This trip has put me in a unique position of being around 100+ university students 24/7. As a result of this, I’ve heard a lot of interesting (sometimes insightful, other times strange or funny) conversations and opinions. These opinions have been formed on the basis of their age (and experience) as well as cultural norms, so it’s been a fascinating insight into how these factors can shape people’s values.
I’ve heard so many interesting things that it’s hard to pick one to share with you guys. But one that’s piqued my interest is the opinions on love and relationships.
In Korea, the concept of what love should be like and what it is in reality, is complex and multi-faceted. My first exposure to this was at Lotte World in Seoul, when Pete and I went a few weeks ago. I immediately noticed two things – first, in relationships, men and women often wear identical outfits from head to toe and there were a lot of men who wore cute cat/bunny ears and other cutesy things. Secondly, the men were extremely polite and chivalrous to their girlfriends (carrying bags for them, purchasing food and drinks for them, etc.). This led to my first impression of Koreans and love, that they are romantic by nature, and they highly value/prioritise the conventional boyfriend and girlfriend relationships, to the point of fulfilling traditional roles in the relationship.
In contrast, Australians would never wear matching outfits except when dressed in formal attire, most men would only wear cute animal ears in a humorous way and even then it would occur very rarely, and although men in Australia can be quite chivalrous, it is not a constant occurrence that can be easily witnessed in public.
My second impression was formed when spending a day sightseeing with CNU students (including Korean buddies). During conversation, a Korean friend mentioned that guys must never comment on another girl’s attractiveness if they already have a girlfriend. Apparently they should also not talk to other girls much, look at them, or touch them in any way (e.g. hugging). It seems that some Korean girls expect complete and utter devotion to themselves.
An Australian friend who has been here for 5ish months let us know that Korean guys on the other hand, have multiple girlfriends. This was corroborated by a Korean student later on – when asked why guys here are always walking and texting at the same time, he said 2 reasons: firstly, they are texting their girlfriend and secondly, they are texting their other girlfriend.
In addition to these two examples, I’ve encountered another one that hints at the impact of media. A friend of a friend (who has a girlfriend) has started seeing a Korean girl here (who also has a boyfriend). He arranged a trip for them out of town, and her response to this was that it was “just like a drama!”. The limited amount of TV I have watched has consisted of music videos, and a large proportion of these have portrayed straying partners, and make it seem exciting and adventurous.
In contrast, while cheating definitely occurs in Australia, I don’t think it’s glamorised at all. Nor are men or women expected to associate only with the same sex.
The last thing I wanted to touch on in regards to Koreans and love is the extreme views on gay rights here. It’s such a traditional society, that any form of relationship or gender identity that doesn’t fit the heterosexual norm is considered ‘unnatural’. We have encountered a few young Koreans who are open minded, but the majority appear to be holding onto archaic values, based on Confucianism that was designed to promote producing offspring in an era where pestilence and early death was a common occurrence. Unfortunately, these values appear to still be ingrained, but it seems like a slow shift is occurring. Hopefully exposure to some of our liberal views will lead to more Koreans questioning what’s considered ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’.
So I’ve just talked about Koreans – but other nationalities have amused me too, and here I think it’s just lack of experience. My roomie came home last night to find me skyping with Pete and studying for my exam with him, and apparently this was funny, strange, novel. I’ve also heard a lot of comments from young Australians (both here and back home) about how ‘cute’ Pete and I are – I think because we play video games together, cook and clean together, and other random things.
I think our relationship seems novel because the everyday, little things that make relationships long lasting aren’t talked about openly.
If I had been skyping with one of my best friends and studying with them, or if I play video games with my friends, no one would comment. But the fact that a partner should be your best friend seems to be understood only in theory, not in practice.