2006 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior first place

"All the More Gilmore, All the More Korean"
The influence of Korean-American culture on American culture
Clara Yoon

“Are Koreans really like that?”

My friends turn to me and gaze at me with questioning eyes. I feel as though I should either laugh or cry, because my friends are asking me about something that has such a part of my life. It is funny that they are so intrigued, yet it saddens me some that they really do not comprehend.

The Korean wave or “hallyu” seems to be a rather recent trend, and I have seen the beginnings of an interest in Korean culture. One way that Korean culture has entered American culture, however, has been around since 2000 and is incredibly popular among people of all races. Oddly enough, the Korean culture is not even represented by Koreans.

I tune into this showcase of Korean culture whenever I can. It is one of my favorite television shows, called “Gilmore Girls.”

Admittedly, the show revolves around a Caucasian mother and daughter, but the Korean characters of Lane and her mother (played by Keiko Agena and Emily Kuroda, respectively) play substantial roles throughout the series. The glimpses into Korean culture in the show are fascinating in that I can recognize aspects of my own life. Even though neither Keiko Agena nor Emily Kuroda is Korean and many things are exaggerated out of proportion, I feel that “Gilmore Girls” puts the Korean culture out there for Americans to become interested in.

A recent episode of “Gilmore Girls” focused on the wedding of Lane. Lane’s grandmother had come to visit. Hilarity ensues when it is revealed that Lane’s grandmother is a strict Buddhist and insists upon a traditional Korean wedding. Lane and her husband-to-be don traditional Korean wedding clothing and the Korean ceremony commences. I was delighted at any snippet of Korean that I heard spoken and made mental notes about what they said so I could tell my friends later.

An earlier episode involved Lane’s band mates coming to Lane’s home for a dinner with several Korean guests. The guests perform a song with traditional Korean instruments (including instruments as the gayageum, the jang-go). I have always admired Korean traditional music and seeing such music being performed in such a mainstream show made me swell with pride. I had attempted to learn how to play the jang-go in Korean school and instruments such as the gayageum looked incredibly difficult to master, and so my admiration increased. Later on in the episode, when one of Lane’s band mates gets up from the dinner table, a little Korean boy yells for him to sit down. This was supposed to be a reflection on how Koreans are, but I had never experienced such a strict enforcement of manners. As I understood it, this was an exaggeration with the intent to be humorous.

Seeing such displays of Korean culture make me proud and make other Korean-Americans proud. However, how does this influence American culture?

Because “Gilmore Girls” is such a popular television show (it is the WB’s highest-rated show), it reaches an immense audience of many different kinds of people. The Korean culture is something altogether new for many of them. It is completely different from the culture that they are used to and with this peek into a life completely foreign to them, they become intrigued. When people become curious, they are motivated to learn more about this unknown thing. This causes Americans to have more of an open mind and be more encouraged to learn more about other cultures around them. America is a diverse country, after all, and we live in a global community. Americans begin to realize that other cultures have different ways and they become more accepting.

My own friends have asked me about the Korean culture after watching “Gilmore Girls.” They ask me if I understand what was said in Korean, and they ask me if I act the way that the Koreans on the show act. I patiently answer their incessant questioning. I might pretend that I am annoyed by their pestering, but on the contrary, I am proud. I do not mind flaunting my Korean background and if the attitudes of Americans become more open to other cultures, Korean culture can become rooted into American culture.

Ocean waves follow other ocean waves. The “Gilmore Girls” wave precedes the hallyu wave, and I predict that the hallyu wave will bring me even more questions and even more pride.