It was my first time in Korea, but since my dad has been there a couple of times on business, I did have some expectations. Besides the obvious - spotless toilets no matter where it is situated, efficient public transport, clean streets - what I found there was a society that is self-sufficient, independent and polite. Above all, despite their lack of fluency in English, these Koreans display a desire and eagerness to learn the language that they have proven they can excel without. My mum and I received a few admiring glances from Koreans when they heard us speak English, and there were even one or two who enthusiastically spoke broken English to us without any qualms at all!
What intrigued me the most was the amount of goods that they produce themselves. The obvious ones would be Samsung, LG, Kia and Hyundai, but I found several bakeries, handbags and fashion houses that were truly Made In Korea. And to think that all of it was created by people that hardly speaks English, whose education system is entirely Korean, and whose society is almost completely homogeneous! One can only attribute their success to their hardworking nature, indomitable spirit and independence. It's truly admirable.
The success of their brands Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia cannot be disputed. Not only are these brands used by people around the world (including Westerners), they are also successful enough to sponsor huge football clubs like Chelsea (Samsung) and world-class sporting events like the Australian Open (Kia). What amazes me even more is, despite proving that they are able to achieve all this without being able to speak much English and without the advantages of having a multi-racial society, they actually WANT to learn to speak more English. I happen to know plenty of Koreans who studied in International Schools here in Malaysia just to improve their English. And now they speak some of the finest English I know. See what I mean when I say that it's all in the education system?
And here we are in Malaysia, harping about 'Malay rights' and 'memartabatkan bahasa ibunda', reverting Maths and Science back to Malay when we have produced neither goods nor graduates that are of any use overseas. I know of some ministers who justify the usage of 'bahasa ibunda' in our education system by saying that the Japanese and Koreans have done it and it has proven to be successful. Yes, it is true that they have succeeded with that system, but tell me, does our people have half the determination, independence and hardworking spirit that the Japanese and Koreans have? Is our country governed as well as theirs are? Are our universities as world-class as the University of Tokyo? I feel like telling these people who compare our standards to theirs to open their eyes, wake up and smell the coffee. We can't afford NOT to speak English. We can't afford to live underneath a shell. We cannot afford to be pampered and spoon-fed by Government policies. The sooner we face these facts, the closer we will be towards achieving that much-desired 'Developed Nation' status.
My Korean experience was filled with many interesting places, amazing shopping, good-looking people and awesome weather. But it was the spirit of their people that really amazed me. I most definitely will regret missing all those classes soon, but right now, I feel like it was all worth it :)