“After the club activity, I became uncomfortable because there was suddenly a “wrap-up party” without notice. Then what made things worse was that the senior level classmates started forcing the freshmen to drink. In America, forcing someone to drink can lead to serious consequences, and I would have definitely said “No, I’m not going to drink!” in this kind of situation. However, most of the freshmen took part in lots of drinking then,” commented James Abreu, an American Hanyangian at the International Language Institute of Hanyang University (HYU).
Students in the United States do not gather to have drinks after club or school activities on the same level as Koreans. It is very common for Korean students to have ‘wrap-up parties’ at the end of extracurricular activities whereby they get together in a restaurant or bar to eat, drink and try to get to know each other better. “The whole idea of school club members getting together to drink was very new to me. In fact, it was like culture shock for me because I had never experienced anything like that before,” said Donny Yi, an American student studying at the Korean Language Institute at Yonsei University.
This contrast comes from the different ways these two countries place emphasis on human relations, and how the social gatherings are viewed as a part of school activities, or not.
Where to Place Emphasis: Relationships with Groups or Individuals
The biggest reason for the existence of these wrap-up parties at the end of school or club activities is to achieve better relations within a community. Since Koreans place more emphasis on human relations within groups than Americans, the wrap-up party culture is more prevalent in Korea.
This tendency dates back to Korea’s past as an agrarian society. Park Chan-seung, a Professor in the Department of History at HYU said, “In the past, Korea was primarily engaged in farming, which was usually done in groups. In a number of cases people had to work together as one. Moreover, since more than half of Korean villages consisted of blood relations, they persisted for a long time. These characteristics in turn led to the creation of internal community regulations that all members were obliged to follow. Even today, Korea continues to be influenced by these features. As a result, Koreans tend to cling more to relationships in groups and abide by the internal rules of the communities they are in.”
In contrast, Americans regard individuals as more important than relationships within a community. “In America, people care about their own choices the most. So it is considered rude to pressure or force someone to do something as a group,” Abreu said. The individualistic mindset of Americans can be understood by tracing American history back to the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, which was a cultural movement led by intellectuals in Europe and later, America to promote reason and rational thought. “In this ideology, individuals were attempting to break away from traditional ideas based on religion. Influenced by this, individualism and individual freedom started to be valued,” explained Professor Park.
In the end, the difference between Korean and American attitudes towards placing more weight on individuals versus groups can be interpreted by historical differences in human relationships.
Different Ways of Viewing School Activities and Social Life
As previously mentioned, Koreans consider relationships among people to be the most important. Prime examples of this can be seen in school activities at Korean universities. Korean students view wrap-up parties, which are held to promote friendship, as an essential part of school activities. “Pressure for students to join these parties and to drink does exist. For those who choose not to participate will soon develop the image from others of someone who does not want to invest in relationships,” explained Kim Shin-bee, a Sophomore in the Major in Political Science and Diplomacy at HYU.
On the other hand, Americans place individual choice and freedom higher on their list of priorities. Therefore, in order to have one’s wishes respected, Americans do not force social gatherings onto members in school clubs, viewing school activities and socializing activities as two separate things. “We usually do not have a wrap-up party at the end of a school activity, but even if we did, people are not forced to join. Instead there is generally an open invitation to join or not. In this way, personal choice and freedom are respected,” said Abreu.
Moreover, most Korean students consider establishing new relationships as the main purpose of joining school clubs. “When I first joined a school club, I wanted to meet many people to make new friends the most. That is why I regard the wrap-up party as an important event to Korean people since it is the quickest way to get to know other people, by drinking and having conversations,” said Jo Young-kwon, a Senior in the Division of Mechanical Engineering at HYU.
However, in the US, getting to know other members in a campus club or a group is considered a secondary benefit. Instead, Americans see doing curriculums in the club itself as the main reason for joining the group. “In Korea, students always drink after meetings. However, I think drinking has nothing to do with the club objectives. I think they should focus more on the objectives of the club,” said Yi.
Discussing the Two Sides of the Korean Wrap-up Party
“Sometime I feel a little uncomfortable when I see some people at a wrap-up party who drink too much against their wishes. I think it would be better for all students if the pressure of joining and drinking at a wrap-up party were removed,” Yi said. “Still, Korean wrap-up parties have their advantages too. The wrap-up parties contribute in building relationships quickly and are also a form of entertainment. In fact, I have met and made many new friends at wrap-up parties and actually enjoy participating in them,” added Yi.
Korean wrap-up parties have both positive and negative aspects. Although pressure is put on people to drink, it functions as a social tool to break down inhibitions among members. “Through wrap-up parties, we try to build firm connections between senior and junior classmates. We consider this to be the most important part of our school life,” said Kim. Thus the answer as to whether wrap-up parties should continue or not ultimately lies within one’s perspective on human relations.