I've been inspired. So much so that I initially wrote this while sitting at my desk with a pencil and paper as this is the 4th day in a row that I have forgotten to bring my computer charger to work. I’ve been working a lot more the last few weeks which has slowed down the social life, and revved up the World According to Amy. Quiet time by myself always gives me time to work through my frustrations and this one has been frustrating me for months… Settle in, this is a long one.
As my little group of friends and I are all nearing (or passing) our one year mark in Korea, restlessness is settling in. The rose colored glasses are off and now visible are the eye rolls and looks of pure disdain and annoyance at cultural differences and daily frustrations. It's happening to all of us, myself included.
We crave normalcy. Not "normal" in the way that "America is normal, Korea is abnormal". God knows that's not true. Check out the local news for one day and you'll quickly remember just how screwed up American society really is. I am more referring to our own personal definitions of normal. We each had our own lives, friends, and routines before we came here and it all got turned upside down.
For me... I want to be able to spend a quiet weekend at home in my yoga pants and a tank top, watching my recent Netflix deliveries 3 times each, and eating nothing but pizza or Chinese food. Most importantly, I want to not feel guilty about wasting away a weekend. That's normal for me.
I want to be able to walk my dog without little old ladies following to ensure that Charlie doesn't leave any presents behind.
I want to go a week without someone asking me if my eyes are real. (The sometimes blue, sometimes green, and occasionally gray thing really makes a few people uneasy.)
I want to be able to have a conversation with the lady ringing up my purchase at the grocery store or be able to order a "diet coke with a lemon" when I go out to restaurants.
These things are all completely normal to me. I miss them. Now more than ever.
There are so many differences between America and Korea that they seem to get lost on the foreigners. It's easy to look at something that's different and point out all the flaws that you think it contains. It takes effort to take your opinions and a lifetime of ideals and put them to the side. It takes effort to not make accusations and pass judgments, but to instead start asking why they do the things they do. Your (our) opinion of their actions or beliefs are really quite meaningless. Their opinions and their thoughts behind it can open your mind to ideas you may have never considered. And you might just decide that it's better their way.
If you've taken the time to read my "101 things about Amy Kate" (I don't expect you to read it) then you know I firmly believe tolerance and respect are the most important characteristics that any one person can possess. It just sucks that most people don't usually know when they don't possess these qualities. I feel confident saying that even the extremely conservative, Ms. Sarah Palin, could boast her ideals about tolerance and respect. An idea that most Americans would shake their head in firm disagreement with.
First, Koreans work all the time. Truly, all the time. 6 days a week, sometimes 7, and generally around 10 hour days, 52 weeks a year. 60-70 hour work weeks here are status quo and vacations are extremely rare. They work hard, but if you look at their economic growth and development over the last half a century you will be astounded. Their hard work has brought them much success and I hope that it continues to do so. Our hard work (or perhaps lack there of) has put our country in a seemingly endless recession and a government on the verge of bankruptcy. Who can say that our way is better?
Children here work as hard as the parents do. They are in school morning, noon, and night - 6 days a week. I finish teaching each night at 11 pm. It's already well past bedtime for most American students. But guess what? Korea doesn't have problems with drugs, gangs, or an ever climbing dropout rate. And I wasn’t able to find any Columbine type tragedies that have happened here either. We have dozens of them. And (for better or worse) Korean parents generally take a huge hand in their child's education. Their children may be overworked, but I’m pretty sure every student I have could give me a detailed game plan for Star Craft, they are are more than happy to show me their homepages (similar to MySpace) that they have spent hours dedicating to the 2NE1 or Dream High celebrities, or their new smart phone Star Wars apps. They are still kids.
Suicide. This is a hugely controversial subject so I will refrain from stating any of my own opinions. Although I found conflicting data, in 2008 Korea had the 2nd highest suicide rate in the world, with a rate of 24.3 per 100,000 people. America ranks at 37 with a rate of 11.1. What's the difference? Ask an American and they will likely say that "people work too hard", "there is too much pressure", "they don't get vacations to rest", etc. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. Look further in the culture... In a Confucianist culture, suicide is viewed quite opposite the way that we see it. According to Wikipedia, “Confucianism holds that failure to follow certain values is worse than death; hence, suicide can be morally permissible, and even praiseworthy.” I'm not saying that I agree with that, I will never advocate suicide, but it's a different paradigm than we are used to. That doesn't make it wrong. Here’s an article I found that actually makes quite a bit of sense and is worth the read if you are interested in learning more - http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2918314
I did quite a bit of research on this (as I wanted to have my facts correct) and I came upon another blog written on this topic and he had an interesting perspective. And one that I very much agree with. “I suppose in South Korea there is considered to be some honor in suicide, whereas in the United States it's more fashionable and acceptable to descend into self-destructive behavior such as addiction.“ An idea worth thinking about… I started looking up statistics about addiction in America but then I decided that was being argumentative so I stopped myself.
While diversity may not be visible in their very homogenous population, it can be seen through their education requirements and opportunities, recreational activities, movies and television programs, restaurant options, etc. People may stare at you as you walk down the street because you look different, but you are different when you are here. They are curious. Put on a smile and make them want to know more about you and where you come from.
I could go on and on (and on) about the differences in our countries but I won't. If you want to learn about the culture and the quirks and why they do what they do, you will. And it will impact your life in wonderful ways.
If you don't, then you will likely spend an awful lot of time complaining and frustrated because life here just isn't "normal." Of course it's not normal. There is no such thing as normal.
I'm not saying that the Korean way of life is better or worse. It's different and that's ok. Both countries have wonderful opportunities and well as obstacles to overcome. Moral of the story...
Those in glass houses maybe shouldn’t throw stones.