Sunday, April 20, 2014

Narratives

There are several cool things about living in Korea. But possibly one of my favorite parts is getting to meet so many interesting people. Foreigners. Locals. Amazing.

A primary way that foreigners meet other foreigners in Korea is by going out to the bars on weekends. But Jeremy and I are not big drinkers. We don't get a lot of enjoyment out of going to smokey bars and socializing. So a few months ago, I posted a plea on Facebook asking if anyone would be game for playing Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday afternoons.


The response was small, but eager. We met an enthusiastic cluster of folks who were open to learning and they caught on quickly. We found an empty field. We taught the newbies the basics of the game and since then, it's been a quickly growing community of fun people who like to run around and laugh a lot. What I like about Frisbee is that it's a great way to get to know a good group of people without setting up dinner dates and "getting to know each other."

We've been playing every weekend ever since. And this week, a generous couple invited us all over after the game for a BBQ. A mid-size apartment capable of hosting guests is rare and a teeny side-yard is exceptionally more rare. What a treat! What started with our twenty Frisbee players, grew to include a few neighbors and extra friends amounting to about 30 of us crammed into their back yard. And there was salsa, folks. Salsa!


This may all sound like business-as-usual to people who live in the States. But this get together was the first time in eight months that Jeremy and I have been in the presence of this many foreigners at one time. It was a little overwhelming, but also a blessing.

It's a blessing because never in the States could I so easily engage with so many different kinds of people.

Like people from Scotland who do yoga and work on organic farms in different countries.

People from Missouri who taught me all about political science and libertarians, and described Cambodia as "so much more calm than Vietnam." Psssh.

People from Ireland who have a fantastic sense of humor and teach us the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

People from England who met and married a Korean wife and now have a baby.

People from Connecticut who have spent their 20s traveling all over the world and are figuring out what to do next.

People from Southern Africa (not South Africa, mind you) and more specifically Namibia. What?!

People from South Carolina who have settled in and thrived in a country that is largely unsure of what to do with people with dark skin.

People from Egypt who have come on educational scholarships with hopes of bettering their own country and describe South Korea as "peaceful" in comparison.

People from Syria who moved here with spouses and the dreams of research grants.

People from Texas who introduce themselves as "Texans" first. People who bring their country pride and cowboy hats right along with them.

People from India who settled down, got married, speak half-a-dozen languages, and found a way to get all the essential ingredients that make Korea feel like home.


And my Korean friends who teach me new things every day. I thought for sure my friend would just watch Frisbee, but she jumped right in and played. I thought she'd definitely peace-out for the BBQ because she's often so nervous about her English abilities, but she jumped right in and chatted it up with all kinds of people. So proud of her. I realized how uncomfortable it can be to feel at home amongst a brash group of foreigners. I wouldn't have understood the fear in that. The bravery in that.

I feel greatly fortunate to be able to encounter so many different kinds of people. Not because we all agree, but more so because likely we don't. These kind of experiences make you question how singularly awesome your ONE narrative really is. Considering there are just so many narratives out there.

And maybe one the greatest lessons of travel has less to do with learning about another culture and more about just realizing there is more than just your own. More ways to eat healthy. More ways to parent. More ways to pursue an education. More ways to be human. More ways to see the world. Somehow, someway--people are flourishing in environments and cultures so vastly different from your own.

We all seem to figure it out on our own terms. Without agreeing. Without collaborating. We all find our way. And it's really quite beautiful.





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