Cultural Differences in Asian Countries

Features  /  by Anushka Agarwala ’20  /  March 31, 2017

Cultural Differences According to Lawrentians

In a broad sense, in what ways is the culture here different from where you’re from?

(Haruka Noishiki ’17) Japan: The culture is different in almost every way imaginable. “For example, making our beds—something really concrete and simple—[has a different meaning]. Here you make your bed [by] spreading the bed sheet over the bed, but back home we would be folding our beds because we use futons.”

“[Another] thing I’ve noticed here is that you’re really expected to be proactive and talk to your authorities, whereas back home that would be considered rude, as you’re supposed to be submissive and more willing to listen than speak.”

(Giao Vu Dinh ’20) Vietnam: “I think the way of living is very different. Like the buildings, the restaurants, and the people. It’s all just very different.”

(Lisa Kim) South Korea: “I think Korea is more fast paced. The country is small and very urbanized, so everything is very fast and quick quick quick. But here things are more relaxed and people try to enjoy more of like the moment.”

How do people greet others based on their age and authority? Is it different for different people?

Japan: “In the Japanese language, there are various ways and levels of politeness you’re supposed to employ when you’re talking to someone who’s older or in a high position or something like that.” For example, “if you’re like passing by an upper classmen in the high school framework, you would bow to them and if you’re close to them, you would say hi. If you’re greeting someone who’s much older than you, like an adult, you’d bow to them too, and use word endings that make them more polite.”

Vietnam: “Definitely is. In Vietnam, or in Asia in general, there’s a culture of respect towards people who are older than you, in a high position than you. For example, the way you greet a friend is very different from the way you greet an adult or old person or teacher or a parent.”

South Korea: “Yeah, we have different ways of saying even the same sentence based on if the person is older than you or younger than you. Sometimes even at school, younger Korean students greet me differently than my Korean friends do.”

Suppose you were walking down the street and you turned a corner, what would you see?

Japan: “Bookstores and cafes, there are Starbucks, and we have a lot of American culture influences. But we also have more traditional Japanese restaurants, cafe like things. It’s really a mix of things.”

Vietnam: “That’s something that is not very different. Like, if you walk out in the neighborhood, in a 100 meters you will see a KFC, a thai restaurant, a Starbucks down the road, McDonald's.” In terms of whether or not everything is international, “it depends on where you are. For example, the place where I live, a lot of expats live, so there are a lot of international things, but if you went to places like chinatown, or a place where there’s all local food. So it really depends on where you are.”

South Korea: “I live in like the middle of the city, and there are three Starbucks near my house, and there’s like a subway station nearby, a lot of restaurants, banks, hospitals, and cafes and stuff.”

What was the thing that culturally shocked you the most when you first came here?

Japan: “One thing was, especially talking about Lawrenceville, and I don’t know if this is a Lawrenceville thing or an American thing, but people say hi to each other very actively. You see people going up to other groups of people and talking and interacting in a way that is really fast, and really friendly and open.” In contrast, “back home we’re much more quiet first of all, like if you walk into a room with the same number of Lawrentians vs. the same number of Japanese, it will be much quieter in the other room. Really the way human interactions are shaped was really different”

Vietnam: “Although we have a lot of the same things, something different was that in America everything is so much more spread out. My city is very cramped, and lots of traffic while here the buildings are spread apart, there’s fields of land everywhere, and it’s really nice to just drive down. Like we have the same brands and things, but the layout is much better here.”

South Korea: “I found that people here are much more welcoming. In Korea, initially you’re really shy, we find it polite to not be extroverted, People here are really welcoming and are like hi and give hugs and stuff.”