

    Anyway, I thought this topic and the responses you got were pretty interesting.

    I’m in the group of those that have never actually been to Korea but have been consuming Korean media. The increased availability is noticeable and you can feel how Youtube and the internet is shaping global media distribution. Different Korean broadcasters and labels are approaching their foreign audience differently.

    As far as video, KBS World provides a good amount of content right over Youtube with built in subtitles (super convenient, THANKS KBS!), while MBC and SBS may provide short clips but no translations (BOOOO). In addition, KBS World is definitely marketing and creating content specifically for foreigners.

    As far as Kpop, different labels have started putting their artists up on the music marketplaces here. I personally won’t use itunes, and unfortunately itunes has the largest library of Kpop. That leads me to either buying a physical CD (some of which are priced ridiculously, like $20 for a 3 song mini album vs 0.99/mp3) or just watching music video’s on youtube. However, since about January, Google Play has been increasing what they have available, and I’ve been seeing an interesting influx of content. I can tell you that 4minute (maybe all of Cube?) sells MP3’s on Google Play, Amazon, as well as Itunes, whereas lables like SM are at best available through itunes.

    The topic also got me thinking about how the U.S. and Los Angeles have changed and continue to change, but since that isn’t our current topic, I’ll save it for another day.

    3 years ago
    • My friend was telling me how much some CDs were in Koreatown in NYC, and I freaked out. I remember buying LOTS of Korean CDs in high school even though I liked Japanese music more. Japanese releases are still more expensive, but Korean releases were usually $10-15 for a full length album. So I loaded up on Se7en, BoA, and even sometimes buying the Korean releases of Ayumi Hamasaki. Even the simple fact that groups don’t release albums is weird to me. So many “singles” and “mini-albums” now, which I remember that awkward transition.

      3 years ago
  9. Interesting that the young people want the older (Korean) people to be more polite and the Teacher’s see the younger people being fake polite.

    Simon and Martina … I think I speak for everyone here: we’d like to see more updates on Rose. How is she? Is she going to be okay? Please send her our regards.

    3 years ago
    • We’d love to be able to share Rose’s condition, but I’m not sure if it’s really our place to reveal any more than she’s comfortable in talking about, you know? I can direct you to her Twitter, though: @Shibbymintay

      3 years ago
  10. Maybe it’s ’cause I’ve lived in NYC all my life but it’s surprising to see someone hold the door open. Not that it doesn’t happen but it’s not as expected for you to do so? For me, etiquette is if you’re by a door and you see someone is behind you, you wait long enough to hold the door so they can keep it open for themselves. Basically so no one gets their faces smacked by it. To be honest, you get used to people being rude and acting affronted as if you were the rude one.

    Ah but yes, there is such a difference from when I entered Kpop and got interested in Korea. You can see a more visible acknowledgement of international consumers. More subtitled content is available, which is great. NYC has also sort of evolved to include Korean products like skin care, food, etc. There are way more korean facial stores beyond K-town, a lot more Korean style cafes popping up. It’s cool seeing the effect Korea has on the other side of the globe.

    3 years ago
  11. Aww, it’s Rose!

    I thought the comments about wishing for a change in etiquette were really interesting, especially since they were coming from someone who (I assume) is Korean.

    I live in the US, where in most places it’s expected to use common courtesies like holding the door open, apologizing for bumping in to one another, etc. However whenever I visit NYC, for example, where there is a huge volume of people–most of which are in a hurry, that etiquette isn’t really upheld and thus, to me, can come off as rude at first. But then I start doing the same things in order to get by most effectively in the city because I’m not worried about upsetting anyone.

    Basically, I don’t like how “rude” I have to become by my regular standards to get by in NYC, however in the moment it becomes okay because I realize that is normal for those who regularly navigate the city. And that’s interesting to me.

    3 years ago
    • I think as you said in NYC there is just such a high volume of people that it is hard to apologize. Plus being someone who lived in a city with tourists (Philadelphia) I was TOTALLY less apologetic to slow tourists that were taking up all the sidewalk. BUT I think I still said sorry if people weren’t being obnoxious, and I think the same happens NYC when you are in a less dense area (IE Central Park, Brooklyn, less popular sidewalks on Manhattan island, etc) I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a similar resentment that I had in Philly against rude suburbanites who come to party and scream in the middle of the night.

      3 years ago
    • americans with manners are becoming a rarity. maybe you’re lucky enough to live somewhere people hopd doors and say excuse me but not where i live. i love being in store with somebody standing behind me waiting for me to move.

      3 years ago
    • I often go to China during the longer holidays to visit my family and in a lot of the department stores (newest ones don’t have this) there are big plastic strips as well as a door. The door is always open, but the plastic strip isn’t…so when I try to hold the strip open for the person behind me…I have actually accidently hit the person behind me instead……

      3 years ago
  12. From what I see with some of my friends (in their mid-late twenties), a lot of them are fed up with having to work overtime (my one friend’s working hours go ’till 6pm but most of the time she has to stay until 11-12 pm, doing nothing ’cause she is not allowed to leave before her supervisor) and going to company dinners where you are expected to drink ’till drunk but arrive on time the next morning. Basically they have no time to relax and no time for family and friends. Dedicating yourself to your job like this might possibly understandable if they offer you a permanent position but more and more companies only offer fixed-term contracts which also exclude many bonuses. No wonder they (well the generation of my friends) are called the “오포 세대” (oh-po se-dae)(The generation who have given up on dating, marriage, having children, personal relationships, and home ownership due to the difficulties of life.) I think that having to give up on so many things becomes more and more apparent but there are also slight changes, such as companies having their company dinners not as often or not doing it altogether.

    3 years ago
  13. I’ve only seen the kpop videos and music change from innocent and cute to way more edgy (and feel kpop lost something in that sense), but can’t really comment on the rest of the culture.

    That being said Yewon’s outfit makes me want to play/watch/listen to the theme song of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego.

    3 years ago
  14. I’ve been here almost 3 years and already I’m seeing quite a few changes. Things are certainly becoming more westernized. It’s a lot easier to find foods from home that I couldn’t find 2 years ago. There seems to be more English everywhere also. As a teacher I’ve also seen some changes. I find that in general the parents of the children that I teach seem to find me less alienating. My first year of teaching kinders the parents rarely approached me. They did all the communicating with my Korean co-teacher. Now they make huge efforts to talk with me. I find that children are more exposed to foreigners so they are less nervous or weirded out by us as well. Hopefully all this change is for the better. I would hate to see Korea loose some of its charm. I try to escape Seoul once in a while to go to more rural areas and find that there is a big difference between there and the big city. I often find that I love the old school Korea feel of quieter areas. Great post guys. Certainly made me reflect on my time here so far.

    3 years ago
  15. In my 3 years here I do think that people have a better perception of foreigners and are much less surprised to see me walking into their stores.
    But one thing that hasn’t changed, and I wish it would, for my group of friends at least, is the way many Korean guys see foreign girls as someone to date to show off to their friends and have easy fun with, but not as someone to consider seriously.
    I KNOW that many many people have not experienced this, but when I was going out and trying to meet people this was a problem for me.
    I also think Korea is becoming more and more open minded about things, like mentioned in the video about clothes and tattoos, and age, and other things too. I’ve noticed that a lot and I think it’s really great.

    3 years ago
    • That’s actually a very good point. I still notice from time to time that sense of surprise from Korean people, or even a “Oh look! A Foreigner!” but not as much as when we first came to Korea.

      3 years ago
  16. Ways that kdramas have changed since I started watching them boils down to two words, product placement. There didn’t used to be any, now it’s constant (and quite annoying). It really takes you out of the story when the character has a 2 minute segment where the camera focuses on the appliance they are using. Yes LG, that is a very nice washing machine. Yes Samsung, that is a very nice refrigerator. Can we get back to the actual story now?
    An unexpected change is that the dramas have became more conservative, not less, for a few years starting around 2008, but now they’ re starting to loosen up again.
    Korea sounds like they may start running into the same problem Japan has (I know comparisons to Japan make Korea twitchy, but bear with me). Japan is having issues because their birth rate is incredibly low. When trying to get to the bottom of why this generation doesn’t want to have kids they’ve found a couple of things.
    1. Women are expected to quit and become homemakers when they have children. Tell that to a woman who just spent years of her life studying and working to get into a particular school so she could get a particular job. She wants to get her monies worth.
    2. Working mothers are actively discouraged, even though the cost of living in Japan is astronomical. Even couples who want kids feel like they can’t afford them on one salary.
    3. Men are expected to support the family, no matter how expensive it is to do that. That means, all work, no play. No life basically. Again, tell that to someone who spent their school years studying. They want to enjoy the fruits of their labor, not just go straight into another work commitment.
    Basically, the combination of a modern economy with a traditional culture has made having kids a major financial burden that people aren’t willing to take on. The situation has gotten so bad that it’s basically forcing Japan to create a more equitable workplace just so that people will feel like it’s feasible to have a family.

    3 years ago
    • Yeah I was thinking about that comparison with Japan as well. It seems to be a problem here in the US too with the Millennial generation. My husband and I are VERY frustrated. We live in New Jersey which is considered a more expensive state to live in. We probably do everything right and had a lot of advantages- no debt from college, went to college, no expensive smart phone, no cable, don’t go out drinking, don’t spend much, try to save up, moved out of the parents house, got married and own two cars (cuz you still need to participate in the economy), and we can barely buy a house. In fact we are looking at a townhouse, which is a step between condo and a house. I don’t get paid when I talk off if I get pregnant. Minimum wage is less than it was in the past if you include inflation. There are lots of things that people would never do that we do to save money (air dry out laundry, not get cable, try to go longer periods of time without air conditioning, make our dinners almost every night) and my husband makes well over minimum wage and get lots of overtime hours (while I know I don’t do very well financially) The only reason why I don’t think the US will have a population problems like Korea and Japan is because of the super conservative point of views of not getting abortions. Or even the idea that it is hard for people with lower incomes to even GET abortions.

      3 years ago