To say that you have not caught even just a small part of the hallyu (Korean culture) wave is to say that you have never surfed the Internet.
Whether binge streaming Descendants of the Sun or watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, getting updates on Girl’s Generation via Twitter or trendspotting in Korean Fashion week through Instagram, it’s quite easy to think that we know Koreans, or at least what it takes to be just like them. How can we not when we see it all the time?
But then again, my only knowledge of Korean culture was exactly just that — a heavily filtered kind if only because of the medium through which I learned all about it. That’s what I realized on a recent trip to Korea where I got to be a part of the ASEAN Next-Generation Leaders Visit — a symbolic coming together of the 10 member states of the ASEAN by way of representatives from both the government and the media — that was hosted by the Korea Foundation.
Between the presentations about Korean unification, diplomacy, economy, and sustainability and history lessons from museum visits, having a firsthand experience of Korean culture is what excited me the most. Imagine: watching a live performance and getting to touch the material of the costumes right after, being in the filming location of that dramatic scene in that particular movie you loved so much, and asking people questions about their outfits instead of just pinning their #ootds on Pinterest.
I admit my bias towards the hallyu segments of the week-long trip was a combination of my love for the arts and my profession as a writer under the lifestyle section. But I, like many others, had always been intrigued by the global phenomenon that is the Korean wave: why is it so darn appealing and what viral thing is it going to come up with next?
It seems that these days, political and economic strength are hardly the only things that give a nation power. There is no doubt that technology has a major role in spreading and sustaining the interest in all things Korean but a greater depth of understanding of her soft power — why she has a strong influence on her surrounding nations and what others can learn from her — can only come from firsthand experience.