One New Soldier, Two New Cultures
Although the American movie audience continues to be captured by the military culture portrayed in films, seldom portrayed is the cultural struggle many new privates endure upon joining the Army. During basic training they are taught core skills and immersed in military culture. Even some basic English words are exchanged for military jargon, words that meant nothing months before are now part of their everyday lexicon.
In addition to the cultural challenges they encounter, Soldiers are also faced with changes to their normal lifestyles. Some Soldiers go from living by themselves in the civilian world to living in the barracks surrounded by Soldiers all the time.
"One thing that is tough is that I'm constantly seeing the same people every single day and living with those same people ," said Pvt. Nicholas R. Clark, an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter repairer from Riverside, Calif., with Company D, 4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "You can go out and do your own thing but it is a lot harder. You are constantly with people whether you like them or not."
Privates new to Korea have the challenge of not only adjusting to life in the Army but also to living in a country very different from the one they left.
One major obstacle Soldiers face as they arrive in country is the language barrier off post. Unlike the other two common overseas assignments a Soldier is assigned to -- Germany and Italy -- the English language does not share a common alphabet with Korean, so it poses a challenge for Americans.
"Communication is a really big issue and struggle for me, it can be hard to get directions and when shopping sometimes the person selling the product has trouble understanding. Having a KATUSA with me would be beneficial," said Pfc. Echoe M. Appleby, a Soldier with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th ARB, 2nd Avn. Regt., 2nd CAB, originally from Fresno, Calif.
Also, many Korean customs can be very different. For instance, the Korean way of formulating their age can be confusing if you are not familiar with their culture. In Korean culture, a baby is 1- year-old upon its birth and turns 2 on their lunar birthday.
"Since Koreans calculate their age different, it is possible for me to up to two years older by Korean standards than American. Americans are sometimes confused when I tell them about my age until I explain the difference," said Pvt. Park Chanhy-un, a KATUSA soldier assigned to HHC, 2nd CAB.
One cultural obstacle many Soldiers enjoy experiencing is the difference in food.
"I enjoy the food; I'm not a big fan of Kimchi, but I enjoy everything else. There is some really good fish and I enjoy the octopus. I like to go out and try something new when I eat in local restaurants. My friends sometimes think some of the strange stuff I eat is funny but they just don't understand how good it is." said Pvt. Matthew O. Jarman, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter repairer with Company D, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Avn. Regt., 2nd CAB.
Although the challenges faced by Soldiers arriving in Korea can be strenuous, some Soldiers say the benefits easily outweigh the difficulties. The opportunity to travel and learn a new culture is not something most Americans experience. Only about a third of Americans even have passports, according to a Forbes.com article.
"What 20-year-old can say they have been to Korea and have visited all these different places? If I wasn't in the Army I would not have had the opportunity to come here because not only is traveling internationally expensive but it would hard to get the time off work in a civilian job," said Clark.