Osan spouse discovers richness of Korea
There is a marked difference in behavior between Americans and Koreans, according to Stefanie Corbitt, a military spouse living at Osan Air Base, but that’s what makes living in the country so interesting.
“There’s a lot to learn about the culture in and of itself,” she said. “For older people, smiling can be an expression of embarrassment (rather than friendship). Relations are still very formal. You don’t use a person’s first name until asked to do so. I still call many Koreans by their family name because they are my acquaintances not my dear friends.”
Perhaps it is because of such cultural sensitivity that Corbitt was able to win a recent contest co-sponsored by Stars and Stripes and United Airlines for an article she wrote about a trip to Mount Gwanggyosan.
Along with her husband, Lt. Col. Scott Corbitt, she belongs to the base’s Good Neighbor Program, which tries to foster cooperation and understanding of cultures between Americans and Koreans.
“Each squadron has its ROK (Republic of Korea) equivalent, and we have cultural events where we exchange things. The Koreans take active-duty folks to see different culturally significant areas locally,” she said.
Her favorite places to go are the different 4-9 markets, which are open on dates that have a 4 or 9 in them such as the 14th or 29th.
“They meet my stereotype of what a traditional market is,” she said. “Grandmothers come out to sell their wares. It’s like a farmer’s market, but more. You see the real Korea there. You can people watch and see stuff that most times you don’t know what it is.”
Before arriving at Osan, Corbitt didn’t think the country would be as modern as it is. In fact, she said, “Spending time in Seoul is just like being in New York City. There’s also a lot more English writing than I anticipated.”
But Corbitt, who was born in Maryland, found that the topography of the country is similar to that of western Maryland and West Virginia, and she can name most of the trees and plants.
She has relatives who fought here during the Korean War, so the country is a part of family history. To continue that connection, Corbitt has started to write short articles about her travels in country for Stripes Korea. She also keeps a journal, and has done so since her son, Isaac, 9, was a year old.
“I will continue to keep a journal so it will help jog his memory of the things we did here,” she said.
By profession, Corbitt, 43, is a safety and health engineer, and she stays up late at night consulting with clients in the U.S.
She also does a lot of volunteer work with the USO (United Service Organization), trying to ease the loneliness of separation between military personnel in Korea and their children in the U.S. who could not get command-sponsored status. She does this via the United through Reading Program, by which parents can read books to their kids on a DVD played at bedtime.
Corbitt would like other military personnel to take advantage of their duty assignment in Korea.
“The only thing that can limit you is yourself,” she said. “There’s no reason to sit in a dorm room when there is so much opportunity to see things. There are programs run through Outdoor Recreation. (If you want to do some good), the base chapel helps out at a convalescent home and there are orphanages that some squadrons support.”
The only thing Corbitt seems not to like about her stay in Korea is that there are no good maps showing the country’s smaller roads; they only mark out the interstate-type highways. But she seems more than up to the challenge.
You can read about Stefanie's trip to Mt. Gwanggyosan in our Travel section.