As soon as I sat down in my seat for the 14-hour flight to Incheon, a baby started vomiting 2 seats ahead of me.

I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the situation if the American flight attendant hadn’t been asking the Korean parents about the health of their child so frantically and loudly throughout the cabin. The parents responded to her so calmly and collectively as they cleaned it up that I couldn’t interpret who exactly had vomited until I saw the baby on the way to the bathroom.

It was all cleaned up rather quickly, and the quiet settled.  Seriously, I’ve never been on such a peaceful plane.  I unexpectedly enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, the seat space wasn’t as enjoyable as the noise level; as a decently small woman, even I was uncomfortable with the close quarters between my window seat and the little Korean man beside me.  I praise his ability to stay comfortable and stationary in his middle seat for the entire fourteen-hour flight duration.  I think Koreans are master nappers, but I won’t get started on that tangent topic.

I gazed out the window as we took off, and water droplets from above immediately shocked me and my neighbor.  He insisted on holding his arm and the plastic bag up to the main droplet source for about twenty minutes until it stopped.  We looked at each other and smiled humorously about the situation.  I never found out if he, or any of my Korean neighbors, spoke English.  I barely heard anyone talk the whole flight; even the baby ended up being respectful during the overnight ride.  Smile and nodding became the language.

The Korean culture is founded on “The Practice of Hongik Ingan: ‘To Live for the Benefit of All Mankind.'”  If you ever learn about or experience the Korean culture, it’s apparent that they highly value group harmony, which is why people tend to remain quiet and respectful in group settings, and probably why my neighbor didn’t convey a hint of discomfort throughout the flight.  The well-being of the group as a whole trumps individual desires; you can see this in politics, relationships, and pretty much every other aspect of their daily lives.  For example, in 1997, South Korea avoided a recession when the People showed up to banks to donate billions of euros of gold to the government so that it could pay off its debt in hopes of bouncing back because that was for the good of everyone.  I have a hunch that Americans would respond with quite contrasting behavior.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great aspects of American culture.  My point is that there are also many great aspects of other cultures, though.  Of course, every cultural aspect has its pros and cons.  I just think we need to expose ourselves to different cultural ideas so we don’t just settle into ways that could be improved; just because we’re happy with our day-to-day doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.  It’s too easy to become set in our ways.

We’re all test subjects for each other, and nothing is ever too great to be improved.  It’s a waste of knowledge and resources if we maintain ignorance or close-minded perspectives towards other society’s around the world.  What if we remained attentive to our surroundings and were able to learn and create an ideal balance between the individualism of the US and the group harmony of Korea, based on how these values play out in these societies?  Obviously, changes like these have to start on the small scale and don’t just happen overnight, but you’d be amazed how one little tweak in one person’s life can create a domino effect.

Can you imagine the domino effect that could happen if you started making more of a conscious effort to start smiling through the inevitable discomforts because you realize that complaining does nothing but create a weight of negativity on the people around you, and if you approached every situation full of respect and in a calm demeanor?

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