The Spread of Culture

As embarrassing as it is, there was a time back in 2011 when I would torture my sister by playing Gee by Girls’ Generation in the kitchen. She would complain about listening to a Korean song, and I would jump around, dancing a small part of the choreography until my sister would leave the room, saying something along the lines of “I can’t listen to this Gee Gee anymore!”

At first, I was met with opposition, but the more I showed my family I was serious about this “Korea stuff,” the more they unknowingly became more accepting to Korean culture. My sister still calls T.O.P. from Big Bang “Man Gaga” (because she thinks he’s like Lady Gaga, for some unexplained reason), and she has a few Korean songs on her ipod and even watched an American-Korean hybrid drama called ‘Drama World’. My family has also stopped assuming that every Asian person they see is Chinese, and they’ve become more open-minded to trying Korean food.

This change hasn’t been restricted to just my family. I see that I slowly make an impact on other people who know little about Korean culture as well. Where I live in Texas, there aren’t that many Koreans, so people don’t get opportunities to interact with them and learn about their culture. Even I first got interested in all things Korean due to the internet. But that’s a different story, which you can read here. Although I am by no means an expert on Korea and its culture, I try my best to help others realize that South Korea is more than just the country under North Korea.

The more people I talk to, the less I get “is South Korea the good or the bad country?” I tell my dad’s friend that the Samsung phone he uses is actually a Korean brand. I show pictures of my adventures with Korean friends and retell the funny stories of when there was a cultural difference. It’s the little things I mention that give people a slightly different view of what South Korea is. It makes me happy to know that my experiences in Korea and with friends has helped me show other people a side of South Korea different from the perception that it is  just a place that is in constant fear of being blown off the face of the Earth by its northern counterpart.

Today, my sister started playing Gee by SNSD. I laughed and before I knew it, my sister called me over to read the lyrics along with the song. Although I had forgotten the dance and hadn’t listened to the song in ages, I tried my best to sing the song along with the video. My mom came over and started bobbing her head to the beat. I couldn’t help but think how different this moment was compared to those times in 2011 when my family and everyone around me was so perplexed by my interest in South Korea.

My involvement in learning Korean language and culture has expanded my family and friends’ worldviews in a way I never imagined. Through the little things, I have slowly broadened the mindset of a little part of Texas. I hadn’t realized  how much a simple interest in a culture can affect and help an entire community. Hopefully, as I go on, I will help more people broaden their minds to new cultures.

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Raquel “Rocky” Reinagel is a MA candidate and graduate assistant in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; former president of Hanwoori Hawaiʻi; and Co-President of the Second Language Studies Student Association (SLSSA) at UHM.