Student: Teacher, next week is Valentine’s Day so you have to give me chocolate.
Me: Excuse me?
Student: Valentine’s Day means the girls give boys chocolate!
Me: Excuse me?
Although my student’s approach was unrefined and he definitely didn’t win my heart, he was actually telling the truth! The sentiment of Valentine’s Day in Korea is completely different to how it is in the U.S. Similar to Pepero Day, Valentine’s Day in Korea is just another made up holiday for candy companies to make money. That’s right, they took all the romance and fun out of the day! My students explained to me that it is custom for girls to give chocolates to the boys they like. This is one cultural exchange moment I didn’t like. I told them how we celebrated Valentine’s Day when I was in elementary school. We would decorate our own cereal box and then walk around the classroom dropping valentines in all our classmates’ boxes. We didn’t only give valentine’s to boys, we gave them to everyone!
So it may be true that Americans place too much importance on Valentine’s Day. For us, a Valentine’s Day gone wrong will often result in the ending of a relationship. Boys in love break their backs over making their valentines feel special with chocolates, flowers, and even candle lit dinners. Girls too, toil over hand making the perfect card with each sequin and heart sticker in its place. However in Korea, I’ve noticed that students seem to fervently hate the opposite gender. In my classroom all the girls sit on the left side and all the boys sit on the right. God forbid if I ever mix them in their CTP groups! It would have been nice for them to just show a little bit of kindness towards each other. I told them that Valentine’s Day in the U.S. isn’t just for couples, but for friends, family, and even teachers too! I showed them the Valentine my mom sent me and they just laughed.
I gave chocolates to my students, but other than this, Valentine’s Day was just another day to them. One student listed all the different “holidays” Korea has. There is a different custom for the 14th of each month. Looking it up here’s what I found:
January 14th - Diary Day, couples give each other diaries
February 14th - Valentine’s Day, girls give chocolates to the boys
March 14th - White Day, boys give chocolates to the girls
April 14th - Black Day, singles dress in black and eat jajang noodles
May 14th - Rose Day, couples give each other roses
June 14th - Kiss Day, couples share a kiss
July 14th - Silver Day, couples exchange silver jewelry
August 14th - Green Day, couples wear green together and drink soju
September 14th - Photo/Music Day, couples give each other CDs and take pictures
October 14th - Wine Day, couples drink wine together
November 14th - Movie Day, couples watch a movie together
December 14th - Hug Day, couples hug to stay warm in the winter
I wonder if even half of these are really celebrated. It’s almost as if couples in Korea needed a handbook on what to do when you’re in a relationship! The year is so inundated with these “holidays” that it took the specialness out of Valentine’s Day, but hopefully I got through to my students and next year will be different!
Yuna Lee is a current instructor at Chung Dahm Learning. Yuna was born and raised in the D.C. metropolitan area and graduated from the University of Mary Washington. She has traveled to many different places including Honduras, Ecuador, and Nepal. However with her father being Korean, she wanted to learn more about her heritage, so she set off to Seoul, Korea to do some soul-searching. Now, she is loving the freedom and independence of her post-college life. Teaching at Chung Dahm has been such a rewarding experience. Follow her blog to read up on the interesting things she has to share!