R E S P E C T
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R E S P E C T
  • GLOBE
  • 승인 2019.07.08 17:18
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R E S P E C T


On the first day of the new semester I begin the class by writing my name, Paul, on the board in big black letters. Every semester I tell my students to call me by my first name, but every semester students address me as Professor, Teacher, or “Professor Paul” – even though I tell them I am not a professor. I am always curious about where this inability to refer to me by my first name comes from. It seems to be deeply rooted in Korean culture and, even though I really admire the respect shown to me, I wonder if it is a double edged sword. The reverence shown by young people in
Korea is in stark contrast to how young people in the west interact with those older than them. The belief in western countries is respect is earned and not automatically given. You must show you are worthy of respect by being respectful to everyone, regardless of their age or status. When I tell my students this they are amazed that such a culture could exist because it is so different from their own. Here in Korea one of the first questions a person might ask is “How old are you?” The purpose of the question is to find out the person’s age so they can talk to them using the appropriate tone
and vocabulary; if the person is older they must use formal, polite language ending every sentence with “요” or “니다”. However, this would be a very rude and impolite question to ask someone in the west as it could be seen as ageist, a term that probably doesn’t even exist in the Korean language. I was once told that 선생님 means “a person who is older than me” and that this phrase is used to show the upmost respect to someone. I am honored to be addressed in such a way but I am surprised young people seem to accept the status quo with little to no resistance. When I ask my students their opinions about having to be so respectful to people older than them I do hear a slight tone of resentment in their voices. When I push the topic further students open up to me and offer examples of when they feel obliged to be respectful even though they are not shown the same, or even any, respect in return. The same was felt by American youth in the 1960’s, which led to them rebelling and creating the “generation gap” that inspired a cultural revolution and paved the way for young American’s to take control of their lives and become independent, free-thinking individuals. The word “teenager” came into existence in 1957 to reflect the changing attitudes and behaviors of the youth of the time. Now we accept young men and women as the future of the country and yet we have a somewhat 1950’s attitude towards them in terms of respect. If we want these bright hopeful leaders of tomorrow to flourish then maybe we should respect them as much as they respect us.


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