Venezuela and South Korea are two nations separated by some 9,000 miles with dissimilar roots but also with many unexpected similarities. As defined by many authors, culture is a learned collective programming of the mind, which in most cases, like energy, is not created nor destroyed but transformed. Culture in both countries is an uninterrupted process that changes by religious beliefs, foreign interventions, technological advances and other historical circumstances. Knowing and analyzing these nations’ cultures and their related values will allow us to propose measures that given the state of affairs might help Venezuela to use South Korea as role model for a positive transformation in areas like education and recycling.
History of two nations
Let us begin with South Korea. There are evidences of civilization in the territories of Korea from some 700,000 years ago. “As this civilization began to form, numerous tribes appeared in the Lioaning region of Manchuria and in northwestern Korea. These tribes were ruled by leaders, whom Dangun, the legendary founder of the Korean people, later united to establish Gojoseon (2333 B.C.). The founding date is a testament to the longevity of Korea’s history. This heritage is also a source of pride that provides Koreans the strength to persevere in times of adversity.” (Korean Culture and Information Service (KOIS), 2010)
Wang Geon named his dynasty Goryeo (918-1392 BC), from which the modern name Korea is derived. Very impressive sign of a culture was “the invention of the world’s first movable metal type in 1234, which preceded the Gutenberg Bible of Germany by two centuries. About that time, skilled Korean artisans also completed the herculean task of carving the entire Buddhist canon on large woodblocks.” (KOIS, 2010)
The rich history of Korea is full of landmarks that enlighten its culture. The following are some remarks taken from the official Korean Government’s website.
“In 1392, General Yi Seong-gye established a new dynasty called Joseon. The early rulers of Joseon, in order to counter the dominant Buddhist influence during the Goryeo period, supported Confucianism as the guiding philosophy of the kingdom.
During the reign of King Sejong the Great (1418-1450), Joseon’s fourth monarch, Korea enjoyed an unprecedented flowering of culture and art. Under King Sejong’s guidance, scholars at the royal academy created the Korean alphabet Hangeul. It was then called Hunminjeongeum, or “proper phonetic system to educate the people.”
King Sejong’s interest in astronomical science was comprehensive. Sundials, water clocks, celestial globes and astronomical maps were produced at his request. King Sejong (r.1455-1468) later established an institutional framework for government by publishing a compendium of legal codes, called Gyeongguk
Daejeon. King Jeongjo (r.1776-1800) maintained the policy of impartiality and set up a royal library to preserve royal documents and records. He also initiated other political and cultural reforms. This period witnessed the blossoming of Silhak. A number of outstanding scholars wrote progressive works recommending agricultural and industrial reforms, but few of their ideas were adopted by the government.” (KOIS, 2010)
Despite turbulent times, Korea became a democratic republic in 1948 after WWII. Since 1960, Korea has experienced a sustained growth and outstanding economic development that transformed it in the 11th economy of the World. This is an extraordinary achievement because it started with macro-economical figures that raked Korea among the poorest of the planet.
Venezuela in the other side of the world does not have such rich inheritance. “There were no great monumental cultures, like the Aztec, Maya or Inca, among the original inhabitants of Venezuela. Instead, there was a great variety of independently minded people. Some were nomadic, others practiced advanced agricultural techniques. The Timoto-Cuica in the Andes built roads and traded with the llanos (central plains) and Maracaibo. Christopher Columbus, who sighted the Orinoco Delta on his third voyage to the ‘New World’ in 1498, believed that he had discovered the Garden of Eden. One year later, Amerigo Vespucci was reminded of Venice by houses built on stilts over Lake Maracaibo.” (The New Internationalist, 2006)
With less than six centuries of history, Venezuela has transit through many political and economical ups and downs. Along these years, political scenario has been dominated my strongmen (caudillos, in Spanish) mostly interested in personal benefits than in collective ones. The economical and cultural splendor developed in the second half of the 20th century, during its only forty years of democracy, with the oil industry bonanza. The dawn of this century found a peculiar government that proclaimed the Socialism of XXI century and its destruction has ruined the culture and values of the whole society. In fact, according Forbes, Venezuela is the 23rd most corrupt country of the world. (Andelman, 2007)
It is very intersting that Hofstede research found South Korea and Latin America very similar in terms of power distance index, individualism, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance index. These dimensions allow us to understand in general terms the characteristics of these cultures. Venezuela’s Hofstede dimensions are within the range of the Latin American countries.
An important similarity is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI). Both cultures have low-level of tolerance to uncertainty which translate into a strong need to abide to strict rules, laws, regulations, and policies which are created to increase certainty.
Individuality (IDV) according Hofstede is very low, which means collectivism is prized among the citizens of these countries. “The score on this Dimension indicates the society is Collectivist as compared to Individualist. This is manifest in a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.” (Hofstede, 2010)
Power Distance Index (PDI) is another dimension of similarities in general terms, however, Venezuela presents a higher index which means a more pronounce inequality of power.
In Venezuela, Masculinity (MAS) is a dimension with the highest level among Latin American countries while for South Korea represents one of the lowest in Asia. Masculinity is a characteristic of male domination over females and in consequence, countries’ culture show a gap between men’s values and women’s value.
Very interestingly, Long-term Orientation (LTO) is not observed in Venezuela while it is very high for South Korea. This dimension measures, for high indexes, orientation towards thrift and perseverance.
Confucianism heavily influences South Korea and its values are very similar to what I believe the values of Venezuela’s culture should be. My acronym R.I.G.H.T stands for Respect, Integrity, Gratitude, Honesty, and Trust. Respect (Gong) is a word that represents the feeling of esteem for an individual, for the environment (that allow us to have a life on this planet), for the diversity of opinion (that allows us to share ideas and construct on the experiences of others), for the private property, for the elders (because they prepared the ground on which we started to build our lives), and for the multiplicity of believes (because nobody has the absolute truth). I believe that respect is the starting point of coexistence and that the level of deterioration of our global village has its roots in the lack of respect. Integrity (Xin) means no double standards. An integral person acts as he/she believes and observes consistency in his/her actions, principles, values, measures, and expectations. Integrity is a value that separates the people with serious intentions from those that bend them in order to achieve personal goals. Politicians – with exceptions – suffer of a strange illness characterized for a lack of integrity that allows them to change decisions despite his/her genuine believes.
Honesty (Cheng) is the perfect wrapping for the previous three values. According to Merrian-Webster, honesty is “fairness and straightforwardness of conduct” and “implies a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way.” The real benefit of any value for a society is that it is offered honestly, because otherwise it becomes empty and counterproductive.
Difference between South Korea and Venezuela in regards with Education and Recycling
According with official statistics, 99.6% of South Korean middle school graduates advance to high school and the population of higher education students is more than 3.3 million students compared to a 443,000 in Venezuela. (Universidad Simón Bolívar, 1991).
Recycling in South Korea is mandatory and exist strict regulations than include fees for up to KRW 300,000 (South Korean won). (Korea4expats.com, 2010) In Venezuela, recycling is not a topic of relevance in the society.
I believe that cultural background is a key point in all this discussion. Traditions, respect for the father as head of the family and holder of millenary wisdom, true masculinity instead of “macho latino”, ancestral education, vivid memories of scarcity and foreign country’s oppression, long-term commitment, among others are the differences that drive the behavior of citizens in South Korea to seriously care of topics like education and recycling. I have found that Venezuela has spent many years in civil wars and coups d’état when one caudillo replaces another one for personal rather than collective interests.
Venezuela is a paradisiacal land where Amerindians mixed with non-educated settlers. Fertility of the land, abundance of fish in warm tropical shorelines, gold and diamonds, mild weather, vast central plains, and oil have maintained Venezuelan citizens in their comfort zone. Devil’s Excrement, as Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso – cofounder of OPEC – baptized oil, and he predicted that “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin” (Useem, 2003).
For many Venezuelans, life has been very simple and without any sort of scarcity thanks to the opulence as consequence of high prices of oil in the 70’s and in the first decade of this century. In contrast, South Koreans have lived very difficult times and because of that they understand the value of fundamental topics of society. They have created wealth from hard-working, education, and productivity. They have done more with less. It is value creation what nowadays made of South Koreans the 11th economic power of the planet with 1/9th of Venezuela’s surface and without its humongous mineral reserves.
If I were in a power position, I would start simple campaigns of social conscience jointly with a strong support to the educational system. I would allocate a big portion of GDP to create work for low skilled workers while attracting projects where multinatinational corporations might transfer technologies to universities. I remember when in the late 70’s, in Venezuela, a former presidential candidate Renny Ottolina produced and hosted a campaign to educate Venezuelan citizens in many issues, as simple as crossing the street by the painted zones, and later the Metropolitan underground transportation authority of Caracas maintained for years the cleanest and nicest environment of the country.
I am sure that acting from the government as role model Venezuela can be changed in two or three generations and may become a global power.