Hello there WordPress, I haven’t forgotten about you. I promise.
Has it really been over four months since I’ve blogged? Here’s the thing. I have about a dozen unfinished blog posts in my iPhone notes. There are so many things to tell about Korea, culture, places, food, weather. It’s overwhelming! In my defense: I do not want to write an uninformed post. If I have something to say about Korean culture, I want to make sure my opinion is backed by my Korean friends, students, and coworkers. So I end up half writing things and it never makes it up here. One day, they will though. So I apologize for that.
So, I’m here to vent a little about how much I miss home, beginning with a vent about how much Korea is not like home.
Having considered myself extremely “adaptable” since I knew what the word ‘adaptable’ meant, I feel Korea has been no different. Actually, Korea has made it easier to live here than any other place I’ve visited. Korean’s love Americans, many many people speak English, the signs are in English, the subway app is in English, everything. Not to mention the Christian community is huge here, people never have reasons to fear for their lives (yes, even with North Korea as our next door neighbor), and financially, everyone is doing pretty well. As an English speaking expat, it is ‘easy’ to live here. And so “adapting” has not been so difficult as say- Turkey, Kenya, or Haiti would be. Having traveled to these places and more, it is always so easy to recognize the things I should be thankful for in America like, paved roads, access to education, the freedom to worship, NOT starving, a pretty fair government, a loving family, adoption… The list goes on. But Korea has all this. So how is Korea different from home, really?
Of course, as they say, there’s no place like home. Especially when that home is America. Especially especially when that home in America is Southern California. And so, here are a couple of NEW things that I’m learning not to take for granted in America as an outsider in a new, well developed, first world culture (S.Korea).
Beauty, which is really the need for acceptance.
In America, I’m not fat, I’m average. In Korea, I’m freaking obese. When I first got here I had to get a health check- I weighed in at 66KG (145 pounds). Seeing my weight I was actually like “SCORE! LOST FIVE POUNDS SINCE I LEFT HOME!” *high fives self.* …While the Korean women were whispering and laughing with each other as soon as they saw my weight. The doctor actually told me “You need to loose weight, you’re too big.” HA! Have you ever checked an American before? Our legs don’t come in bone or bone-with-a-little-bit-of-muscle sizes like yours do- we have meat. So what? The doctor didn’t know I had jogged every day for a month before coming to Korea, she didn’t know I had been eating really well. She just told me “loose weight.” And it wasn’t for health purposes really, it was for beauty. You see, everything here is driven by how well you look. ESPECIALLY where I live in Seoul. The Gangnam/Sinsa area is the plastic surgery capital of the world. People come here from all over the world to get plastic surgery- children are told they are not beautiful and their parents proudly buy them face surgeries as high school graduation gifts. Someone once told me that when finding a job here, the candidates are all so well educated and qualified for positions, it really boils down to which person looks more beautiful. So, if you get plastic surgery, take very good care of your skin, maintain a weight of 100 pounds or less, and dress like a modern Helen of Troy every single day for the rest of your life, then you will be more successful than someone who does not do these things. That’s quite a bar to live up to as a foreigner coming to work in Seoul. In America, you see like 1 in 10 people dressed really cute and you say, “wow, that person dresses really well. Go them!” In Seoul, you see like 1 in 50 people dressed poorly and you think, “oh man, they must be having a bad day.” It’s standard, look your best. Always. I just miss seeing people not caring about what other people think. I miss lazy Sundays where you go out in your slippers and sweats and nobody gives a crap. That is one thing I miss about America.
If you’re my friend on Facebook you might have seen my little rant about how much I miss diversity in America. As you probably know, Korea is a very homogenous society and they’re dang-proud of it. If you’re not Korean, then you’re a foreigner. And the foreigner community while not small, is not large compared to the general population. But the problem is not the lack of diverse food or clothing styles (well, that’s a problem too). But everybody tries to be the same here. There is a lack of diverse opinion. It’s almost “cool” for people to all do the same things, act the same way, eat the same stuff, go on the same dates, wear the same clothes, accept the same life circumstances, put their kids in the same types of schools, get the same educations, do the same jobs, same same SAME-NESS. On top of that, if you happen to be the one in a million person (usually a young person) who is not satisfied with said “same-ness,” then you are considered an outsider. Never to be good enough, accepted, loved, or to acquire a good job because you are different. One of my very dear friends is a barista. We’ve had long conversations about how Korea has put pressure on him to mold with the society. Sometimes he is tempted, sometimes he feels he is forced, but all he wants to do is something different: art. Is that too much to ask in most societies? NO. But in Korea, yeah, kinda. The USA really encourages my generation to be independent. Now more than ever. It is possible to start your own small business, be successful, live happily. Here happiness is directly related to money, education, and status. Which really isn’t happiness at all- in fact, Korea has the highest suicide rate of any country. So if for some reason you try and can’t mold, then your option is… Yeah. No one has taught you to think any differently. And since we’re on the topic… Just the other day one of my 2nd graders told me her friend’s older sister died because she “fell out of an apartment building.” YOU SHOULD NOT BE SUBJECT TO THIS, CHILD. On what PLANET do you live on that YOUR FRIEND’S SISTER COMMITS SUICIDE?! It angers me so much. I’m thankful that I wasn’t raised in a society that pressures me to preform to complete perfection or I will fail.
…And that brings me to the next topic, I’m not really sure what this makes me thankful for in America but…
Drinking into oblivion
Remember how about five seconds ago I said something about Korean’s having to preform? Well how do you escape this social pressure? With another social pressure of course. Drinking. It doesn’t really get quite here at night because the businessmen and their superiors are always out- drinking. My friend told me that the business men have to do it, even if they don’t want to. They have to let loose from the strains of the work day by getting drunk on a near nightly basis. I miss living in a society where drinking is an option, not a requirement. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with it directly, because my boss understands I am a foreigner and live by different standards. She would still prefer it if I drink so she can connect with me on a deeper level though.
Dedication to work
Annd speaking of my boss. Did you know I have to work the day after Christmas? Isn’t boxing day usually a holiday? In Korea, Christmas is not really a big deal. GASP. I know. Even though there are so many Christians here- they don’t really see the value in the holiday as much as Europe and America. My kids said they get like one present from “santa” and nothing from their parents or siblings. It’s not a terrible thing, I mean, that certainly makes the “holidays” less stressful.. BUT it’s difficult for my boss to see it as important for me or the other foreign teachers. When I asked for the day after Christmas off she told me there is no possible way that could happen. I even offered to work overtime every week until Christmas to pay for taking the day off. But NOPE. Korean’s have a very strong commitment to work and following the rules. They don’t understand why anybody would ever need real time off- even if you get sick. I have heard several stories of teachers being sick in the hospital and the hagwon principle calls and says, “So can you come in for the second half of the day?” I definitely miss having real sick days and real vacations days in America. Even if I never took a day off of work for a holiday- I at least liked having the option. And not having to experience repercussions if I were to get too sick to come in that day.
I’m not going to write much about this topic. The world already knows there is a lot of pressure for young children to succeed and preform just as there is pressure for their parents. The thing that saddens me is, these children are often too young to make their own choices on the matter. The must do it. On the flip side, the kids I tutor told me that there are always extreme cases but not every single child is miserable. One thing I appreciate about America is my childhood- having the freedom to be a child. Being carefree, being happy. I would guess that many of my children come from happy homes but many of them don’t. Many of them are pushed to their limits because if they don’t start young- they won’t succeed. I often see children with cuts and bruises on their faces after exam time. I’ve cried several times in class because they’ve exclaimed “mom punched me.” And I really don’t think they’re lying. A Korean friend was telling me of the time his family lived in the country, he professes to remember a time in his youth when he had no worries. There were no private institutions where he lived so he could get out of public school and play and be a child. He remembers smelling the flowers, playing games with his friends in the streets, doing normal-kid stuff. All that changed when his family uprooted and moved to Seoul. Thank you mom for giving me the freedom to grow into exactly who I want to be and for not forcing me to turn into something that would make me miserable. Thank you America, for having laws that restrict the abuse and overworking of children. (Korea does have child abuse laws but they aren’t enforced, if you hear your neighbor beating their children, you ignore it. They probably deserve it any.)
For some reason, not a month has gone by that I haven’t been sick. I believe I’ve had about seven colds in the last 6 months, summer, fall, and winter. My body is having a difficult time adjusting even though I maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Now that nearly every day feels like I’m surviving the next ice age with sub-zero temperatures (I’m sure it’s not as bad as some places like say… THE ARCTIC), it’s another opportunity to be sick and stuffy. I’ve actually come to terms with this: I will be sick every month until I go home and that’s that. Being from Southern California, all the Korean’s really enjoyed warning me about my impending doom this winter. They would say: “Oh you’re going to die.” Or “Is that really the only jacket you have?” or “Yeah, it’s really really bad here in the winter, you probably won’t make it.” And then all my California people would be like “Yeah, we’re really warm and toasty here. It’s 75 degrees outside! SO NICE.” ….Thank you, California. You really screwed me with your tropical desert climate. Real winter? I didn’t know it actually existed. AND IT’S ONLY DECEMBER.
In conclusion (sorry this post is much longer than I was expecting)
Now, I realize I have just typed a lot about the negative things in Korea that make me appreciate America. In fact, I will post another blog about the many positive things Korea presents. Like incredible health care!! Living here is not bad by any means, in fact, I love Korea. These are just some of the concerns that make me appreciate and love where I grew up. I am grateful that I am an outsider in this place and did not grow up with the same stresses. Sometimes it takes getting away to realize what you are truly thankful for.
America, I miss you.
I miss you, California, you’re the greatest state of all
I miss you in the winter, summer, spring, and in the fall.
I miss your fertile valleys; your dear mountains I adore,
I miss your grand old ocean and I miss her rugged shore.