Age and Friendship in Korea

Hello everyone!

How is school going for you all?  Is it getting close to winter break for you guys too?

This week, I got another lesson in building friendships in Korea.  Honestly, finding and making friends has been not only difficult, but a huge culture shock for me.  In America, most of my friends are either male and/or older than me, which seems to be pretty rare here.

First of all, it should be noted that age is calculated differently in Korea.  When you are born, you are a year old, and then on New Year’s day, you are another year old.  For example, I was born in November 1990, therefore, in America, I just turned 24 years old.  However, here, I am 25, and have been all year since New Year’s day.  All of my friends who were born in 1990 are also 25 and have been all year as well.  Here is a video on how to calculate your Korean age:

A lot of the time in America, it seems, age is viewed as just a number.  It’s considered a little rude to ask someone how old they are, especially when you first meet someone.  Here, however, “몇 살이에요?” (meyeot sal ee aeyo?), or “What is your age?” is one of the very first things you ask someone.  Once you find out someone’s age, you know how to address and act around them.

With someone who is older than you, you need to use the respectful form Korean, with most sentences ending in 요 (yo) or 니다 (ni da).  This raises the listener to a higher position in the conversation.  You also use 저 (jeo) or 제 (jae) when referring to yourself to bring your position in the conversation to a lower level.  Once you are comfortable with the person, depending on your gender and theirs, you can call them big brother or big sister.  If you are a girl, you say 오빠(oppa) and  언니(eonnie), and guys use 형(hyung) and 누나(noona) respectively.

When you meet someone who is younger than you, once you are close to them you can drop formal endings.  As the older person in the friendship, it is up to you to decide when the two of you are close, and can tell the other person by telling them it’s okay to speak comfortably.  At this point they will start to use the terms mentioned above, only to you instead.  Some people don’t like being called big brother or sister, since it draws attention to how old they are, however, I have to say, I love being called언니 and누나!  It makes me feel closer to the person and more protective of them.  I wonder if this will change as I get older.

My first really big shock, however, came when I first met someone my age.  After exchanging our ages, and confirming with our birth year, he reached out to shake hands and exclaimed “Hey!  We’re friends!”  At first I was quite taken back.  How can we be friends if we just met?  What he really meant was “since we are the same age, we can be comfortable with each other and not have to worry about formalities as much.”  This actually ends up being really nice, since when I’m talking to someone my own age, I can just focus on building a friendship, rather than trying to remember if I am using the right honorifics or not.

Here are a couple websites that go into a little more depth about what I talked about today.

This was just a basic overview; there is so much more to age and friendship in Korea that I don’t know yet!  However, if you come to Korea, this basic info is good to know!

What do you guys think of the Korea way versus the Western way when making friends?  Do you guys know of how people make friends in other countries?

I know this topic is perhaps a bit dull, so to make up for it I will be posting a extra picture post this week!  Hope you guys are doing well!  Have a great week!


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