South Korea: In the Eyes of an Expatriate (3)
(Last of 3 parts)
I really tried hard to figure out what happened. What went wrong for my country and conversely, what did the South Koreans do correctly? To think that in the 1950s, while my country was soaking in the glory of being Asia’s second strongest economy, the Korean peninsula plunged into a devastating war.
I tried to probe deeper into this nation’s history to find the answer to the following questions: 1. How were the South Koreans able to slay the ghosts of a bitter colonial past?; 2. How did they survive the devastation wrought by the Korean war?; and 3. How did they triumph over internal political turmoil while at the same trying to ward off a belligerent neighbor in North Korea?
How were the South Koreans able to accomplish all of the aforementioned then eventually catapult themselves to their current lofty position in the global community?
Then I found out what the South Koreans did in 1998 at the height of the Asian financial crisis. They willingly donated their gold – jewelry (including their personal wedding rings), medals and trophies, good luck keys, and what have you. This they did to save their economy during that crisis. The collective weight of the gold they donated may not be that much. But more significant than the corresponding monetary value of their donation was the willingness of the South Koreans to make a personal sacrifice for their country. I call that nationalism. If it’s not then I don’t know what is. It is the same sense of nationalism that emboldened them to resist one military junta after another… to sacrifice their lives and limbs to lay the democratic foundations of this country which eventually became a fertile ground that nurtured the economic prosperity they are currently enjoying.
I also learned about the collectivist culture of these people. They think first of the general welfare over and above their personal interests. This I witnessed first-hand when I saw how the South Koreans willingly obeyed the restrictions set by their government during the early onslaught of Covid-19. There was no need for their leaders to implement a “hard lockdown,” the way other countries did, including mine. The citizens just strictly wore their masks, observe social distancing, and avoided leaving their homes unless it was necessary. They are willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
I think I found the answer to what enabled the South Koreans to attain prosperity and stability – the combination of their nationalism and collectivist culture. I may be wrong but I could not really see any other possible reasons for their success as a nation. There is nothing more potent of a mix for nation-building than the combination of the two. And if they keep using this formula, the future of this nation is secured.
Other expatriates living in this country may not see things here the way I am seeing them. To them the observations I made may not be a big deal. To me, given the situation in my country now, they are.
If only my countrymen would consider including the South Korean model of nationalism and collectivism among the things from this country that we allow ourselves to be influenced by. We should try to find out if we could also propel our own native land to greatness if we would try to emulate the way South Koreans profess their love for their country. We need to see if we could also make our country better if like them we would put the greater good over and above our personal interests.
We copied hook line and sinker (Or was it forced down our throats?) the socio-political and economic models of our colonizers and we are not getting desirable results. Obviously, our needle of success as a nation is barely moving. We have been trying to fit our colonizers’ square peg into our round hole. It’s not working. It’s time for us to rethink our strategies for nation building. Why don’t we try the South Korean model? Let’s see what will happen if we embrace, not only K-dramas, K-pop, and kimchi but also the values that brought the South Koreans to where they are now.