South Korea So Far: My New Reality
I've lived in Asia before, but just like I hate when people talk about Africa as a monolith, I hate when people refer to Asia as the same. With that thinking, just because I was consistently gawked at while living in Hong Kong, that means it should be the same in Korea, right?
Well, kinda. I mean I wouldn't call it gawking, but I definitely get looks. Just the other night, a young Korean woman told me I was the first black person she's ever seen, and that I was young and beautiful. What a claim to fame!
Even though it's only week two, I feel like I've been here for a month. Because I move around a lot (
I don't feel like a foreigner here. I feel like myself - a girl who just hasn't caught on to the language that everyone else speaks. In fact, I feel so close to Koreans that I find myself thinking "c'mon, why are you doing this? Let's just speak the same language," when we come to a lingual standstill. I say I feel close to Koreans because though I may be the first black person they are ever seeing, or the tallest woman, or just a different person, they look at me like they look at their own kind. My few and brief interactions have shown me that the people I've encountered are pragmatic and sensible just like me. One of the things that consistently gives me pause is that when I do come to that lingual standstill, at least some of the Koreans I've encountered have a modicum of English language skills that they use to help try to decipher what the hell I'm saying. I, on the other hand, can't remember any Korean words past "hello/goodbye" and "thank you." I'm working on this though!
I think South Korea will change me. Not an expectation, just an anticipation. I hope it will be for the better, too. For instance, I see a sense of sharing here that is prevalent in so many parts of life. On my second day here, my landlord's wife brought me some delicious food on behalf of the thanksgiving holiday, Chuseok, that was occurring. I was touched by that, but it was probably just something she's used to doing because of her culture. Similarly, when I show up to my school for my first day of teaching in just a couple days, I am to bring a gift for my principal and co-teachers - I guess as a way of thanking them for allowing me in their school. This is so different from what I'm used to back in the states. After graduating college, the only time I ever exchanged gifts with my superior in the workplace was during Christmastime, and even then it felt unnecessary to me. I do like that gift-giving and sharing is a two-way street and people genuinely seem happy to share their time, smiles, and goodies. There doesn't seem to be that element of 'do this for me and I will do that for you,' which kind of hardens you to the natural goodness in the world.
You see, these are the beauties of culture and travel that I love and strive to sustain, even when they are not aspects of my own culture as a Nigerian-American. I get that societies are globalizing, and I'm all in for a sort of morphing of cultures, but I think when we preserve the cultures in place that actually aide society, we're much better for it.
Cheers to the enlightenment travel brings!