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Sophia Quattrocchi

Dr. Cho

C&T 598

26 June 2019

Cross-Cultural Exercise

I was surprised by the cultural differences between South Korea and the United States

when I arrived in Seoul for the first time last year. But this year, since I had previously studied in

Korea for a semester, I was much more familiar with the cultural differences. However, I have

learned a lot about Korean high school life during this excursion. So while I was familiar with

cultural differences outside the classroom, I learned a lot about Korean culture inside the

classroom. Prior to the TESOL trip, I knew very little about high school in Korea. While I knew

the students studied and worked hard, I did not know the extent of it.

While education is valued in both the United States and Korea, Korean high school

students are much more driven to learn because the Korean education system is much more

competitive. I was unaware how important the Korean SAT is to Korean high schoolers. Most

students in the United States do minimal studying for the ACT or SAT. American universities

look at many aspects for college admissions other than test scores and grades. Even when

students do poorly on college entrance exams, they are still able to go to a decent college in the

US. However, in Korean there is immense pressure from parents and society to get into college.

Korean students feel they must go to college in order to be successful which leads to much more

competition in admittance. With competition and pressure to succeed, students are forced to

study long hours in order to prepare for the college entrance exams. Because of this I have seen

many differences between American and Korean high school life.


The length of the school day is much longer in Korea, and the students take their school

work much more seriously. This leaves the students with little time for after school activities and

relaxing. I was surprised that so many students go to after school academies to study more after

the long school day. With less after school activities and strict school uniforms, I noticed the

students at Kyunghwa don’t really form cliques. The girls all have to wear the same clothes and

all share the common pressure to succeed in academics which may lead to less cliques. As I was

talking to the students, they told me that bullying doesn’t really happen at their school and all of

the girls seem to get along well in the classroom.This is a large cultural difference, as bullying is

still a large problem in American high schools as both socioeconomic status and extracurricular

activities play an important part in a student’s popularity.

I also noticed that since students spend so much time at school, students are much closer

with their teachers. I expected the student-teacher relationship to be much more serious

considering the strict hierarchy in Korea. However, while the students respect their teachers, the

relationship is much more like a familial relationship. The students all seem to have a very close

relationship with their teachers, they all laugh together and depend on each other like family. In

the US, I respected my teachers but never became close with them like friends or family. Despite

the harsh pressure in school, it's nice to see that the girls have a strong support system within the

classroom and are close with their classmates and teachers.

Although I have studied in Korea last year, I am still affected by cultural differences

outside the classroom. For me the biggest change between Korea and the United States is the

lack of racial diversity in Korea. With such racial and ethnic diversity, people do not stand out as

foreigners in the United States. In contrast, since Korea is such a homogenous society, non-

Korean individuals stick out in public and are quickly labeled as foreigners. When I am in a large
group of foreigners, such as the other KU students, people often stare. Elderly people more often

stare and sometimes can be rude towards foreigners. However, most elderly individuals are very

kind. I understand why some may stare since the number of foreigners has just recently increased

in the last couple decades. For me as a Korean adoptee, it’s a unique situation because though

I’m ethnically Korean, I grew up in a white American household. So since Korea is so ethnically

homogenous, people assume I am fluent in Korean and grew up in Korea. When I’m out with

foreigner friends it is more obvious that I grew up in America. However, people will still ask me

if I am Korean, and I’ll usually have to explain that I am Korean American. In contrast, when

I’m by myself I am torn between dressing and “looking Korean” in order to blend in, or dressing

more “American” so people know I am a foreigner. I find that I do tend to dress nicer and wear

makeup in Korea since people tend to dress up more in public.

Though it has been a bit difficult to fit in since I am in the middle of both Korean and

American identities, it wasn’t too hard to adjust to Korean culture. Since I had studied Korean

and was familiar with the culture from KU classes and television shows, it was easy for me to

adapt when coming to Seoul and Gwangju. I did not have much culture shock when coming to

Korea because I love the culture and traveling. I was surprised at the reverse culture shock I

experienced the first time I returned to the US after my semester abroad. My reverse culture

shock was probably worse than the culture shock I experienced when arriving to Seoul. I often

found myself bowing at stores and restaurants and was pretty sad to return to the midwest where

there are few places open 24 hours.

Overall, I experienced little cultural shock when arriving to Korea. I believe I had a much

easier time transitioning because I was familiar with the culture before I arrived both last year for

my semester abroad and this year for the TESOL program. It is important for travelers to educate
themselves about Korean culture before coming to the country. Having prior knowledge will

make the transition easier for an individual and will show respect when visiting another country.

Though I experienced little culture shock, I still encounter obstacles being Korean-American in a

country that is very homogeneously Korean. However, during the TESOL program the ethnicity

of each KU student hasn’t affected our relationships with the students at all. The students have

been very welcoming, and I have learned so much from them. With this program, I have learned

so much about Korean high schools which has given me much more insight into Korean culture.