I was born, raised and lived my entire life in South Korea. My parents, both South Korean, belong to the working class. My father, the man that I admire a lot, is a farmer who grows oranges in South Korea, and my mother is a house worker. My parents, who wanted me to have a successful life, have pushed me to pursue higher education.
I have often heard people talking about the American dream and, thus, began to associate the US with the ability to change my life. For this reason, I decided to inform my parents of my decision to go to the US, specifically to California, in search of education. I have been here for about three years now in a local college. My parents support me by paying for my tuition. However, I tried to help myself by finding part-time work that would enable me to take care of my day-to-day needs.
Throughout the time of living here, I have noticed a lot of sociological differences between the US and my home country South Korea. Initially, this was something very difficult for me to handle as I constantly had to switch from one culture to another. Nevertheless, with time, I started to be more accepting and open to the American way of life. Thesis: My personal life is clearly connected to sociology as reflected by my associations with other people both in Korea and America.
Throughout this autobiography, I am going to reflect on some of the experiences I have had during my stay in the US that are connected to sociology and in a larger part are able to show some of the differences from the sociological aspect between my home country South Korea and the host country. I will discuss the above-mentioned using a number of sociological topics that I believe will be most useful for this purpose. The topics I have chosen for this autobiography include gender role, race and ethnicity, education, marriage, and social class.
One sociological topic that I feel can help me explain my experience living in another country as a foreign student is gender roles, which are found in all societies around the world. They dictate the specific types of behaviors that are considered to be acceptable in a given society on the basis of the perceived sex of the members of a particular society (Detel 2008). Besides, gender roles are usually shaped by society. Each society has its own unique understanding of gender roles, and thus, what is considered to be normal in one society may be considered abnormal in another.
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Starting from the birth, children are immediately assigned a gender and are socialized to conform to the given gender roles that are based on their assigned sex. In my home country South Korea, we are a fairly conservative nation, and for this reason, gender roles are carefully considered in all we do. Men, for instance, are expected to work outside; that is why my father is a farmer as this is an activity that is done outside. Women, on the other hand, usually work indoors doing activities like keeping the house and cooking. I have concluded that in the US the situation is quite different. Here, there is very little emphasis on gender roles. People pursue whatever economic and social activities they want without paying any consideration to gender.
Race and ethnicity being such significant aspects of sociology can also be used to analyze my experience in the US further. The thing about these two concepts is that they make people different, divide them into groupings, and make people to be easily noticeable. This can be a good thing as it incites the world to be culturally diverse and rich. On the other hand, the existence of race and ethnicity has proven to be something negative as it has led to the development of concepts like prejudicing, discrimination, stereotyping, and racism (Esteban 2012). My country South Korea is a single race nation; however, this does not mean that we do not have other races. Foreigners from other races reside in South Korea, but their population is rather small. On the other hand, America is populated by people of all kinds of races; thus, it can best be described as a multiracial nation. The only downside to this I have noticed is the intense amount of racism which is something I always find to be disturbing. Stereotyping is another negativity that has emerged from the multiracial nature of the US. For example, many of my friends at school love to highlight that their American culture is much better compared to my Korean one. In Korea, we tend to be more accepting of other people’s culture and try to learn from it.
As I settled in the US, I started to realize how different the education here is. Of course, I was aware of this divergence since it was the main reason why I chose to leave my country in the first place; I just did not anticipate such extent of this difference. First and foremost, the education level in the US is way higher if to compare to that of South Korea. In addition, the US education system is very advanced, and it produces some of the most brilliant people such as top class surgeons, astronauts, etc. I was in awe when I got to know the number of researches that educational institutions undertake in the US. This is something that I feel my country can emulate. Consequently, if this is done, people like me will not have to travel many miles in search of quality education.
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Another thing that I have learnt about is the sociological concept of marriage. Marriage, which is the union between two people, usually legal, has evolved to the point of being considered a cultural universal (Williams 2007). This evolution of marriage has come to the new forms of unions which were and still are denied in many parts of the world. One thing I can say about the concept of marriage in the US is that here people support marriages that are regarded unusual or abnormal in other parts of the world. For instance, the recent law that was passed supporting same sex marriage, I believe, is only found in the US. In Korea, however, same sex marriage is illegal.
I have also observed that many people in the US usually marry within the same group, that is the most people practice endogamy. The situation in Korea is a bit different. Many people there try to marry outside their group, especially when it comes to social class; therefore, I can describe my Korean people as highly exogamous. I have attended various weddings where the couple comes from completely different social classes. In many instances, it is those coming from low social classes that strive to marry people from higher social class.
Speaking of social class, I have noticed a lot of concern about the large variation in wealth, power, and prestige in the American society during my stay here. These variations, in their turn, have caused differences in access to education and health care. This has led to creation of social classes, that is a group of people with similar levels of status (Henslin 2014). I have noted that the US social class is much diversified: it can be divided into various classes like capitalist, upper middle, lower middle, working, working poor, and underclass. To compare, the Korean social class is not quite so diversified. I believe the Korean social class can only be divided into three groupings: capitalist, working, and underclass. I think that the American social class has become diversified because of their division of the main social class into inter social classes such as the upper middle and lower middle.
Once again, I have discovered that the issue of gender plays a vital role in the determination of some of these social classes. In Korea, men are given better chances to make their social classes, something that was prohibited to women. A practical example of this is the fact that men are usually promoted easily compared to women; yet, they have the same skills and competencies. This concept which is best described as glass ceiling also happens in the US, but not with the same intensity as in my home country.
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While examining my life experiences, one theoretical perspective that I have found to be the most helpful and has guided my analysis of my life is the conflict theory. According to Heslin (Henslin 2014), this social theory places emphasis on the role of coercion and power in producing social order. Further, this theory perceives society as fragmented groups competing for resources, which may be political, social, or economic. I find the issue of gender roles that I discussed earlier handing women a shorter end of the stick. Conflict theory can be applied in this case whereby society is striving for social order by coercing women to lesser positions. I also find the concept of race and ethnicity and the existence of social classes as such that have been developed to help the dominant members of the society to access better resources politically, socially, and economically. This is the reason why we have people who are very rich, with political power or affiliation, as well as with prestige and fame.
In the overall sense, I feel that my experiences are in some way connected to larger social forces from the past and present. For instance, as a foreign student studying in an American college, I have seen a lot of change in the current state of higher education. Initially, when I arrived, foreign students were denied some privileges such as education loans. I decided to join a group that was advocating for change with regards to this matter. In conclusion, every bit of my life has been enjoyable because it has given me the opportunity to learn more from other cultures.