The Words of the Schell Family

Korean Attitudes

Ralph Schell
May 6, 1999

We get the Today's World quite a bit later than in the US but one thing has really been of help to me to understand some of the fundamental differences in attitude between Koreans on the one hand and Westerners (in the articles posted the reference is made to Americans) on the other is the following: there were articles by a sister Lynne Kim who relates of her experiences in Korea itself, including all the culture shock she had gone through on seeing Koreans act, well, Korean.

My wife (who is Japanese) also has similar experiences with us as Lynn's husband has with her. And fortunately in that country for Koreans to act Korean is not at all a problem, also not for the children, as the education system is geared to deal with the children in the proper manner, thus complementing the education at home.

Coming to the Netherlands I've seen my wife continue her tendencies to educate her children according to the old ways. Unfortunately in this country the system doesn't work with her to slap the children into line, so I have to be exceptionally stern and strict to make up the difference. In her country kiddies are left pretty much to their own devices until the age of seven, when they head off to school and get slapped into line by the school itself. Here the practice is to get it into them before the age of seven, as the school will "unlearn" all the things the parents have taught. I think sometimes the issues get confused a bit, what may initially be a difference in cultural/educational stances is, by failure in communication, put down to fallen nature. In an outside company there is none of this underlying religious connotation and people would definitely have another go at getting the message across.

Actually there are many courses in management and communication skills given in the outside world, because even in the same language and culture people come from a variety of different backgrounds and levels in society. Just to deal with these a person definitely needs great skills of communication. If we stack on top of that cultural differences it will make the job even harder, so the skills and understanding need to be even greater. Place on top of that 'good and evil', 'Cain and Abel', principles of restoration and basically you got a formula for all hell to break loose....

In many cases leaders and members are in such positions that many of them are *not* exposed very much to the world outside. In my time in the US (1980-1984) I saw many an instance in which there were whole departments of e.g. Japanese working in an office out of the New Yorker and not having to deal with anyone else but the internal staff, all of which came from the same nation. In this case they kept to themselves and did not mingle even with the other nationalities within the Church. This is probably the most extreme case but I believe for Orientals to really get to understand the culture here they really need to be exposed to outside people and have to deal with them on a regular basis, without any reference to religion which can often confuse the matter of having to deal with a new culture.

Being on the front line for many a year I *had* to deal with these issues, even though I myself had an Australian upbringing. Even though I thought I had an advantage in the language department, that was not actually so. I had to re-learn everything again, words that I was accustomed to in one definition actually had a totally different connotation in the States. So I learned to ask for the deeper meaning of the words initially spoken, so as to make sure that *I* understood what the other person was saying to me, not just taking it at face value (or 'straight off the bat' ). It got me into trouble sometimes but it was always worth the effort.

So eventually it boils down to who is actually more a world citizen than the other. No-one needs to de-Koreanize, de-Japanify or de-"anything". What people need to do is, as in my case, above and beyond that what they have learnt so far, to accustom themselves to a new manner of thinking, speaking, behavior, etc. etc. That's something they could well learn from us, especially those who have done that before them. They will only accept this from us if we show good faith from our side and a basic willingness to work together and co-operate. And understand that, as always, translation from East to West loses a great deal of its original content and meaning (about 2/3 as a rough estimate).

A good example of this is a recent occurrence in my own family. My daughter sprained her foot while in PE classes. They dealt with the matter adequately but failed to notify me at work. I came home to see my daughter in a great deal of pain. I quickly settled with that, having elementary first aid experience. I tried to get some story from my wife but it was not very clear what had happened. I called the school for clarification and got it, so I thought. I later brought up the issue at a PTA meeting, and was severely trounced for bringing up personal matters in a general meeting and that for individual matters I had to speak with the teachers at school.

So I called the headmistress again. In the course of our talks I realized I'd completely misunderstood one Dutch word and placed a completely wrong connotation on it. As a noun it meant unskilled (lay) person, as a verb it was the past tense of the verb to seem. So I thought they were a bunch of yahoo's while they said it did not *seem* broken (in reference to my daughter's ankle). On top of that they'd first dealt with my wife and left her to deal with me. So about 1/3 of the story got across to her and, of that, a further 1/3 was relayed to me, so I figured I understood about 10% of the whole deal and therefore called the school the next day. They agreed to speak to me straight away in my own language (Dutch) at work, if necessary, about things of importance relating to my children... So both examples of misunderstanding were here, my own lack of command of my mother tongue (having had to learn it from the age of 15 onwards) and the double East-West language barrier with its misunderstandings.

So I myself would only have one request of those exasperated (yet again) with Koreans, Japanese, or other nationalities other than one's own: Just take a step back and a very deep breath, then step forward and ask them what they *really* meant - especially at a quiet time... Also it might be good to let them repeat the issue several times at different meetings, usually they'll put the wording differently each time so the issue itself becomes clearer and more defined with each iteration. The same usually works in math, so it should be the same in this case.

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