It was a balmy spring day when I got back to my hometown for vacation and met Will, an Indian businessman touring Korea for the third time. As a teenage English tour guide, I enthusiastically introduced Gyeong-bok Palace, the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty in Seoul, to the curious businessman. My unforgettable moment started when he complimented on how detailed and coherent my presentation. Soon, I asked him “I’m very impressed it is your third time visiting Korea. How do you like my country? What brings you here so often?” It was a very typical but an effective ice-breaker I employed with most of the visitors. However, his answer was not a typical one, but struck home, deep in my heart. “Yes, I love Korea. I love Korean culture such as K-Pop, and the way people here treat me. But every time I come here,” He continued, “I keep wondering why people here are often very hostile or even apathetic to certain cultures. They seem to be very global and but also extremely reclusive, both at the same time. They exuberate with I-Phones and Jazz Pop, but rule out Islam or South East Asian cultures as unacceptable. It is very ironic and interesting.”
As I heard Will’s comments, I came to realize that we, Koreans, do indeed, lived in a closed world, often lacking open-mindedness. While we praise I-Phones for enabling communication between people who are far apart, we often judge people with different social backgrounds based on what is portrayed of them on the media, without trying to truly understand others.
Finding myself lack of open-mindedness, I immediately stood up and acted out to increase understanding in various cultures. My first action was a special project called “The Asia Project – Enlightening the Global Mind’ in a school newspaper club. The ultimate goal of this proposal was to expand awareness of the cultures that Korean are unfamiliar with, and to educate our peers as to why it was important to respect and accept others as they are, without discriminating them for being different. I started to interview various people who had been mistreated because of their social backgrounds, such as women from multicultural families and North Korean refugees. I also wrote articles for the school newspaper about the unique cultural characteristics of such individuals, to encourage my classmates to learn about diversity and prevent bias. My second attempt was to join The Asia Institute, a pan-Asian research institute, as an intern, which enabled me to create student-organized seminars and interviews. After learning about the special characteristics and potential of Asia, I eventually came to appreciate the uniqueness and diversity of people all around the world, and my fascination about various cultures has become unstoppable since then. I’m constantly trying to embrace various voices by interviewing foreign visitors and authorities in order to be widen my definition of cultural awareness.
Will impacted me in various ways, from the way I view the world to how I interact with people around me. After I realized how important it is to acquire correct knowledge followed by assertive action, I became eager to learn more about a broad spectrum of cultures, trying to avoid any form of bias that may lead to misunderstanding. I do believe that such an attitude will enable me to be open to various cultures of people wherever I go and develop true relationships with individuals driven by the same goals.