Teacher and student compare American culture and other cultures

September 10, 2018 — by Alekhya Vadlakonda and Jessica Wang

Physical Fitness teacher Yuko Aoki and junior Je-woo Im spoke to The Falcon about their thoughts on the differences between the United States and their homelands. Aoki moved from Maebashi, Japan, about 30 years ago and has since noticed some distinct cultural contrasts between her homeland and the United States. Im moved to the United States from Korea five years ago when he was in seventh grade.



Q: What differences did you notice between Japanese schools and American schools?

A: School is very different. Maybe these days it has gotten a little bit better over there in Japan, but when I was in high school, high school had very strict rules. My school had, of course, a uniform that you had to wear. And on top of that, the uniform had to be a certain way. The skirt length was measured and decided. You couldn’t put on makeup, you couldn’t perm your hair, you couldn’t do your nails and you couldn’t have accessories.

The are rules are very strict. It was yes or a no. There was no concept of gray area. You were doing it right, or doing it wrong. Academically, it was very rigorous. They were very competitive, even more so than here. There’s a high school entrance exam, too. So the middle school students are not going directly to high school; they have to take an entrance exam. It’s very stressful.


Q: What is distinctly different about Japanese culture with respect to American culture?

A: It’s different even in language. If we compare the languages, an English sentence is a subject and verb. So without hearing the rest of the question, we already know if the answer is yes or no. For the Japanese language, there is a subject, and then a lot of things, and then at the end of the sentence is the verb. So it’s very vague.

The hardest thing for me when I first came to the United States was expressing rejection. Here [in the U.S.] we say “no.” But I couldn’t say “no”  in Japan. [Instead, I would say,] “Yeah, that’s a wonderful idea, but” and then everybody [would] take the [implicit] “no” and say, “OK, OK, I understand you don’t want to do it.” So unless I said “no” or “I’m busy,” [people in the U.S. would not understand.] I would have to say it [straight to the point]. In Japan, they would get hurt if I say that.


Je-woo Im:

Q: Can you tell me about your background before you moved to America?

A: I went to a normal Korean school; I went to two elementary schools, went through one year of middle school and came here.

My dad wanted to be a doctor here, so he came here to study for the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) but he gave up and went back, and he’s a doctor in Korea now. So my dad’s living in Korea, and the rest of the family is living in America.


Q: When you first came to Saratoga, what was a major cultural difference that you immediately noticed?

A: I think the academic stress here is similar to Korea, but the priority given to teachers and students is different. In Korea, students are given the priority in terms of education, but here, it seems that teachers are given more priority because students have to move around instead of teachers, and teachers get all the equipment they need. While in Korea, it’s kind of the other way around, [with teachers moving around].


Q: How quickly or easily did you integrate into the school?

A: Saratoga has a lot of Asians, so it was pretty easy to integrate; the culture was pretty similar.


Q: Are there any major differences in the education system here?

A: We get to choose our own subjects here, which is cool, but at the same time I think it gives students stress in terms of academic rigor.


Q: In terms of extracurriculars and school activities, is it different here compared to Korea?

A: In Korea, all you have to do is study 24/7. You don’t have extracurriculars. You just do math, English and Korean language arts, but here it’s half-studying, half-extracurriculars. Extracurriculars are as important as school, so I think that helps with stress, but at the same time, gives more stress. Balancing academic life and extracurriculars is harder, but it helps a lot with time management in the future as well.


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