Cultural Differences Unveiled Through COVID-19

By Kristin Cho

Image credit: Oracle

The COVID-19 pandemic has a global impact socially, economically, and politically. Although countries like New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan have been averaging less than 5 new cases each day, many countries still struggle with the exploding new COVID cases. With the elongated duration of the pandemic providing great numbers of statistics for pattern observation, the cultural differences among countries become apparent. 

Although the number of cases in countries fluctuated massively over the past 6 months, the disparity between the countries that have been able to control the number of confirmed cases and those that haven’t been able to do so has become evident. From a cultural perspective on this difference, one may question whether a culture believing in the strength of individualism or the success stemming from collectivism play a part in how COVID-19 is handled. Although cultural differences are often unspoken and thus unconsciously held, they stem from the core of the people. Consequently, when in crisis, the  often  to their rules to solve problems.  

Confucianism, a cultural force in East Asia that advocates the duty to society over individual needs, has been cited to explain Asian responses to COVID-19 and lack of cohesion in the United States, according to a March 31st blog post by the Wilson Center policy forum. The prevalence of emergency texts in Korea, with which locations of the confirmed are revealed for everyone to check, is an example of how a society defaults to its regulations. Citizens of a more group-oriented cultural background, such as a collectivist country South Korea, had less difficult accepting COVID-19 testing, mobile tracking tools and applications, temperature checks in public areas, etc. By contrast, in more individualistic countries like the United States—which has the most individualistic culture in the world according to every major intercultural study— the use or publication of personal information is considered a violation of one’s rights to privacy. It is interesting to see how cultural differences are best exhibited under a crisis, where people unconsciously reveal their principal values and beliefs. In many ways, this global pandemic is blatantly showing what really matters to different countries, and in the process, revealing a lot about a country’s culture. Through this global pandemic, people are also reminded how people, places and cultures are so wonderfully diverse.

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