Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Celebrations and Independence

This year July 4th marked the end of exams for my students, and that was about as exciting as it got. In doing a lesson on independence I discovered that Americans are quite a bit more visibly enthusiastic about celebrating independence than the people in my current country of residence. Of course right now I rely solely on the opinions of my students and I won't truly  know until August 15th (Korean Independence Day), but after showing them excerpts of fireworks shows in Boston and New York a consensus formed that nothing like that ever happens in Korea for any holiday.
*Note: I'm asking to be proven wrong. Please, please, please tell me of an event that I can go to in Korea where I will be able to experience the communal excitement of the picnic/bbq/house party/concert/firework/baseball game in some exciting combination.*

The other weekend I got to visit a good friend of mine in Seoul and go to a baseball game with her and her husband. You can see us goofing off and having fun in the picture. The stadium was packed even though it was raining on and off. The fans had choreographed cheers. There was a section that produced a team flag that actually covered that entire section of the stadium. Songs were sung in unison; chants were shaking the stadium; the wave went back and forth in fast and slow motion perfectly synchronized. It was a wonderful experience. And honestly after seeing this amazing display of collectivism I was shocked that nothing like it exists on a national level in celebration of something other than a corporately sponsored sports team. Are Koreans really bigger fans of their sports teams than they are fans of their country? Not sure that I believe that. While they don't seem to be as nationalistic as Bulgarians, Koreans still seem to have a great sense of national identity and pride. So why the lack of show for it? Or substantive show? Am I just missing the way they show their national pride?

I also found it very interesting that a collectivist culture (steeped in communal values and dependent on mutual understanding) would have a void of community events celebrating the largest communal victory: Independence from imperial rule. Each city has a festival celebrating that town, but when I asked about a national celebration only one student (out of several hundred) could think of one, New Year's Eve. But New Year's Eve is a global holiday not a national one. Does NYE bond people together here and provide a sense of community? Maybe, maybe not.

In the few months I've lived here I've noticed an almost co-dependence of societal relationships and that Koreans feel inextricably linked to each other based solely on being Korean. Seeing how these two factors permeate every corner of society  I can't fathom that Koreans don't have a large, celebratory, social holiday that binds them further together in their Korean-ness. I'm baffled and I would love it if anyone could shed further light on this for me!

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