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Notes from Stephanie Ruizesparza: Semester in South Korea, Part 2
As weeks continue to pass in South Korea, I start becoming more and more assimilated into the culture. I have started taking my courses at Yonsei, so I now feel like an actual college student at home. These past weeks I have started to hang around Korean natives who have shown me their cultural ways. Along with that I have started to mimic daily life styles here, a lot of which include going out to have drinks together as well as going to clubs.
It may seem strange that I am writing about clubbing, however, I do not mean to boast or advocate for clubbing (although many students do it regardless). I found that clubbing and drinking are strongly tied to South Korean activities.
It also makes me ponder lifestyles and daily activities in the U.S and Mexico. South Korean culture in a--very general sense--does revolve quite a bit around alcohol. You drink with meals, friends, co-workers, at karaoke, and at clubs. Typically alcohol goes well with anything and anywhere besides school and churches in Korea. My native friends tell me that many Koreans drink a lot and stay out until morning. As someone who is use to sleeping at midnight, I thought I would never experience this. Surprisingly my night did turn from tourist to native. I went to eat Korean barbeque, where you cook your own meat (beef and pork belly) accompanied with glasses of beer and shots of soju. Next to my group of friends, were elder red faced men sitting at their own table drinking soju and laughing. They seemed to be coming from work, by the looks of their suits. After a couple drinks my girl group dinner was also filled with laughter that was contagious enough to make the waiters laugh with us. After this we made our way to a club in which we were clearly the only non-Koreans. There we danced to kpop songs and talked to other Koreans. We all ended our night at 5 am walking back to our dorm.
Thinking back to that night, I can see the similarities in Latin America, and particularly Mexico and their love of their own cultural alcohol and night activities. However, I also realize the dangers of it. In South Korea it is relatively safe to walk home at night by yourself (although it is not advised) as well as going to clubs many crimes do not occur. The people in the clubs for the most part are respectful of each other and my nights have gone with ease. I believe that if something similar in Mexico happened, as a woman, is not ideal and perhaps more dangers lurk. This is not to say that South Korea is a perfect place and not sexist, in fact it has many imperfections. But it did make me reflect on the high number of assaults and deaths of woman that occur in Latin America. As someone who has a strong interest in women’s human rights, these situations and reflections cross my mind often. As a woman myself, these situations and the need to always guard myself also occur often. These are situations that perhaps men do not have to worry about.
I have finally completed my first month in South Korea, but not without struggles. It was the biggest challenge adjusting to a culture that (even with multiple similarities) is still a complete opposite to my own. I still mispronounce things, and do not completely understand what people ask me, but I am learning.
In this week’s reflection, I will talk about my classes I have taken so far and how they have made me reflect on the history I’ve learned through Latino/a Studies courses. In these few weeks I have learned about South Korea’s colonial history and modernizations.
At my home university I spend most of my classes learning about colonization and modernization through the lens of countries affected by the U.S or Europe. Typically, I have strong opinions against colonization and argue against strong Western powers. I found myself at a loss of argument during my course on the International Politics of the Korean Peninsula. I know little to nothing about Korean history (other than democratic and other social movements), but the actual history of colonization was a new topic.
In class, our professor made us argue with one another on the benefits of Japanese colonialism and how that helped modernize Korea. The room was unevenly split between people arguing that the trauma that countries still endure after colonization outweighs the good. While others thought that colonization gave many countries, like Korea, the opportunity to develop and we should move past historical trauma. Obviously I disagree with the latter, and the points that were made made me solidify my stance against colonialism and colonization. In the cases of Mexico and Spain and Europe and the Indigenous people, I can never see benefits of colonization.
After a long hour or so of discussion my professor finally revealed his opinion on the matter. I was afraid that he would have a differing opinion that would admittedly make me upset. His answer, however, surprised and relieved me. He explained that he also believed that Korea could have been strong enough and independent enough to modernize and develop on its own. He explained that forcing colonization doesn’t always mean that there will be benefits, and that it can be violent and unnecessary, especially since Korea fought so hard against invasions and forced occupation.
In class, when learning about this, I often thought back to the forced occupation of indigenous communities and the effects that are forever lasting because of the actions of colonizers. What does it actually mean to modernize? When talking about modernization, why are we only thinking about it through a Western perspective? And why is that people think certain countries cannot develop on their own?