Nature of Culture

Our adoption journey is now five years old. A drop in the bucket, I know, yet so many things have changed in those five years. In April 2006, we were beginning our home study, preparing for our parents-in-process classes, being fingerprinted, and gathering lots of paperwork, all while dreaming of the little guy who became our son on paper on March 30 of that year. When we started our process, we’d never heard the Korean language, much less spoke any; we’d never eaten Korean food; and we had no clue about Korean TV or music. In short, the things that fill our days now were not even on our radar’s then.

We were about three weeks into our process when we had our PIP class and began learning about the importance of embracing our son’s birth culture. And we took those lessons to heart; within a month we’d eaten Korean food and found someone to begin teaching us the language.

But looking back I have to admit that even then I didn’t completely comprehend what “culture” was. Like many parents, I think I fixated on culture from a historical context. Yes, food was important, as was etiquette and understanding common courtesies, but at that point I didn’t think at all in terms of pop culture.

In the last year, my thoughts on J learning Korean culture have shifted. It started with last year’s World Cup and Big Bang’s Shouts of Reds victory song. We already knew that the whole country of South Korea gets behind its World Cup teams because we’ve been soccer fans for several years. But as we watched the games and read stories from South Korea, we better understood that the World Cup experience (including the various victory songs and dances, the red shirts, bandanas, and scarfs) was part of the country’s national consciousness.

That message has been reiterated twice more since then. First at a Chuseok celebration we attended at a local Korean church last September. The teens did a dance that had been made popular by a Korean pop group, and almost everyone in the audience knew the dance. The second instance happened recently while we were at a culture day camp put on by a local Korean American Student Association. J was drawing pictures of Big Bang while we wanted for the other kids to arrive. And when the college students saw what he was doing they began playing Big Bang music on the computer and later one played part of a Big Bang song on the piano. Big Bang is big in South Korea right now and, like them or not, if you live there or are of Korean descent you probably know who they are.

Not really so different from living in the U.S. While I don’t listen to Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, or Katy Perry (we’re listening to Big Bang), I know who they are. TV shows, movies, actors/actresses, music, and books are part of our national consciousness.

So now I feel that these pop culture experiences are of equal importance to the historical culture, etiquette, and common courtesies when it comes to teaching J about the South Korean culture. If J only learns about Korean drumming, wearing hanboks, and traditional games, there will be a hole in his understanding of Korean culture. Thanks to his Big Bang obsession, hopefully when he’s older he’ll be able to talk to others of Korean descent about the Korean music scene. (He’s saying he’s ready to branch out and listen to more than Big Bang, but no girl groups, please. Yuck! –Remember he’s 5.) And we’re already lining up Korean dramas that will be age-appropriate for him once he starts to read (or understand more of the Korean language).

I realize that not all adoption sending countries have a thriving pop culture, though I suspect most countries have some forms of pop culture. But South Korea does, and it’s easily accessible in the U.S. And now I think we’d be missing an important part of embracing the Korean culture if we ignored the pop culture aspect. Fortunately we love it. But love it or not, when we adopted J, I believe we adopted his heritage and his culture too.

Will knowing about music, movies, shows, and actors automatically allow J to fit in if/when he returns to Korea someday? Of course not, but it’s another piece of the puzzle that is parenting a transracial international adoptee.

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My Korean Culture Blog

Just a reminder that if you want to learn more about Korean culture (both traditional and pop culture), language resources, and cooking, check out my other blog: thekoreanway.wordpress.com It's filled with resources for adoptive families or anyone interested in Korean culture.

Favorite Korean Movies-TV Shows

Be Strong, Geum-Soon
Please Teach Me English
Spy Girl
Tae Gu Ki
2009 Lost Memories

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2worlds1familyblog at gmail dot com

It’s a Small World After All

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