Engaging Korean Culture: When “Slowly But Sure” Meets “Bballi Bballi”

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Time flies so fast. It has been more than one year since I came to this Land of the Morning Calm for the first time in my life. I have never imagined before that South Korea would be the country where I could finally bring my dreams into reality: studying and living abroad, learning the new culture, and making new friends from all over the world.

I feel so lucky and blessed because I could go to Korea when this country was rising in its popularity, becoming the center of attention among all other countries in the world. Korea has influenced the world through its culture and arts, especially movies and music. Who never heard about Gangnam Style, the Korea’s most popular song in 2012? Furthermore, the rapid development in communication and information technology has also  impressed so many people in the world, through the market expansion of Samsung and Lucky Goldstar (LG)’s smart mobile technology.

Engaging Korean Culture

Several months living in Seoul, I realized that everything seems running so fast in Korea. Season changed so fast as this country has been naturally endowed with four seasons in a year that impacts on the rapid change in people’s dressing habits. They should change their appearances regularly, wearing different clothes and shoes in order to live well during four different seasons: winter-spring-summer-fall. The rapid change in technology has also affected the people’s lifestyle. They could get the latest information from the world’s fastest internet connectivity and purchase the most recent gadgets. Moreover, I also observed one more “rapid thing” in Korea during spending times together with Korean friends: they finished their eating so fast! I was always left behind when we were having lunch together in cafeteria. Not only they eat fast, but they also walk and work fast. I have finally realized that Korean people like to do everything fast, as reflected in their slogan: bballi bballi.

This “culture” has challenged me a lot! Growing in a small town at the central region of Java Island, Indonesia was the reason of big challenge I have to face now in Korea. In contrast to bballi bballi, native people of Java have one strong tradition in doing everything slowly. They like to speak-walk-eat-and-work slowly. Some people even think when they speak slowly, it will sound more polite. They would rather doing something “slowly but sure” than “quickly but careless”. Many believe that achieving goal is the most important one, regardless of how they reach it: slowly or quickly. This culture difference was the reason why I should went through some tough times in the beginning of my study here. One day, one of Korean elder brother told me, “If you work slowly, people will think you are a lazy person.” What a challenge!

When my advisor moved to Canada on December, 2012, he asked me to work double-harder as he would not supervise me directly. Actually, this situation had been another challenge for me because we were going to have long distance communication since that day on. I should be more pro-active, work more independently, and effectively manage my times, not only for research work, but also for learning Korean language and culture. I cannot just wait for orders and commands from my advisor. Since there are so many things to do and to learn, I cannot work slowly if I want to pursue success in this country. One day in his lecture my advisor said to the students, “Even though your advisor does not explicitly ask you to study, you should have known that you have to study by yourselves.” After all, this bballi bballi culture has been a stepping stone for me to develop myself better and to reach the higher goals in life, eventhough everything was not easy at the first time.

This essay has been awarded in the University of Science and Technology (UST) Essay Contest 2013. Submitted on October, 31 and declared as the second winner on November, 13.

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