Korean Unmasked: Driven People

I am writing in summary some highlights from the book I read about South Korean’s culture entitled Korean Unmasked.  Because I am interested with the Korean culture, I find a lot of things and details about this country amazing.   I have shared to a lot of friends about this interest and how I am envious of South Korea now.   I always get feedback like I am one victim of the Korean Wave.  Maybe it’s true but seriously it goes beyond the Korean music that I have listened to or the dramas that I have watched.   Ultimately, I just don’t know why people can’t seem to understand how truly inspired I am learning through reading the struggles that the South Koreans had to endure to be where it is right now.  It’s a feat that every 3rd world country should be aspiring — to be one of the biggest economies in the world. Reading little by little their culture gives me an idea on how they made it.

If you have been watching Korean TV shows, movies or dramas, you would consistently encounter the ‘I can be better by working hard’ attitude.   Just by watching singers who won on music chart countdowns or music awards deliver their speeches, apart from thanking the audience or their fans, about 9 out of 10 said they will continue to improve and give their best.  I thought this is some kind of a canned speech but watching other documentary programs over Arirang, I realized that even those who have brought fame to their country by sports,  fashion or product recognition say the same thing. They will work harder to improve their craft, skills or product.   I may be wrong, but I think, Koreans are never complacent.    They don’t stop on just being able to eat three times a day.

The book in gist, tells its readers that the pains and suffering brought about by wars between China and Japan made South Korea stand on its own and protect the nation from losing their own identity.  The wars brought hunger to them, something that most of South Korean would never want to experience once more, so they work not just hard but harder.  I guess this is where the ‘I can do better’ attitude came from.  In one of the talks that I have attended to on Megatrends in Telecommunications (South Korea along with Japan is one of the biggest telco markets in Asia), one of the speakers mentioned that South Korea lives with the objective of bettering Japan.  This may have been a sweeping generalization but I find it good more than bad.  If you are driven by passion to be better if not at par with someone who is best in its class, it’s not bad at all.  I think this is the essence of benchmarking – an activity that became a best practice in a lot of industries.  It allows you to continually improve by measuring yourself with the best, average and lowest in class.  If South Korea is benchmarking itself with Japan who became synonymous to ‘Quality’ not just in Asia but in the world, then they are likely bringing themselves into the right part of the Pareto of great economies.

The book highlights how South Koreans value education.  The competitiveness starts as early as the learning years.  A good job or decent job awaits someone who has good education.  So aside from sending their kids to school, they also send them to afterschool tutoring programs like English lesson, Piano lesson, Computer lesson etc.  In fact, these extracurricular activities and special lessons are fast becoming a part of a South Korean student life and a source of income for ‘experts’ on fields.  Parents to some extent (if able) would send their kids to foreign schools.   The author thinks this is actually part of their ‘extreme’ character.  I’ll probably have to write a separate post on how passionate or extreme Koreans are.

In terms of politics and government, South Koreans take pride of being part of the public service sector.  There is a certain respect for someone who works for public service.  Graft and corruption exists but it’s something which may cause an accused to take his life.  I think this is a pain point that some South East Asian countries like Philippines (my homeland), Thailand and Indonesia are experiencing.  People take or run for government post to rake money.  I am not sure how government people in South Korea are compensated but I guess they are at a stage where there are a significant number of good people who serve the government with true public service and good governance values in mind.  I think this is very important because not everyone can be a CEO, Manager or Supervisor of a company or a conglomerate.  People have to find fulfillment by working in a government with a clear vision of its success, a vision that goes beyond just a slogan–something that they are set and working arduously to achieve.

Being in a 3rd world country, I also hope that one day my homeland can be an economic power in Asia just like South Korea.  I know our country has the potential and it’s just a matter of some ‘social awakening’ for this to happen. It’s really tiring to hear ‘fight graft and corruption’ campaign from the government, its about time to move –really move forward.

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2 thoughts on “Korean Unmasked: Driven People

  1. 안녕! I really like your post! I definitely agree that Korea has very driven and passionate people who always strive for the best. I feel that part of this, in addition what you mentioned, is that their culture is transforming so quickly, and they are constantly feeling that becoming greater and more recognized in the world is within their reach. It’s mindblowing how much the country has changed. My mom is from Busan, and when she sees pictures, she gets “scared” of how different it looks. It’s kind of good and bad, I suppose. I hope the people of Korea never lose their traditional culture, and I hope they don’t push themselves so hard that all they see is money and fame. I think now is a good time for them, because they seem to have fame, but are still modest about it. That’s one of the things that attracts me to the country.
    Because of my interest in Korea, I’ve become interested in Southeast Asia too! I think your country will also bloom and become famous! One thing that is amazing about SE Asia is the natural beauty of the environment, and I hope your country will be able to find a nice balance of growth and preservation. 화이팅!

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