Over the past three weeks, I’ve been sharing my experiences in Korea based on the suggestions you made in June. We’ve focused on sights, food, and life in previous posts, but now, in this final installment, it’s time to turn our attention to what makes Korea great: it’s people.
Three words rose to the top of the comment section, which after five years of living in Korea, I think perfectly reflect my experiences here.
South Korea is a passionate country. What ever the subject, those involved approach it with dedication. It can be something as innocuous as supporting an idol group or embracing a leisure activity; to rallying a nation in a unified cheer during major worldwide sporting events.
I remember witnessing this passion first hand in 2010 during the World Cup matches. Every night when Korea played, the nation would come together. Whatever anyone was doing, that activity would cease. A sea of read could be seen in parks, outside restaurants, and when a goal was scored, the entire nation jumped up to cheer and hugged one another. After a lifetime of attending sporting events where championships were at stake, I had never seen such dedication or passion like, and for me, it is what defines the word.
Another word by readers that made its way to the top of the list was welcoming. Perhaps it is the nearly continuous chants of “어서 오세요” or “Welcome” one hears when entering businesses across the land, which led to its inclusion in the top three for this post. Personally, when I think of Korea, welcoming perfectly describes my first few days.
I had just moved into my apartment, but the Internet hadn’t been installed yet. Since I wanted to actively keep in touch with my family during my settling in period, I would take my morning coffee and laptop to the town square, where I could wirelessly connect to one of the networks. During that first week, Kim See-in came up to introduce himself. Not only did he take time out of his busy morning, after our initial exchange of pleasantries, he walked into the nearby convenience store and brought back a bag filled with food and drink as a welcome basket. Finally, he invited me out to dinner that evening. Nothing could be more welcoming to stranger in a foreign land than that.
The last word that made it to the top, wasn’t one submitted by anyone directly. Several comments spoke about friends, family, relationships, and the close bonds Koreans share. There is no other word that better describes this than jeong (정). While the concept of jeong is often said to not have any direct English translation, I disagree. In my opinion, the best translation of jeong is “neighborly.”
When I grew up, we looked out for one another. We shared our meals and if someone needed help, we all pitched in to see that the job was done. Meals were shared and it was common spend time with friends and neighbors out on the front porch. While much of that has changed in the United States now, it’s the same spirit that is exhibited in jeong. The connectedness one experiences in a community whether the person is related to you or not.
This concludes the series “My Korea, Your Words” and also is my last entry on The Korea Blog. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been honored to share with you the sights, sounds, and tastes of Korea on this platform and hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.