13 October 2013
Wendy in South Korea I hosted an exchange student from South Korea my senior year in high school. Even though she lived with me for ten months, I only learned about her through her living with me. In hopes to further my knowledge about the customs in South Korea, I asked my exchange student, Wendy, if I could learn a bit more about her and her family. I focused on the not only the meals in Korea, but also societal aspects like schooling and the life of Korean culture. South Korea is eleven hours ahead of us, so in order to observe a traditional family dinner at eight o’clock at night, I had to be awake at seven in the morning here.
When Wendy first turned on the Skype camera, there was a surplus of food on the table. Only four people lived in the house, grandma, dad, mom, and Wendy, and there were eleven different dishes on the table. Nobody sat down to eat until all of the food was placed on the table. When all of the food was placed and the whole family was seated, the oldest person took the first bite of food, then everybody else could eat. Unlike here in America, the South Koreans don’t use plates unless they have a guest at their table. Instead, they all eat out of the same bowls or dishes that the food was served in. Similar to America, they wore jeans and a shirt when eating; they didn’t wear any fancy clothing. Since most of foods take more than an hour to make, they usually cook them for dinner and for the following morning. This means that they make more than they actually eat for dinner, and just reheat the dishes up in the morning. Some of the dishes that the family had included Bap & Guk, which was boiled brown rice and seaweed soup with beef. This is a common dish when it’s somebody’s birthday. Another type of food they had was Mae Sil Jang a Ji. This is dried Japanese apricot with sugar. This dish tends to be both sweet and sour and you have to have an acquired taste to be able to eat a serving. Bae Chu Kim Chi, otherwise known as just Kim Chi, is something that is known here in the United States. Kim Chi is cabbage that is covered in red pepper paste, sealed, and put somewhere dark for a few months in order to marinate. I was shocked with the amount of food that was on the table. The only time I have ever seen so much food in one place at one time is during a Thanksgiving meal. In comparing some of the customs from South Korea with America, the first difference I noticed was the plating. Here, we each get our own plate regardless of whether we have guests or not. In Korea, they don’t even sit down at the table until everything is prepared and presented. At my house, everyone sits down at the dinner table and the person who made the food makes each plate and presents it to each guest. The person who made the food makes his plate last. We say grace before eating and Wendy’s family does not. We do not have an order in which we eat. As soon as grace is said, we all dig in. Whereas, in South Korea, they have to wait until the eldest person takes the first bite. I thought this was crazy. I could not believe the dishes that were on the table. Some of the things that were on the table I wouldn’t even feed to my dog. Who would eat seaweed soup? I understand that they added brown rice and beef to that particular dish, but I would never eat seaweed. Even though this was a popular dish on someone’s birthday, I know I would not want that for my birthday. Another dish that is popular for birthdays is Gon Yak Jo Rim which is yak’s tongue. Some of the things they ate looked appealing until you found out what was in them. It seemed as though they either had red pepper paste or spicy mustard in all of their dishes and some of them were made of animals I would never believe they ate. After watching the family eat dinner, I decided to ask Wendy some questions about the Korean lifestyle. The first question I asked was about her schooling. I