over a delicious taiwanese style lunch, a new friend of mine and i had a fantastic conversation about cross cultural differences. my friend, who has lived in SK all her life, minus several months spent in Europe for an internship during her postgraduate education, was sharing her observations of foreigners adjusting to life in SK, with particular regard to adjustment within the SK corporate culture. the corporate culture, as many of you may already know, is quite hierarchical and conformity is appreciated and encouraged.

if you are migrating from a western culture, this structure can be quite daunting. after inquiring more about conformity in SK in general, my friend shared with me a piece of sociocultural information that may be common knowledge but is new to me. every single male in SK has to serve 2 years in the military. period. and since SK is still considered a hardship placement, i imagine the 2 years must have been pretty brutal. and since SK is heavily influenced by Confucianism, the military training is geared to helping soldiers renounce their unique individual identity in the place of learning how to take orders fast and how to do it well… not that it differs much from military training elsewhere. after two years of learning how to essentially be a robot, every veteran has earned a medal in conformity. then these soldiers are released in the world of SK, and most stay in SK to find work and a wife (notice I did not say “partner”). since tradition in SK generally has the women at home raising children with the men at work, the workplace is overflowing with men who are taking their two years of training in conformity (among plenty of other skills) and applying it in the workplace. the military is almost a bottleneck for which every man filters through and learns a lesson in how to proceed in life. key word: conformity. then these men marry women who have not had to undergo military training and some of them hear from their men during domestic arguments the old – “you’re soft, do you know what i had to do while i was in the military?” the women react and toughen up. and my friend expressed that she seemed to think that some women may have a guilt complex since they didn’t have to serve time in the military, which explains some of the subservience… they are attempting to compensate for what they did not have to sacrifice. thus, the take away is this: the military has enormous influence over the SK family and work culture.

Furthermore, i wonder- is this a possible explanation for the ease and willingness of SK women to go under the knife to make themselves more appealing for their counterpart? Guilt and conformity?

then you have expats who are recruited to live in SK for a lengthy period of time – some teach, some work in the corporate world, others are children/adolescents following the family… and they have to find their way by negotiating between the culture or cultures of wherever they came from and the collective conformist culture of SK. wait, er, i guess i am one of them and doing that now… However, being that i am Asian and my culture shares some similarity, it’s not entirely foreign to me. Although having spent my entire life in the US and adopting western values makes this all the more interesting for me. i wonder what it’s like for those who are from cultures that value autonomy and independence… especially for women.