A compilation of articles exploring world and U.S. cultural elements including - but not limited to - language, food, customs, religion, social issues and more.
Every country has a host of social manners and etiquette that contribute to define its culture. This is no exception with South Korea. In fact, the Korean peninsula boasts plenty of these customs. Today, we take a look at some nuanced mannerisms that I’ve observed during my sojourn.
What comes to mind when you hear the term “America”? Is it the country – the US – or the continent? In this piece, we explore how a continent became a country, why “America” is now synonymous with the US, and the ramifications of this peculiar phenomenon for the rest of the continent.
In part II of obscure words you should know, I share 16 more words that resonate deeply with me. Because from time to time, we all need help to convey our overly abstract feelings, thoughts and ideas. Enjoy a worldly journey through the powerful way of words.
Corridos are a narrative style of Mexican music that date back to the Mexican Revolution, in the early 20th century. This genre of music, akin to a ballad, was a way for news of battles and victories to travel from one part of the country to another. Instead of perishing with the war, corridos have evolved over time and adapted to reflect the themes affecting modern life both in Mexico and parts of the US. This style of song remains popular today.
For the blog’s first guest piece, Rob Defina dives into the intricacies of romantic love, S. Korea’s obsession with coupledom, the superficiality that often accompanies these relationships, and SoKo’s conservative take on sex. This marks the beginning of a guest writer series in which a variety of topics will be explored.
Ever find yourself unable to accurately describe an abstract feeling, thought or idea? Rest at ease because there’s a word for that! Today, I share 20 terms for the unspeakable, transient and almost magical. After all, the power of words is undeniable – they can convey profound meaning, inflict great joy and also cause immense pain. Undoubtedly, words play a central role in the fabric of our existences.
The Quinceañera is a Latino rite of passage celebration steeped with rich history, cultural ties and meaning. Families celebrate young girls turning fifteen or “quince” as a symbolic way to escort them into womanhood. Comparable in production and price to weddings, these coming-of-age soirees wouldn’t be possible without the sponsorship of relatives and close family friends. Quinceañeras might have roots in Latin America but Hispanic families keep the tradition alive across the U.S., with an American touch.
Picking up where I left off on my Korean love/hate drama, I voice some annoyances once again. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made great progress in our somewhat tumultuous relationship, but she still continues to irritate me here and there. I understand that my deep-rooted Western outlook is partly responsible for the frustration I sometimes feel. And I’m truly committed to Bae but for now I blow off some steam…
It’s been about 7 months of my teaching adventure in Korea and to celebrate, I am sharing some interesting facts I’ve discovered about Korean schools. The stuff noted here isn’t absolute whatsoever but rather what I have taken away while teaching in a public elementary school. These observations are based on my personal experience. Here are 7 differences between schools in Korea and the U.S.
You’ve heard the old adage: Age is just a number. Whether you agree or disagree with the statement, in Korea, that number is of significant importance. Based on Confucianism ideology, age matters. And it matters a lot in most facets of life, including among a group of friends. Unless two people are the same age, they can’t really be friends. Today, we look at the effects of Korea’s hierarchical culture on friendships.
A growing number of Latinos in the U.S. are being raised in households where only English is spoken. This means that in the decades to come a significant number of Latinos will lose their Spanish-speaking abilities. Spanish fluency loss among Latinos hits close to home. I have friends and relatives that are part of this linguistic shift taking place across the U.S. Furthermore, language, specifically Spanish, is important to me because it means a lot more than using it for the sake of communication. Spanish fluency is about culture, identity and relationships.
I like to pretend that Korea & I are dating seriously. A few weeks ago, I vented and aired her dirty laundry, or what I think are some of her flaws. But being in a healthy relationship entails accepting a person (or a country in my case) for who they are, fully. And sometimes it’s good to focus on their positive qualities rather than dwell on the negative. Although, I haven’t experienced a honeymoon stage with the ROK, there are plenty of aspects that I do enjoy. In the follow up to the love & hate series, I share some of what I deem to be Korea’s virtues…
Welcome to part deux of my observations and interpretations of Korean culture. Hierarchy, collectivism and the hurry, hurry syndrome were explored in the first installment. Those were my initial impressions of Korea, the ones that were hard not to notice. In the months after that post, I have discovered and gained an interest in idiosyncrasies that are a bit more subtle. In this follow up, I talk about Korea’s academic rigor, its drinking culture and obsession with physical appearance.
I knew that living and working in Korea would be a challenge in many ways. When I told people about my plan to live in Korea for a year, I got a lot of puzzled looks. The common response was something like ‘but you’d fit in so much better in Vietnam, Thailand, anywhere in South East Asia.’ And they had a point. My personality would mesh a lot better in a country whose culture is less rigid. But my goals were clear. I wanted to focus on my writing and traveling while earning a decent income that would allow me to do the latter. I’m doing exactly that and it’s totally worth it. Nonetheless, I’ve felt homesick plenty of times. Here are some things that I either dislike about Korea or miss from the US.
When I was growing up in Mexico, my mother made it very clear to my siblings and I that we couldn’t afford everything we asked for. My father lived and worked very hard in the US for half of the year to support our family of 5. Each time my father sent money from the US, my mom used it to pay bills, buy food, clothing, fund our education and so on. Because my mother was good at budgeting and tried to stretch each dollar as much as possible, she had no problem saying ‘No’ to our pleas for toys or gadgets. This situation is a common experience for millions of families all over the world. When an individual from an immigrant community sends money to his or her home country, this transaction can be defined as a remittance. Millions of families’ economic livelihoods depend entirely on remittances.
According to Euromonitor, South Korean women spend more than twice of their income on makeup and beauty products than American women. And the men don’t fall behind. South Korean men spend more on skincare products than men in any other country. No wonder South Korea boasts a 10 billion dollar beauty industry. To better understand Korea’s beauty obsession, I explore how mainstream culture and the Hallyu Wave promote Korea's beauty obsession.
In the US, the terms ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ are used interchangeably to refer to specific ethnic groups. But do you know the difference? More importantly, is there a difference? If so, which term is politically correct (as in which label do these communities prefer)? Where did these terms originate from and why do they matter? As a Mexican-American, I belong to these umbrella terms and I confess that at one point in time I didn’t know or care about the difference between these words. This topic is more relevant than ever before since 54 million Americans, about 17% of the overall population, trace their roots to Latin America or Spain. In today’s blog post, I provide my humble perspective and answer these questions.
One of the many reasons that attracted me to South Korea is the prevalence of Buddhism. In a country of about 50 million inhabitants, 18% of the population identifies as practicing Buddhists. Although Buddhism is not the current most popular religion, the influence of this faith is still an important part of Korean culture. Recently, I had the honor of experiencing Daegu’s Dalgubeol Lantern Festival, which celebrates Buddha’s Birthday.
I’ve been exposed to Korean culture for a couple of months now and during this time, I’ve noticed certain qualities that are a stark contrast from American or Mexican cultures. Before getting on a plane to Korea, I did research on the country’s history and culture to gain basic knowledge of the new place I’d call home. Collectivism, Confucianism, nationalism and hierarchy are some of the words that can sum up this fascinating country. Since living here, these seemingly abstract notions have become my new reality. Before, I had an intellectual grasp of these ideas but witnessing them firsthand has led to greater understanding. In this post, collectivism, hierarchy and the hurry, hurry syndrome are explored. It should be noted that these observations are my mere perceptions and interpretations.
It’s been only three weeks since I’ve been in Korea but it feels like months. It must be due to the fact that so much has happened in the last 20+ days. I left home sweet home Chicago, flew halfway across the world, had an intense but rewarding week-long orientation, arrived at my new apartment in Daegu, met my school staff and started teaching! Just the way I like to live my life – as productively as possible.
Have you heard of the Grandmother Hypothesis? According to the theory, grandmothers have played an essential role in helping increase human longevity. How? Because they were able to take care of their offsprings’ growing kids while the mothers cared for the younger children. This system of productivity or what we call an extended family provided an evolutionary advantage to humans. Basically, you should call and thank your granny for their essential role in evolution and life expectancy. How cool huh? I like this hypothesis because it speaks to the importance of old folk.
People with the ability to speak more than one language have long been subject to scientific research in the area of brain function. Many conclusions have been drawn including that being bilingual is associated with greater thinking flexibility, can delay the onset of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and allows one to communicate and understand the world from a different perspective. These are only some of the benefits of speaking more than one language. Interestingly, recent research suggests that bilingual and multilingual speakers behave differently depending on which language they speak.
To properly say farewell to both Halloween and Día de los Muertos, I’m dedicating this entry to some spooky cuentos and leyendas I grew up with. Since Latin culture doesn’t view death as a final step, rather a transitory stage to the eternal world, we tend to have an odd relationship with the spiritual realm. Paranormal and supernatural happenings are commonly accepted as everyday life. So, stories of ghost appearances, spirits, duendes, Santeria and Voodoo rituals, and scary ass tales are common for most Latinos and also believed to some extent. Whether we choose to dive deep into the rabbit hole or not, Latin culture instills in us an intrinsic understanding and appreciation for the spiritual world. Here are three of the most popular tales or leyendas throughout Latin America:
Have you ever heard of the “American Dream”? It’s the notion that any one person can make it in America regardless of origins or social class. That if one works hard enough, one has a fair shot at achieving prosperity and success or upward social mobility. I’ll be honest, I lean more towards the skeptic and some may say cynic view of the “American Dream”. Yes, we hear of the incredible and moving stories in which people with little to no resources move to the States and achieve greatness through hard work and dedication. But I would venture to say that for every one of these stories, we don’t hear of the thousands that didn’t “make it”. The people that work tirelessly but such efforts don’t yield results worthy of calling it the American Dream. What I’m saying is that I don’t solely believe in meritocracy, I believe chance, luck, circumstances and connections also play a significant role in our lives. However, I must admit that I am a walking example of the American Dream...
Throughout time, civilizations ranging from ancient Egypt, to China, to Mexico, have created ways of coming to terms with death. Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is an essential part of the Mexican identity, with its origins fusing pre-Columbian indigenous rituals and European Catholic beliefs. This holiday is neither morbid nor macabre, rather it is a celebration of remembrance that acknowledges death as a natural part of the human experience. Día de los Muertos originated in Mexican folklore tradition and aims to honor the life + memory of loved ones that have passed away. During November 1–2, family members gather to pray and pay tribute to departed family members. Day of the Dead is also meant to bring hope by providing a way to cope with our own impending mortality. Read on to find out the true meaning behind Day of the Dead (it has nothing to do with Halloween).
I am inherently interested in race, ethnicity, cultural differences and social issues related to the Hispanic community due to my Mexican background. During my undergraduate years, I studied what it means to be a Latino in the U.S. and how identities of Latino-Americans are formed. I was fascinated! I gained an academic understanding of why people of Latino descent feel and think the way they do, myself included. I remember sitting in my LALS 103 (Introduction to Latino Urban Studies) class, absorbing and identifying with the complexities of being a Latino or “minority” in the U.S. I felt that my own feelings, doubts and frustrations were voiced. And there was plenty of credible research behind it! I felt empowered. One of the major reasons why is started this blog is to explore the curiosity and passion I feel for such topics. In this post, I turn the spotlight around – What does it mean to be Caucasian or White in the U.S.?
The charismatic Pope Francis paid a historic visit to the U.S. last week for the first time since he’s held office and people reacted with a case of Popemania. Although El Papa is the reigning leader of the Catholic Church and I do not consider myself very religious, rather culturally Catholic, I cannot help but feel an affinity to this Pope’s outspoken and unapologetic beliefs, deemed “radical” by some critics. And I am not alone. He is wildly popular. In his short 2+ years as head of the Papacy, he’s garnered plenty of attention, both positive and negative, but it’s undeniable that he’s injecting fresh energy to a very stale and dull institution.
I recently ventured to Avondale to explore Joong Boo Market and get my fix on authentic Korean grub. Located in the northwest side between Kimball and Avondale, the Korean grocery store + restaurant easily met and exceeded my expectations. First of all, they have a dumpling stand outside which sells massive buns for $2 apiece. This is my kind of deal! They offer pork, spicy kimchi with pork and red bean fillings. Sadly, I was too excited eating the tasty snacks and forgot to snap pics.