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Question about "seniority" among Koreans

crewpanda22
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Question about "seniority" among Koreans

Postby crewpanda22 » July 2nd, 2009 1:03 am

Hi everyone,

I'm not sure if this has been discussed so far, but I'll ask my question anyway.

So I understand the differences in the language (informal, standard politeness, etc...) and how that applies based on age. But how does this translate into social situations? To elaborate, my Korean friends at the university have many older Koreans in our department who they hang out with, they refer to them as their 'seniors'. It seems as though whenever their seniors ask them to do something, they cannot say no.

Why is this? Is it just another form of respect for Koreans who are older than them?

This seems a little odd to me and I am only curious because my friends will cancel plans they have previously made with me and others for their seniors (even when they call out of nowhere). I guess it seems odd that they don't (can't?) say to them "Sorry but I have already made plans with so-and-so..."

I'm looking forward to understanding this a little better....

matthew254
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Postby matthew254 » July 2nd, 2009 3:21 am

a great observation crewpanda22!

here's a few blog entries that might help to explain this. here's one on politeness levels, Korean age, and kinship terms. These hopefully will lead you in the right direction. Essentially, the whole 선배/후배 relationship is deep-rooted in Confucianism. The social relationship is hierarchical and hard to argue with.

Like you, in the American context, whether someone is a freshman, senior, old, young is of no consequence to me. But in the Korean context, it's no small potatoes.

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austinfd
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Postby austinfd » July 2nd, 2009 5:06 pm

matthew's explanation is already great, but I'll add a few thoughts.

A big part of what bonds Koreans to each other is a shard experience. In particular school, army service (for men) and work. The fact that there is a whole set of different names for these relationships (친구, 선배 (후배), 형) mean they matter - BIG TIME.

Koreans have a hard time refusing invitations from anyone in a "higher" status than they are. This goes for 선배, but also for your boss. When there is a company dinner, or outing, there is a strong expectation that you will show up. In school your 선배 is a little different from just an older friend. (Arguably you *can't* have older friends when you are Korean). 선배 is someone who has gone before you. They know what you are experiencing an what you will face; they share part of your story because they went to the same school.

Age trumps a lot of things in Korean culture....

And, FWIW 선배 shares part of the same root as 선생님. The 선 is the same, meaning something like "coming before." And teachers of course command a lot of respect in Korean culture. I'm not sure that Koreans are consciously relating 선배 and 선생님 but the language nerd in me suggests that the deeper meaning is part of the cultural usage of those words.
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crewpanda22
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Postby crewpanda22 » July 2nd, 2009 6:23 pm

Thanks Matthew and Austin!

Yeah I understood a bit about 형, 오빠, etc. but I wasn't quite sure how that translates to social situations.

Personally, it just seems a little rude to blow off someone you've already made plans with because your senior asks you to do something, but that is obviously a cultural difference.

~Amanda

manyakumi
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Postby manyakumi » July 3rd, 2009 6:47 am

Korean society still has kind of totalitarianism.
You might have seen before the crowd of "The Red Devil" in red T-shirts when 2002 Worldcup games were held.

There is a saying in Korea which represents this idea of Korean totalitarianism very well.

"모난 돌이 정 맞는다"
Sharp-Edged stones are easy to be knocked by a chisel.

The main idea of Korean society is not based on a stand-alone-culture but on the live-together-culture.
They had been socialized not being special in their community.
Being special or different from others is the same word with being no longer a part of the community.
Little bit exaggerated though, it's true that they hate someone who tends to be different with others.

That's the reason why they can't say 'no' to their 'a link to the society' which are called as 선배.

Alexis
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Postby Alexis » July 27th, 2009 9:32 am

LOL. Because of this group mentality, I often think I'd be a mega outcast in Korean society had I stayed and grown up there. I think so individually, that maybe it's a good thing I got sent out of the country! :? :wink: :P
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manyakumi
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Postby manyakumi » July 27th, 2009 10:19 am

Alexis wrote:LOL. Because of this group mentality, I often think I'd be a mega outcast in Korean society had I stayed and grown up there. I think so individually, that maybe it's a good thing I got sent out of the country! :? :wink: :P


Yeah, maybe that's true.
It's so hard to be adapted to Korean society not only for adoptees but also for the long-term-study-abroad students who went abroad when they were teenagers.
I saw a few cases like this, which made me feel shame on those.

:(

xflibble
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Postby xflibble » August 4th, 2009 2:56 am

I assume this is a factor in Koreans of the same age seeming to bond really quickly - Not having all of the social pressure of different-status relationships would be a lot more comfortable.

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