Educate. Empower. Prevent.

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An Asian Perspective on American Culture

Hello.  I’m Minwoo Kim from South Korea. I am 27 years old and have been studying at Intrax language school in San Diego for approximately 1 year. While living here, I have learned and observed many interesting cultural differences between the U.S. and South Korea.  I have been curious as to why diabetes and obesity are growing global issues. In particular, why obesity is a bigger problem in the U.S. than South Korea.

Through my internship with the Skinny Gene Project, I had the opportunity to obtain a  better understanding of theses issues, and I‘d like to share my thoughts with you.

I’d like to begin with why I came to the U.S.

In South Korea I worked as a Process Engineer at a Pharmaceutical company. I wanted to change my profession and work for a global company, and to do so, I needed to improve my English. So I enrolled in the Intrax language school, because I could improve my English and gain experience interning at a U.S. company.

Life in San Diego

Living in San Diego has allowed me to create many memorable experiences that I wouldn’t have had in South Korea.  For example, San Diego keeps such a temperate climate throughout the year, it’s easy to take advantage of the ocean and go surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling.

Difference in Culture

From the moment I arrived here, the people were so friendly and hospitable to me all the time. This was very unexpected because, especially in my city, Seoul, it is not easy to imagine greeting strangers as if they have already known each other for a long time. What’s more, I couldn’t imagine a person I didn’t know approaching me and saying, “Hello”. I would think “why say hello to me? What is your intention?”

With its weather and friendly people, I see why everyone likes San Diego.

 Blended Culture

When I studied about American cultures, to prepare to come to San Diego, I heard that diabetes had become a growing issue in the U.S. Of course, diabetes is a big problem in South Korea, as well. The main reason Koreans think diabetes is a growing issue is because the Korean lifestyle is getting similar to the American’s lifestyle. Even we are consuming more foods like hamburgers, pizza and other fatty dishes, so we are starting to get some of the same health problems.

I’m curious, why do Americans have a bigger problem with obesity and diabetes than other countries?

In my opinion, I found two reasons to explain this. The first one, as mentioned above, is the “diet”.

I’ve had the unique experience of discussing the American diet with my friends from Intrax. It was surprising to hear their perspective, because the students are all from diverse countries like Brazil, Turkey, Korea, Japan, Germany and Taiwan etc., yet we all had the same opinion.

Unfortunately, nobody I spoke to thought “American foods” were healthy. My classmates said that most “American foods” had too much oil, and they believed many Americans eat these “greasy” foods all the time. Not sometimes. This way of eating appears to be a part of the American culture. This is the definite difference between the U.S and my country. It sounds like this is  also the difference between the states and my friend’s countries too.

In my country, we also enjoy something “oily”, but it can’t be always. It’s okay to eat in moderation.

The second reason why I believe Americans may have a bigger problem with obesity and diabetes is a lower level of physical activity. The U.S. has one of the best car markets in the world, which is why automotive companies from around the world love to sell to the U.S.  In other words, I think the driving culture is so well developed in the U.S. that it is easy to get anywhere by car. Whereas, in other countries, like South Korea, walking and public transportation are the main methods of transportation. Having a car seems nice, but on the contrary, I think it might be the core reason for the decreased level of exercise in the U.S.

Different Steps

In doing some research, I found an interesting fact.

According to the Pedometer Test, Americans take over 4,000 fewer steps (walking) a day than other countries.  This gap is equal to about 30 to 40 minutes of walking each day. It is recommended that people  in the U.S take at least 10,000 steps a day to maintain good health, which is approximately five miles of walking. The study showed that  on average Americans are only taking 5,117 steps a day.

This study surprised me, because it means American are getting half of the exercise they need to live a healthy lifestyle and prevent things like heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Doing some quick math, I realized that these missing 4,000 + steps can really accumulate, causing a person to gain an extra 21 pounds a year.  These additional pounds can be the tipping point between a person being healthy and becoming overweight, getting  high blood pressure, or having  high cholesterol.  Or, it could even be the difference between a person with prediabetes developing full blown type 2 diabetes, or preventing it all together.

New Perspective

During the internship, I’ve been taught a lot of things that I’d not known and had misunderstood about obesity and diabetes. Especially, it was a good chance to learn the distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the important role diet and exercise can play in diabetes prevention, and most importantly that diabetes is no longer the disease for the older generation. People my age, late 20’s, need to start being more careful of their health and live a healthier lifestyle, if we want to prevent diabetes from continuing to attack our generation. It is becoming a global issue, but we don’t necessarily need a “big solution”. What I figured out from the research and lessons are that we can slow the growth of obesity and diabetes by taking small steps, 10,000 of them to be specific, to improve the health of all nations.

Before concluding my story, I want to say that San Diego is AWESOME. It not only helped me to achieve my prospective goals, but also provided a bunch of ways to broaden my horizons. I believe that all the experiences that I had in San Diego are invaluable and never forgettable.



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