Cultural values and dreams – Korea

Today my student chose to present on the topic of ads. First she showed this ad:

Then she explained that she was ashamed because she wanted me to understand the words on the ad. Since they are only in Korean, she decided to translate for me. I had not even noticed the captions in each image. Only the very strange (and rather lame), “Be Brave, please” at the end. My student was adamant that the captions make the ad.

Here are her translations, image by image.

1. Launch a preemptive attack.

2. Have an adventure.

3. Just do it.

4. Go on vacation.

5. Run for all you’re worth.

6. Break up.

7. Save the world.

8. Just cry.

9. Become a trouble-maker.

10. Go  home on time.

11. Take the road less traveled.

These translations are an insight into Korean cultural values. They represent the emotional attachment Korean people have to these ideals even though, in real life, they are just dreams. My student’s reaction demonstrated this. For me, the lazy, laid-back English teacher, it is a culture gap that deserves some thought.


Korea, like many Asian countries, has been called a “collectivist” culture (Triandis 1995). This means they see themselves as part of a group. The most important value in collectivist cultures is harmony. Maintaining harmony means a lot of things: not rocking the boat, acting for the good of the group rather than individual gain, and, as anyone who has been here for a while knows, a fair bit of mind-reading. People who live in collectivist cultures tend to distinguish between their public behavior and private opinions. They tend not to show emotions. They tend to obey their superiors. It is a highly structured life.


This ad depicts a dream to be an individual: free to strike first when someone provokes you; free to have adventure, experience danger; free to fall in love and take risks; free to take a vacation without your family; free to run with the bulls; free to break up without scorn; free to save the world; free to cry and show emotion; free to be a trouble-maker and give society the finger; free to go home on time instead of work all night; free to be yourself.


Those who have lived in Korea can sense why this ad had such a strong impact on my 15 year old student: this is who she would like to be. She would like the courage to break out of the confines of her culture and be herself.


For contrast: here’s the superbowl ad – as American as you can get! – that would not have the same impact in Korea.

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