Communication differences

Sarangbang members are holding their board with logo of SaRangBang

Sarangbang members are holding their board with logo of SaRangBang

By Yena Hong |Staff Writer|

Communication is one of the biggest problems that many Korean students currently face here at CSUSB.

Through verbal and nonverbal communication, Korean students find it difficult to adjust to the American culture, and may experience culture shock.

One Korean student, Sohyeon Hong, says that the biggest part of culture shock is verbal communication.

She explained that she gets confused with slang language in American culture.

“One of my group members said ‘I am down’ in the class discussion,” said Hong.

“I’ve never heard this expression before, so I guessed she didn’t agree with my opinion […] Because ‘down’ sounds negative for me, but it means that she is fine with my opinion.”

There are some mandatory pre-English classes at CSUSB required for Korean students to help them adapt to the fundamental English language.

These classes include grammar, writing, listening, and speaking English, but sometimes these are not enough to adapt to American university culture.

Another Korean student, Seungkyung Baek, says that English is confusing to Korean students when they communicate with native speakers.

“When I arrived at LAX for the first time, I really wanted to go to the restroom,” said Baek.

“In Korea, we learned that the word ‘restroom’ is the same as the toilet. So I asked someone […] where the toilet is and she laughed because the toilet is usually meaning of a bathroom fixture consisting of a bowl in America,” Baek continued.

Baek added that because the English curriculum in Korea is currently focused on students passing the College Scholastic Ability Test, Koreans only learn the written textbook English while not focusing informal conversation that people use in everyday life.

For example, Baek learned the literal meaning of toilet, and not the native English word restroom, which is commonly used in American culture.

Moreover, non-verbal communication strikes as another challenge for other Korean students.

For example, smiling is naturally one way of greeting in America to say “hello,” even to strangers.

“When I came to America, I was going to the class and the stranger smiled to me,” said a Korean student, Sohyun Jun.

Jun says that this never happens in Korea. If the same situation were to happen in Korea, people living there would think the person is crazy and annoying to them.

Another Korean student, Hyerin An, had a difficult experience in her class regarding non-verbal communication.

“When I was in the class, I experienced culture shock because all of the American students in my class kept eye contact with the professor when they talked with each other,” added An.

She continues that making eye-contact with the professor is disrespectful in Korea. When Korean students get feedback from people who are older than them, they should look down because of the Confucian value.

For those that are unfamiliar with the Confucianism value, it is a system of ethical and social philosophy that one should follow.

Another Korean student had an experience regarding pronunciation issues.

“When I went to the restaurant with American friends and I ordered ‘Coke’ […] they laughed,” said one Korean student, who asked to remain anonymous.

“The word ‘Coke’ and ‘Cock’ have similar pronunciation as like [Ko-K] when I pronounced. It is because the Korean language does not need to care about its pronunciation when it is spoken,” they continued.

In order to help Korean students understand the solutions better, Korean professor, Bomi Hwang, offers advice in the Korean language.

“One of the Korean students came to me to solve his problem,” said Hwang.

“[…] He was still afraid of using English when he enrolled his class, [and] refunded his tuition fee. What he could [do to] solve his problem was finding someone who can support him and he found me,” Hwang continued.

Hwang added that the only thing that she can help Korean students is explaining the procedure using Korean language and it is the biggest and most important thing to adjust in a different culture for Korean student.

Because of traditional culture in Korea, some behaviors and language of American culture can seem to be rude and confusing to Korean students. To make up for the differences, Korean students are constantly working on their English language skill as well as engaging with the campus events and activities.

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