It’s no big shock to anyone who has lived in Korea or studied a bit about the culture that Koreans count their ages differently than westerners. Koreans count the gestation period towards the life of the child (which should speak volumes about where this country would side culturally in a “Does life begin at conception?” debate). Thus, once the child is born, he/she is technically about 9 months old. Koreans get a little sneaky here and just round it up to 1 year.
Likewise, when the New Year comes around (meaning January 1st) *everyone* in Korea celebrates a birthday. Yea! Everyone tacks on an additional year. So, what happens later in the year when the date of their actual birthday comes to pass? More celebrations! (But no adding numbers to their age this time around. Boo.)
Thus calculating one’s age can be a bit tricky when asked (and believe me, you WILL be asked…a LOT). It’s possible for a baby to be born in December (1 year old at birth), then be considered 2 years old a few days later on January 1st. That little tyke won’t add another year until the following January, but it is a bit overwhelming to think that your newborn baby has zoomed up to 2 years of age so quickly.
I first encountered the Korean aging system while living in Guam from 2009-2011. We operated a Kids Club at the hotel resort I worked at and there was a clear minimum 5 year-old age cut-off. The waivers we had the parents sign were available in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and English. The sheets required the parents to write the date of birth of their kids. Often times, we’d catch sneaky parents trying to put their 4 year old kids there, relying on the trusty old Republic of Korea Department of Aging Mathematics to handle the paperwork. Not on my watch, folks.
In fact, I think I’d like to see Koreans get even more exact with aging. Instead of calling a 9-month old newborn 1 year old, why not wait another 3 months and celebrate a true full year? Well, they kinda already do! It’s a 100-day celebration (백일), so close enough. Besides, maybe it’s a little creepy to start counting on the exact 1 year mark. Then you’ll live the rest of your life knowing a little too much about what season your parents like to get giddy.