As the global community looks to South Korea to guide their own nations, we wonder what really sets the Korean experience apart from the rest of the world. Korea’s involvement and participation in finding their nation’s ‘new normal’ is derived from a balance between the scientific and humane efforts needed to survive and ultimately thrive during this unparalleled time. 

South Korea has found such success in escaping their ‘corona blues’ thanks to a widespread transition from working, learning, and governing offline to online. Korea, itself, might often be thought of as a technological haven; however, much of their documentation and social interactions happen in a more traditional sense, offline. Business contracts are signed face-to-face, students receive lectures in lecture halls next to their peers and they listen to their professor. For quite a while, there has been an extreme juxtaposition between the traditional and new-age Korea, which had, in fact, caused a great rift in the society itself. In finding a new normal, S. Korea will be able to both increase their people’s quality of life, in addition to, their role in guiding the rest of the world in understanding how to manage a balance between off- and on-line life.

In seeking an understanding for how and why S. Korea has managed to find their new normal so efficiently and implement it so effectively, we can imagine a couple possible explanations. Beginning his presentation, he presented us with three challenges, followed by an opportunity. Within contaminated nations, there is infection control, mental depression and economic depression. Infection control presents itself mostly in the physical infection, physical distancing, washing of hands, wearing masks, which conjure feelings of fear. Next, mental depression which has presented itself as loneliness, fear, worry, and stress. Lastly, economic depression is seen as work closures, school closures, plunges in stock prices, and ultimately unemployment. Despite the negativity that these challenges hold, however, we are also presented with an opportunity. Examples of online transitions can be found in working from home, E-health, online shopping, online courses, and ordering groceries online. The fact that everything is changing and moving to online platforms has created the new normal in Korea. 

In describing this new normal as a normalcy that has nothing to do with the old normal, South Korea places itself apart from other countries. Hope, founded in the humane approach of entrepreneurship, has been at the centerfold of their innovation. A type of hope that works to evolve with the world, instead of working to maintain society until the effects of COVID-19 have passed. Therefore, it is this balance between medicine and hope that guides S. Korea’s actions. Corona is “a wake up call for humanity.” The scientific message of social distancing and staying home is insufficient for a community. The loneliness of work and school closures and the isolation of social distancing can lead to mental depression, meaning that the scientific approach to navigating the coronavirus is not enough for humans. We need connection, and it is this fundamental empathetic need that has ultimately driven the creation of the new online normal. 

Humane affection towards others, seen today as staying home, campaigns to provide food for elderly, and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, is an innate part of the human experience and has guided the formation of Korea’s new normal. Technology has to be used to support the humanity of others, so that we can stay home and social distance, while staying connected. Coronavirus is our new reality, and S. Korea has done what many countries have been unable to do: accept this new reality. By admitting surrender through acceptance, we can then understand what our community needs to continue and progress. Currently, we know that we need to keep distance from one another. Science tells us this. We, also, know that human survival comes from a place of empathy, and that it was and is only through collaboration and cooperation that human societies have and continue to survive during and after moments of crisis. In light of COVID-19, we must understand that by speaking of the current physical health crisis, we mean those people who are contaminated and dying around the world. However for the living, we are having a momentary mental health crisis. After being pushed into isolation, we are experiencing extreme loneliness and disconnect, which proves to us that the empathetic connection felt when conversing with another is essential to the human condition. 

Then, once a nation has fully accepted their new realities can they move to their new normal. South Korea has been the global example of early and widespread testing with their groundbreaking “drive -through’ inspection system. Other nations have been unable to repeat this example because they have refused to admit that the coronavirus is their nation’s new reality. We can not just buckle down and hold out until the end of contamination and confinement because we will never reach the desired outcome if we are unable to reach this place of acceptance, which can be demonstrated by the juxtaposition of S. Korea with the United States and France. In both the USA and France, grocery stores are empty. Produce, toilet paper and hygienic masks are beyond limited and practically unavailable to the public. In South Korea, grocery stores are full and their inhabitants have been supplied with an application to view where masks are available in the neighborhood.

Finally, it is important to note that although now people are sick, soon they will be hungry. By this statement, we are pointing to the long-term effects of COVID-19. Currently, S. Korea has managed to continue administering over 350,000 checkups (March 24). Their low mortality rate being a result of their widespread testing, in addition to quick (6 hour) results update. However, even South Korea needs to start thinking about the economic depression that has ensued from the pandemic. An example of a campaign to stimulate the economy is through tax breaks for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This respect, shown in the form of human entrepreneurship, results from the innovation founded in technology-promoted campaigns.

The shift to the new normal is enormous, however the normalcy that follows will be one that allows our governments, entrepreneurs, and citizens to flourish in a way that has yet to be seen before on a global scale. The fate of the world depends on the acceptance of reality and the formation of a new normal that will be founded at the intersection of science and empathy and will benefit the quality of life for everyone.

Video reference: Dr. Ki-Chan Kim on the S. Korean Experience of COVID-19