Today in Korean class, we got around to talking about how the Korean education system is in an unhealthy state right now. My classmate, a Japanese woman who is seven months pregnant, looked a little disheartened at the thought of raising her child in such an intense system. She jokingly said that she and her Korean husband were going to immigrate as soon as possible. I added that she could home-school her kid. My Korean teacher promptly shot that idea down, explaining that in Korea, a kid that was taught at home would be branded an outcast. Yes, that's right. Even if you are able to offer your child a superior education, in Korea, your poor kid will be labeled a wangta. Home school your kid, and people will immediately think that something was wrong with the child. The idea that you would not want your child to be with other children is nearly incomprehensible.
As my teacher noted, in Korea it's all about 우리 (uri). The idea that one would want to keep themselves from others (e.g. not go to a dinner with a group of friends) is thought to be strange. In Korea, isolation seems to be a form of punishment, not a personal choice.
Uri is the Korean equivalent of the plural pronoun "we." As all students will first learn in Korean 101, Koreans place greater emphasis on the collective (as opposed to the individual). For example, you would say "In our country (uri nara), we do this..." instead of "In my country (nae nara), we do this..." I have known this fact for awhile now, but the importance of the collective over the individual suddenly solidified in mind today.
As my teacher explained, this notion of "uri" is why Koreans dress alike or why Koreans will drag themselves through three rounds of drinking just because their co-workers are doing the same. From an American perspective, it'd be easy to pass such behavior off as the result of social pressures, but I think it goes deeper. I think this desire to do as others do is rooted in an intrinsic desire for oneness. Americans can undoubtedly be patriotic when the time arises, but in America we tend to think of ourselves as the sum of its parts, whereas in Korea, they're just a single integer: 1.
Since kindergarten, I've been told to "be free to be me," to "march to the beat of my own drum." I wonder if Korean children receive any such messages, or if they're simply told to make their families proud, and ultimately, make their country proud.
This reminder of the importance of uri in the Motherland has made me realize that though internally I may be a hyphenated-American, externally I'm Korean. I am the "i" in uri. Perhaps this why taxi drivers feel like they have the right to lecture me. We are one in the same. We are family. 우리가 가족입니다.
I guess this means that whenever I get unwanted advice or the next time some tries to pressure me hang out when I want to be a hermit for the day, I'll do what I do with some of my more overbearing relatives, just smile and nod, then ignore everything they said. ㅋㅋㅋ