Korean Age vs. Western Age

Insa-dong, Seoul

When in the first days of the semester I was trying to get to know my students better, I was struck at how good all Koreans look: young, slim and healthy. One of my student’s in her self-introduction mentioned, “I am 50 years old.” My jaw dropped because she did not look more than 45 to me, and that is in the “worst-case scenario.” I am sure there are many various reasons that contribute to the luminescence of Koreans’ skin, but I found a very unexpected contributor to their youthfulness.

As it turned out Koreans count their age differently. When a child is born he/she is considered 1 year old. At the turn of the calendar year that child automatically turns two. Sometime that year the child celebrates his or her Birthday, but nothing changes in terms of counting the years. Birthday is just a celebration, not meant for counting years. Only when the calendar turns to another year, this child, along with the rest of the country, will turn another year older. In other words, some of the Koreans, who say I am 50, may, in fact, be only 48!

This system is fun especially when you are trying to impress a Westerner with the freshness of your skin. But the same system works for school and daycare admissions, and that may be the first reason why Korean schools perform highly. In the next blog I will explain the school admission further.


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