There's a saying in the Korean culture: "If you know file Koreans, you know them all." When I was young I didn't understand how that could be possible, but now I realize that Korean Americans have created a definition of their own, certain characteristics and habits that characterize them as "Koreans." And as much as I would like to be an "American," these characteristics have been branded on me through many generations of ancestors.
We are a race that is generally small in stature, and basically yearn to possess the abundant height of the Caucasian race. A 5'9" Korean woman will always be admired by friend and relatives for being tall and slender. Milk is our magic growing potion that makes our bones long and makes us grow. Every short Korean child is scolded by their mother at one time or another for not drinking enough milk. Unfortunately, though, many Koreans are lactose intolerant and thus take calcium supplements to compensate. Supposedly, riding a bike is supposed to help lengthen the legs. My dad, by order of my grandfather, has many a time tried to teach me to graduate from my training wheels, but he has had no success. I still can't ride a bike and hate milk with a vengeance.
Koreans, rich or not, tend to be quite extravagant. The key is, "One must look well off in front of others." When Korean men express their approval for each other's wealth they say, "You've Grown," which is figurative language for, "My, you're living well." A rich Korean man will buy a cell phone for his son's tenth birthday and a new car for his twelfth. His wife will indulge herself by getting her hair professionally blow-dried twice a week at a salon and by buying clothes and jewelry. Korean people are not typically known to be very stringent on the fiscal level. I think, however, that my parents cannot identify with this definition; they are quite stingy.
Looking "inferior" is greatly dreaded by Koreans as a whole. We are a race with a lot of pride. This most appropriately applies to Korean women - they are simply fierce. They have this natural instinct and urge to show off and brag about their mediocre child. Listen to a conversation between two Korean mothers and you hear things like, "My daughter is taking this class . . . my daughter is just so busy with SATs . . . oh, by the way, my daughter is receiving this award." You can just smell the animosity in the air, even though on the surface it may appear that they are holding a normal conversation. Of course, if our success or assets help make our parents feel "bigger" we're happy to help, but sometimes they need to realize that it just puts more pressure on us. I hear about a Korean boy that was accepted to Rice University in Texas, but ended up going to UC Berkeley by his father's will. When asked why he didn't allow his son to attend the school of his choice, he answered honestly, "My colleagues in Korea have never heard of a Rice University. What would I say to them?" That's Korean.
In the Korean culture, a student is strictly a student. He or she is not expected to do chores around the house or run errands - their job is simply to study and get good grades. Very different from Caucasian, Americanized homes where usually the children take a big part in house chores, in addition to their studying. Likewise, a Korean student is not expected to pay any part of his/her college tuition. In many cases their grandfather will pay half of it and their parents the other half. On the other hand, many Caucasian children would have to work between jobs in college to help pay for their tuition. Credit card debts are a big issue for college students. Many will still be working jobs to pay them off after college. But Korean parents, with a little scolding, will pay the off for you. Money comes quite easily into the hands of Korean children, perhaps because every holiday is reason enough for twenty bucks here and there from relatives - New Year's Day, Christmas Day, then there's birthday, for getting an award, and the list goes on.
Besides the pressure to be tall or a super whiz kid, being a Korean teenager is not too bad, once you're in touch with your Korean side. Living in Cerritos for almost thirteen years, I think I can tell a Korean when I see one, and as much as I would not like to be, I realize that I am just another one of those typical Korean kids.
While some of the issues, such as the emphasis on school and being only a student are cultural, I wonder about the cut-throat competition between parents. Is this an Asian thing? I think the emphasis she places on status symbols is more a first generation Korean thing, that they have to prove they've succeeded in America.