Hello everyone! This week I decided to talk to a few of my Canadian friends who are learning Korean and a few of my Korean friends who are studying English here in Canada. I asked them six or seven specific questions to try and figure out a couple of things, such as why are you studying Korean? Have you ever been to Korea? And for the Koreans questions such as why did you choose to study in Canada as opposed to another English speaking country? And what are your thoughts on Canadians and Canadian culture?
I spoke with five Canadian friends and five Korean friends. Amongst the Canadians the age range is 19-30 and everyone has Canadian citizenship, though they all came from various backgrounds such as Italian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Latin, etc. Four of the interviewees are female and only one is male. Amongst the Koreans the age range is 24-26; four of the interviewees are male and only one is female. Most came from Seoul, but one interviewee came from Gyung-gi (경기).
One of the first questions I asked all of the Canadians was “why did you decide to study Korean?” The general stereotype or expected answer to this question is “because I like k-dramas and k-pop”. While it’s true that some people get drawn into Korean simply because of Hallyu (and this is true of two of the interviewees) there are other various reasons as to why people start learning Korean, and some of them were displayed during these mini-interviews.
One woman replied that she was not East Asian and was auditioning for the K-pop industry, and she found that being able to speak the language would help her to stand out. Another woman replied that, although Hallyu drew her into the Korean culture, she found herself drawn even more towards learning the language when she stumbled upon the Korean TV program 미녀들의 수다 – she aspires to be on the show one day. Another woman replied that her major is linguistics and she aspires to become a translator for a major company one day, so she has a list of languages she’d like to learn. Korean was already on that list because “Korean is a beautiful language and I enjoy speaking, reading, and listening to it”. One of the best responses I received, however, was from my male interviewee, who said:
“I decided I wanted to learn Korean because I enjoyed the nature of the culture. I was first exposed to Korean culture through my co-workers and the value of respect that was displayed among their camaraderie. After that, I tried to learn some phrases, but didn’t really memorize them. After some exposure to k-pop and unique fashion offered in their MVs and everyday life (through pictures on their facebook) I was drawn to self-learn Korean and eventually acquired a tutor.”
I then asked my Canadian interviewees what their favourite and least favourite thing about learning Korean is. Everyone’s answers seemed to vary and some even seemed to clash. A couple of people said their favourite thing about learning Korean was the grammar and pronunciation – one woman said the grammar is nice because, when compared to romantic languages such as Spanish and French, there are no he/she co-ordinations that need to be made when conjugating verbs. On the other hand, a couple of interviewees replied that their least favourite things about learning Korean were things like grammar, memorization, and vocabulary. They particularly disliked studying for tests in school. One interviewee also expressed a dislike for double consonant pronunciation, and one interviewee replied she disliked 존댓말 because it’s difficult to know when to use honorific endings. Most interviewees agreed, however, that learning Korean is interesting and they enjoy understanding more and more every day.
When asked their opinions on Korean people, most interviewees replied with a mixed response. They seem to agree that, specifically in a classroom or formal setting, Koreans are very nice and take well to “foreigners” who are learning their language, however, they also seem to agree that, should a Korean person dislike someone or be in some sort of “competition” with that person, he/she tends to be nasty towards said person. One interviewee expressed her concern by saying that, if she had to point out one flaw among Koreans, it would be their obsession with 외모 (appearance) and external beauty. She said her Korean friends are all very kind but are so focused on being “skinny and beautiful” and she expressed that she finds this “ideal beauty type” to be harmful to their society overall.
Of the five Canadian interviewees three have been to Korea, although one was only for a stop-over on the way to the Philippines. The two who haven’t been really want to go, and the three who have been really enjoyed their visit, even if it was short. They described Korea as safe and friendly and one interviewee said he couldn’t wait to go back.
Moving on to the Koreans – the first question I asked was “why Canada? Why did you choose to study English in Canada as opposed to another English speaking country?” A lot of interviewees seemed to have wanted to study in the States originally, but found U.S.A to be too expensive and a little less safe than Canada, and so chose to study in Canada instead. Another response was that the ESL in Canada is of a better quality than that of other English speaking countries. One response that really stood out to me, however, was this one:
“I chose to go to Canada to study English, because Canada has a reputation for being multicultural and diverse. Of course, someone could say that there is multiculturalism and the diversity of race in the States too. But what I am trying to make a point of here is that a way they consist of their country as nations. It is said that the society in America is usually considered a ‘melting pot’, which means the U.S government force[s] people from all over the world to be one nation brainwashed with the American spirituality and value that they pursue. It is said that, however, the society of Canada is considered a ‘mosaic’, which means people from all over the world consist of the country as one nation, not losing their identity and cultural background at the same time.”
This response made me feel really proud to be Canadian, and I found myself agreeing with much of what was said. Canada seems to be even more unique than some of us may realize.
Along the same lines, I then asked the interviewees what they think about Canada and Canadians. Among the various responses there were some common replies, such as: Canadians are friendly, kind, open-minded, love to help foreigners, and respect each other’s individuality. With respect to Canada as a country, many interviewees found Canada to be really big (especially in comparison to Korea) and to be full of beautiful nature and scenery. One woman also said that it was nice to be able to visit various ethnic towns within Canada.
Finally, I asked both the Canadians and the Koreans two questions that were essentially the same: one – Are you aware that this year is the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Korea and what are your thoughts on this? And two – What are your thoughts on Korean/Canadian culture and what similarities/differences have you found between the two cultures?
Among the ten interviewees four were unaware that this year is the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Korea, however, once they learned this they all agreed that it’s a good thing and it’s “cool”. Interviewees expressed their wish that the good relations continue as they are beneficial to both countries. The people who were aware of the 50th anniversary were of the same opinion. There was, however, one response that stuck out to me, as I strongly agreed with it:
” I think it is very important that the countries hold strong diplomatic relations. On a personal level, it makes me feel safer to travel to or live in a country with a positive political relationship with Canada. On a more global level, it is also important, since if there is a war, Canada will be able to fight with South Korea.”
When asked about the cultures and their similarities and differences, almost all of the interviewees seemed to be of the same opinion in the sense that there aren’t many similarities between the two cultures and that Canada is much more diverse while Korea seems to be mono-ethnic. One Korean interviewee said that Canada doesn’t really have one culture rather various cultures and expressed that this was interesting. One Canadian woman replied that she believes Canadians are more accepting of people of different shapes, sizes, and colours, while Koreans see only one “ideal body” as “beautiful”.
Some Canadian interviewees found the hierarchal system in Korea to be a little frustrating. One interviewee replied:
“I feel like I need to be extra careful when speaking Korean to not accidently offend someone, whether through speaking informally or forgetting to use honorifics, since it is something we do not consider in English. I’m very nervous that I will accidentally offend someone in Korea because I do not know the proper customs, and I too have been caught off guard sometimes when Koreans have spoken to me because it has seemed offensive. However, when I ask others, it seems to just be a culture difference. If I go to Korea, I have to accept this and not let it bother me.”
It is not, however, that the interviewees dislike this system of respect, rather it is difficult for them to adjust to it, since there is no hierarchal system like this in Canada. As this interviewee said, the fear is offending someone when speaking Korean, not that we hate being humble or refuse to adjust to Korean customs.
Another Canadian interviewee expressed his affection for the amount of respect shown in Korean culture:
” Korean culture has a lot of respect. I definitely like the filial piety aspect of the culture. There isn’t a lot of collective unity in Toronto. I cannot speak on behalf of Canada as I’ve only really experienced Ontario.”
Overall I’ve reached the conclusion that Koreans’ views of Canada are pretty positive and Canadians’ views of Korea are also pretty positive. Although most Koreans replied that they chose to study in Canada due to financial reasons, they seem to enjoy it here, although sometimes they may feel a little bored. Most interviewees replied that Canada is a large nation filled with open-minded people who are accepting of foreigners and generally very kind. They also agreed that Canada has a lot of stunning scenery and is quite diverse, also having various ethnic towns people can visit. Canadians found Korea to be more mono-ethnic, however seem to enjoy many things about Korean culture and Korean people. Although many interviewees felt that Koreans are a little too obsessed with 외모 (appearance) and have only one “ideal body” that is considered “beautiful”, they also agreed that Koreans are accepting of “foreigners” learning their language and are very kind and helpful, especially in a formal setting such as a classroom. Canadians’ reasons for studying Korean varied, but included common factors such as Hallyu and finding the language to be beautiful and interesting. The Canadians who visited Korea described it as having a safe and friendly atmosphere and those who haven’t been expressed a strong desire to visit. Both Canadians and Koreans, whether they knew of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Korea or not, agree that it is a wonderful accomplishment and is beneficiary to both countries, and also expressed their hopes and wishes that Canada and Korea continue to have good and strong diplomatic (as well as other) relations with each other. I too hope that Korea and Canada continue to have strong and healthy relations with each other and that Canadians and Koreans continue to visit each other’s countries, study abroad, teach abroad, and continue to be accepting of one another’s cultures.
Thank you to all of my friends who participated in the mini-interviews so that I could acquire the necessary research to write this article.