LIFE IN KOREA: Coming of Age Ceremony Experience

by Sonja Glaser, 28/01/2013


Some time back, my friend from Ukraine and I (from Germany) learned about a Korean ritual  “Coming of Age Ceremony" via a newspaper article that described how foreign nationals could sign-up to participate in such a ceremony.

Looking for challenges and curious about Korean Culture, my friend and I were thrilled with this offer to experience a new experience, especially one that was so important in traditional Korean culture and were eager to sign up.

The person taking my phone registration was, unfortunately, not able to answer my questions, partly due to limited language fluency on both our parts but also to the registrar's lack of information about the program. “Dressing up in traditional Korean costumes and following the instructions..." is what I was told by the person on the phone, in a mixture of Korean and English.

On the day of the event, my friend and I went to the arranged meeting spot, the Namsan Folk Village and Performance Hall, in downtown Seoul. As soon as we walked through entrance of the hall, some elderly Korean ladies grabbed us by the hand and guided us into a changing room filled with both Korean traditional outfits and other women trying to change their look.

Soon that was us as well. Our hair was braided and we were put into traditional costumes consisting of a red skirt and a yellow blouse, reflecting the status of unmarried, adolescent girls.

The crucial part of the performance practice and rehearsal followed shortly after: Learning how to sit down to the ground, bow properly and stand up from the ground~ all without using our hands!!!  After a few rounds of bowing practice, we were brought on stage where a few other visitors were waiting for us along with camera teams from local TV and Radio channels.

Shortly after,  the full Ceremony on Stage began. We performed  around 5-6 hours of bowing up and down in different directions, sipping alcohol to celebrate our "Adult-hood" and changing clothes.
Our hair, previously just a pigtail braid, was folded up into a knot and fixed with a sort of traditional hair pin by our “for-one-day” Korean mothers. The clothing and hair-style change apparently reflected the transition from child to adolescent, guided by the mother.  After a multitude of half and big bows, the ceremony came to an end and we received an official certificate, mentioning our successful participation at the "Coming of Age" Ceremony.

We also each received an additional Korean name which was put together by one of the elderly ladies according to our birth year and date. Thus, my new Korean name is " 가영" / "Ga-Young". I am not sure if this is a nice name, but everything is relative I guess.
 
The ceremony in itself was very beautiful and a truly unique experience. I would like to recommend it to everyone who is interested in Korean traditional culture and who would like to learn about Korean etiquette and the manners of the past,  including how to show respect towards the parents. The dresses are marvelously colored and bear quite refined stitching on silk. Wearing the complete outfit including underwear, shoes and traditional socks is self-understood in such an environment of the Namsan Traditional Folk Village.

The Ceremony in itself used to be a mile-stone event in a Korean's life of former times. I personally hope that our dear Koreans will not forget this tradition and rather re-experience it together with some foreigners who will bring along a desire for knowledge and fun!

About the Author: Miss Sonja Glaser is of German nationality. She came to Korea with the main purpose of  gaining experience of the local culture and habits. She became the first German Tea-Master of the Banyaro Institute for the Korean Way of Tea and she put her passion into the creation of  an integrated community to experience, fun, culture, networking and news about Korea via "Hippie-Korea". If you would like to know more about "Hippie-Korea" please email Sonja at welcome.to.hippidihopp@gmail.com

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