Being able to read and act based on social cues is important in many cultures, but in South Korea, “nunchi” is especially valued. There is no exact translation of this word in English, but in his research paper, Jae Hong Heo interprets nunchi as a method of understanding the situation or feelings of others around you and acting accordingly. My paper will discuss why nunchi is unique to South Korea and how the awareness of nunchi affects social relations on professional and casual levels. My research’s purpose is to identify how nunchi serves as a type of grounding in interpersonal relations and why it plays such a larger role in Korean culture than in other cultures. As a result, my main research question is how nunchi affects and reflects the way people in Korean society relate to each other, especially from different positions of power. Through analyzing my sources, I found that nunchi is not only a way of communicating ideas as a form of grounding or back channel information, but also a way of “survival.” In an interview discussing her book “Why Do I Look At Other Peoples ' Nunchi?" Professor Geun Yeong Park states that nunchi is “the first response that allows adaptation or survival when there is a lack of or no prior intelligence in a situation.” This claim is furthered in the show “Abnormal Summit” where representatives from different countries discuss how nunchi affects relations between people in different positions of authority within the workplace, and encourages workers to pay attention to nunchi in order to get promoted. These preliminary findings point to nunchi being seen as an important part of society in Korea that explains the authority hierarchy and perhaps even...
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...aes’ nunchi has been described as “like walking on a tightrope” (Lee) because people are constantly on their toes, trying to say and do all the right things. In these ways, nunchi might be regarded so importantly in Korea because of society’s competitive nature in which the authority hierarchy has to be paid special attention to, thus perpetuating that system.
In conclusion, nunchi is not only a way of communicating, but it is the Korean peoples’ mutual understanding of how Korean society works. Nunchi is used as a method of grounding that is understood in various ways in various situations interpreted through back channel information in a communal common ground setting. Nunchi seems to be prevalent in all aspects of life in South Korea as it both reflects society’s competitiveness and perpetuates social norms, thus making it an integral part of life in South Korea.
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