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[Kim Seong-kon] ‘Home is where the heart is’

By Korea Herald

Published : March 13, 2024 - 05:31

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What is “home”?

The English word “home” has diverse meanings. It refers to not only “home,” but also “house,” “hometown” and “homeland.” English-speaking people also use expressions, such as “homeless,” “home for sale,” “high school homecoming” or “homecoming queen.” Well-known English phrases include: “There’s no place like home,” “Home, sweet home” and “Home is where the heart is.”

Elvis Presley famously sang: “Home is where the heart is/ And my heart is anywhere you are/ Anywhere you are is home/ I don’t need a mansion on a hill/ That overlooks the sea/ Anywhere you’re with me is home.”

In the song, home means where “you are with me,” and “you” can be either one's lover or family. Therefore, home is not a place where you just want to be alone and relaxed. It is the place where you spend time with loved ones.

In many countries, a home is a place where you greet your loved ones every morning and evening, talk with them and laugh with them. It is a place where you do household chores together, such as cooking, cleaning or interior decorating. It is also a place to which you are constantly returning in order to reunite with your sweetheart or family. If your home were an empty place without your beloved ones, would you still call it “home”? Would you still enjoy “coming home”?

Strangely, however, young Korean people’s notions of home these days are radically different from the above descriptions. Recently, a Korean YouTuber introduced an interesting survey from the international furniture company Ikea. According to the Ikea survey, young Koreans tend to think of home as a place where they rest, watch TV or play video games. To them, home is also a place to take a nap or sleep at night without disturbances.

It is unsurprising that young Koreans do not take any particular pleasure in cooking, cleaning or interior decorating. They just want privacy at home and do not want others to disturb them. They are not interested in conversing with or mingling with family members either. They just want to retreat to their bedroom with the door shut and spend time alone. Consequently, Ikea concludes that its sales strategy in Korea should focus on beds.

In other countries, Ikea’s main concern is probably how to sell living room sofa sets where families can sit together and socialize. In South Korea, however, young people seem to find family gatherings in the living room awkward. The survey indicates that Korean children in secondary school spend, on average, 13 minutes with their family and three hours alone either studying or playing video games per day. Out of 28 countries in the survey, South Korea ranked dead last in spending time with family at home.

In today’s South Korea, home resembles a hotel room with a sign reading “Do not disturb” on the door. There, you can rest or sleep after a day’s work. If so, you might as well rent a studio or a one-room apartment that is so popular in Korea. There, you can have perfect privacy, while resting, watching television or playing games online alone.

However, “home” is not supposed to be such a place.

“Home is wherever I'm with you,” as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros sang. According to the song, home is not a fixed place. It can be anywhere as long as I am with my loved ones. Home is where we interact with our dear siblings and parents, and later with our sweethearts and children.

Moreover, home is a microcosm of our society. If our home is like an inhumane, barren wasteland, so is our society. If our home fails to give us comfort and trust, so does our society. If we do not talk to one another at home and instead frequently quarrel or fight, we do the same in our society. If we antagonize our family members at home, we antagonize others in our society.

Our home mirrors our society.

Of course, the traditional Korean home was far different. Before the nuclear family became predominant, the Korean home was bustling with a big family with five to six children as well as grandparents. At that time, home was a sociable place, full of mingling and laughter, caring and sharing with one another. Even today, not all young Koreans think of home as a place of simply resting and sleeping.

Still, however, in the eyes of today’s young Koreans, home is undeniably a place of retreat and rest after school or work. Yet, home is much more than that.

Home is a point of reference to which we constantly return and a place where we live with our dearest ones in happiness. Our young people should know “Home is where the heart is,” not just the TV or video game console.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. -- Ed.