[Letters] Learning to solidify our own culture

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[Letters] Learning to solidify our own culture

In late May, Korea and the United States celebrated their 60-year alliance, a relationship that emerged from the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. During the initial stages the relationship was very much one-sided as the United States focused on helping Korea recover from the war and modernize.

But in recent decades, Korea and the United States have both enjoyed a beneficial, cooperative partnership. Aside from the military alliance, the two countries trade imported goods worth billions of dollars each year. As such, the 60-year alliance was understandably celebrated with great fanfare and a meeting between President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama.

However, what’s often overlooked is the cultural impact the relationship has had on Korea. Because Korea looked to the United States as a socioeconomic model in the 20th century during its stages of development, the Western influence has been dominant. McDonald’s and Starbucks are wildly popular. English words are integrated into everyday conversations. Studying abroad in the United States is the norm for many families. In a sense, Korean society and its people have developed a reverence for all things American.

When I walked into a smoothie store, the windows featured images of Western people enjoying the smoothies with speech bubbles that said “delicious!” and “awesome!” The menu was full of English words and even the lettering on the pastries was in English. When I asked one of the staff members why the store’s theme was heavily immersed in English, I was told that it gives a sense of classiness, respect and luxury.

American influence has, in effect, thrown Korea’s identity, in the form of its culture and values, into chaotic disarray. Our obsession with America embraces the underlying assumption that Korea and its culture are inferior; as seen in the aforementioned smoothie advertisement, Korean words are simply not good enough.

No one can deny the United States has been a critical factor in the globalization and supreme growth of Korea. But there comes a time when one must learn to stand on their own feet and realize that the crutches they held on for so long are now actually holding them back. Korean culture is unique and extremely rich, stretching back over thousands of years. Instead of borrowing from the United States, Korea must learn to solidify and preserve its own culture.

by Eldo Kim, Student at Harvard University
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