Telecommuting, “telephone booth” testing stations and travel restrictions are some of the more tangible measures that have helped contain Covid-19 in South Korea. But one less obvious factor that has helped prevent the spread of coronavirus is the nation’s collectivist culture, one that stems from millennia-old Confucian values.
As Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, South Korea has been praised for its efforts to contain the illness. The country has since become a model for other nations that have been affected by Covid-19.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Despite being one of the worst-affected regions outside of China, South Korea has recently seen a steady decrease in new coronavirus cases. From testing clinics to mask rationing, Korea’s response to tackling the public health crisis has been swift and effective.
But beyond these more concrete measures, the secret to Korea’s success could very well lie in its cultural beliefs and traditions. Observers believe the containment of coronavirus could in large part be due to the country’s collectivist culture, ppalli, ppalli (hurry, hurry) mentality and a willingness to adopt technological solutions.
“All in this together”
Strongly influenced by Confucian ideologies, South Korea’s collectivist culture is one based on a hierarchical social structure that values the collective good over individual rights. This unified mindset is perhaps one of the reasons why Korea has been able to efficiently implement measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Collectivism demands that Koreans remain loyal to their group and act in the best interests of said group to maintain inhwa, or harmony. This rings true in just about all relationships: families, colleagues and even Korean citizens as a whole.
“There very much is a feeling of being all in this together,” notes Seoul-based journalist Raphael Rashid. “There is a debate in Western countries as to whether wearing a face mask is actually useful, but in South Korea, wearing a mask isn’t just to potentially protect oneself, it’s done out of consideration and respect for others.” As such, celebrities have donated millions of dollars to purchase medical supplies for hospital staff and masks for those most at risk.
Ensuring the welfare of the whole group can sometimes mean self-sacrifice or surrendering personal freedoms. Such is the case with the initiative to make sensitive information public. In Korea, the GPS locations of unnamed people confirmed for Covid-19 are accessible on an app so that others can avoid those areas.
As controversial as this may seem from a privacy standpoint, such initiatives seem to be helping people feel informed and in control of their health. “The key here is having information, as opposed to the MERS outbreak in 2015 under impeached President Park Geun-hye, when a lack of it resulted in public distrust,” Rashid says.
Ppalli, ppalli: Korea’s insatiable taste for haste
Another factor that has informed Korea’s response to the coronavirus is its ppalli, ppalli culture. Meaning “hurry, hurry”, this mentality pervades every aspect of Korean daily life, including its world-leading internet speeds, its 30-minute weddings and its ultra-fast food delivery services. It can even be argued that ppalli, ppalli is what lifted the nation out of poverty following the Korean War, propelling it to becoming a leading global economy in just a few decades.
It’s no surprise to Korean locals that the country’s response to Covid-19 has been similarly rapid. “We saw drive-through testing stations rolled out in a matter of days. We’re now seeing ‘telephone booth’-style testing stations. The mask ration system was implemented in a very short amount of time. Apps were developed to show the status of face mask stocks,” Rashid says. “All these have been truly impressive.”
Early, widespread and consistent testing has allowed the country to more accurately determine mortality rates of the virus, as well as isolate and treat those infected. Similarly, near-instant school closures, event cancellations and travel restrictions have also helped to curb the community spread of Covid-19.
An evolving corporate culture
South Koreans work some of the longest hours in the world, and telecommuting is generally discouraged. But the outbreak of coronavirus has prompted some soul-searching for many Korean conglomerates – the results of which may have lasting consequences.
“Allowing telecommuting, to many supervisors, is like letting employees loose to do whatever they please. They aren’t able to trust that their subordinates have the tools at home to work as efficiently as they could in the office,” explains Sungkyunkwan University Associate Professor Andy Lee.
But in recent months, employers have been forced to re-evaluate these long-held notions. The government has enforced staggered work hours to prevent cramped offices and ease congestion during commuting times. South Korean mobile carrier SK Telecom has enforced mandatory remote working for its 5,400 employees, a request that would have seemed unfeasible just a year ago.
“Although it’s always been technologically possible, only those working with overseas partners were familiar with teleconference services like Zoom and Skype,” Lee says. “But now, as remote working has become our only option, people are seeing the value of it.”
In the past, working while ill has always been seen as a virtue in corporate Korea, as taking a day off would inconvenience colleagues and subsequently upset the workplace hierarchy. Now, Korea is having to reconsider its attitudes toward sick leave. Similarly, in the wake of the virus, attitudes are changing about hweshik, after-work gatherings with colleagues where excessive drinking is encouraged to promote team bonding.
We won’t be able to comprehend the full impact the coronavirus will have on Korean culture for quite some time, but for now, one thing is certain: the country’s traditions and beliefs have helped it to respond extremely well to a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.