Korean Culture And History
In the medical field, there are many different cultures, religions, that you are going to run into that face different beliefs, backgrounds that you may not understand. One example is the Korean culture. Even though a majority of Korean people understand and speak English you also have a few of them that are visiting or older folks that don’t speak the American language. When you run into this situation it is best to get yourself familiar with different cultures around the world because the US has many different cultures and backgrounds, even religious beliefs. The more you familiarize yourself the better off you are not offending someone from a different culture.
“In 1948, Korea was divided at the 30th parallel resulting in what we know of as North and South Korea. While North Korea became a communist country, South Korea became known as the Republic of Korea”. (Hollaway, 2007) In both South and North Korea, they follow Buddhism, and Christianity, and Confucianism. “Buddhism is the religion in Korea with the most followers and its teaching have a great impact on Korean lifestyle, culture, and art. South Korea has been characterized more by the rise of Christianity and Buddhism, while North Korea is considered a secular state”. (Nour, 2019)
Korean is the official language spoken in both South and North Korea. Despite the different dialects in the different areas, the language can be understood by one another. “The Korean language is spoken by over 75 million people, of those 75 million, 48 million live in South Korea and 24 million live in North Korea. More than 2 million live in China, and approximately 1 million live in the United States”. (Martin, 2016) With about 1 Million Korean people that live here in the US, you are bound to run into some patients that may not speak the English language and you will need to learn how to communicate with them. First determining what Asian descent, they are will help you better find someone that speaks their language or even determining what translation language you should be using. As a medical professional you never want to assume what Asian descent, they are because 99% of the time you will get it wrong and will offend them.
In Korean culture, they believe in an ethical code of conduct when it comes to their families. They believe in showing respect to the elders in their family alive or dead, and to other members in their family. Family is the most important thing in their lives and to them, they believe that the father or oldest male, if a father is not present, is the leader in their family. Duty, loyalty, honor, and sincerity is part of their beliefs and as children, young adults, and adults they are always to respect their parents and elders and help them in any way possible. In the Korean culture, you may have noticed that the children stay with their parents even after they become adults, as they believe that it is their duty to care for their elders until the time is right. Usually, this role is for the oldest son, because their daughters will usually move out with their husbands when they get married.
In the Korean family as a sign of respect, when the female is pregnant; they believe in a hierarchical structure on how they announce the pregnancy to the family. In their culture when the women are pregnant, she would first tell her mother-in-law, then her husband and last she would tell her mother. This may be something that we may not understands completely telling certain people in a certain order. Here in the US, there isn’t any particular order on how we announce pregnancies, for us, we tell our mothers first or even our sibling first. This may be something that we see as silly but, in their culture, there is a structure they follow to show respect.
Another tradition that Korean women have when they are pregnant is that they are to be tended by her whole family and her needs are met first before their own. Moms to be are also only required to look at beautiful objects and nothing dead at all because this affects the baby. They believe that when a woman is pregnant that she should not consume any duck because it is believed that if she does her baby will come out with web feet. This may be strange to us as we don’t believe much in superstitions, for us we mainly don’t eat certain foods while pregnant as they are not healthy because they contain too much of some ingredient that is harmful to the baby such as fish for example. Fish has too much mercury and can cause defects in the baby. This is proven by doctors and their studies we don’t just go based off superstitions. “After childbirth Korean women keep the placenta and then burn it, the ashes are kept and used as a powder mixture that they mix with liquid, for a healing position when the child becomes sick.”
Two main rituals the Koreans have when it comes to the birth of a new child and the death of a family member are, when a new child is born, the family would hand either charcoal if it’s a girl or chili peppers if a boy. They would tie each item with a straw rope to announce the birth of the new child but also, they would hang it so that neighbors and friends would stay away for 100 days until the baby was bigger. When it comes to death in the family, it is believed that if the person were to get sick way from their home and die, they would become a wandering ghost. It was then up to the family to go and retrieve said member and take them back home so they wouldn’t become a wandering ghost. Family members are to mourn the dead for up to three years out of respect for the deceased.
This ritual to many may seem weird because we don’t believe or see things, the way the Koreans do, as Americans we are used to having the whole family in the delivery room right after we have our babies. Everyone holds the baby and gives kisses and we constantly have people around us for the first week. Even though we are told by doctors to keep baby inside and away from others until the baby is about three months we don’t really listen because people here in the US still have other kids and have to work so usually the baby is sent to daycares as soon as mom is ready to go back to work. As for death, we view death differently we don’t believe that we will become wondering ghost we just see death as death. Some believe that we will go to heaven or hell, and some believe that there isn’t anything after death. Some believe that we die and we get buried and that’s it nothing more. Everyone has different beliefs and rituals they believe in so just because it’s different than your beliefs we shouldn’t judge or disrespect different cultures.
One thing that we may find similar is food, and how certain foods are used to celebrate holidays during special rituals. In Korean culture one food that is always eaten with every meal is rice, doesn’t matter the day or time, or event. During Korean New Years they have traditional foods that are consumed. Duk Gook is a soup that is usually eaten on New Year’s Day which to the Koreans is celebrated February 16 of every year. Also, another food that is always present is Kimchi which is a Chili picked cabbage? Just like different cultures have specific foods that they eat during certain times of the year the Korean do it as well as their ritual call for it
When working in the medical field, you want to try and be aware of different cultures around us as it will help us to not disrespect anyone. When working patients from all over the world it doesn’t hurt to ask your patient if there are certain guidelines that you have to know prior to treating them. As a medical assistant, if I encountered someone of a different culture, I would be asking my patient what is acceptable for them so that I may not disrespect them. With the Korean culture after learning more about their cultures as a sign of respect, I would bow because that is how they show respect to one another. Also depending on which field, I go to work in it may differ. Korean women back home normally don’t have the husband in the room when they deliver their baby it is normally the mom. Mother in law and a sister that has a child. The way that I would handle a birth situation I would ask the mother who she would like with her in the delivery room. I wouldn’t just assume that the husband would be in the room so asking your patient never hurts you if anything it shows your patient that you have a level of respect towards their culture.
- Hollaway, R. (2007). Learn the Korean Language. Retrieved May 02, 2019, from http://www.learnkoreanlanguage.com/AboutMe.html
- Martin, S. E. (2016, March 11). Korean language. Retrieved May 01, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Korean-language
- Nour, M. (2019, January 13). South Korea: Culture and Tradition. Retrieved April 28, 2019, from https://www.globalizationpartners.com/2017/10/09/south-korea-culture-and-tradition/