Cultural Contrast

Written by Sean M.

Travel allows us to flirt with cultures that are new and novel to us. However, travel can give us a lot of insight on our own culture. It’s easy to observe the novelties of a culture and to become infatuated by how exotic it is, but with reflection we can really come to appreciate our own culture’s richness and even its shortfalls.
I think its fun to contrast the subculture I come from with the culture that I find myself in now (I’m currently in Seoul, South Korea). Not speaking the language I will admit that I’m limited in my capacity to absorb the culture. However, I can say this about South Korean culture: it’s strongly based on [Confucian] principles of social interaction. One’s place in society is based on age, status, and profession; interactions take place according to these factors. As an outsider, I admire the respect that Koreans have for elders. At the same time South Korea is a young country, and an even younger democracy. So, although it is developed on a material level, I still sense a developing ethos in the air. I do think this has its benefits though. One being it will keep Koreans in hustle mode.
Urban, contemporary Korea is a very image conscious society. Plastic surgery is almost ubiquitous, and seems to carry less taboo than it does in the West. In my own sub-culture I think people are often image conscious, but there is a greater range of what can be considered beautiful. One reason for this contrast is that Korea is a pretty homogeneous country, while in any major city in the US you can literally find people of every shade. I also feel that in my culture there’s another abstract level of beauty that gets taken into consideration. So, someone may have above average swag— or a certain fierceness— that makes them more appealing, whereas in Korea the metrics for beauty are static.

In terms of shortfalls every society has plenty. Often these are human problems, and not something specific to one race, creed or nationality. Yet, my latest travel jaunt has exposed me to a glaring cultural deficiency. This deficiency isn’t due to any one factor, but I think it is the combination of FREEDOM OF SPEECH + THE 2ND AMENDMENT + GANGSTA RAP + THE CRACK EPIDEMIC OF THE 80s. This has led to an appalling level of deaths of young black men in American cities, especially my hometown, Philadelphia. Here in the capital, Seoul, women can walk around in the middle of the night with little worry or anxiety. I haven’t heard a gun shot since I left Philly, nor the glaring sound of sirens in pursuit of miscreants. There are two major reasons for this. South Korea is coated with closed circuit tv (CCTV) cameras. If someone were to commit a crime, good luck, because there’s an excellent chance you got caught on camera. Also, guns are illegal in South Korea. Potential murderers and assailants lose a lot of their bravado when they don’t have that extra edge. Think of all of the murders in Philly that could have been avoided if these killers didn’t have access to guns. Think of the criminals that could have been bought to justice if we had a clear picture of who they were.

I’m enjoying my host country, and the more I learn, the more I appreciate my home country.