Monday, May 19, 2014

Nothing and Everything

I like anniversaries. Big and small.

They help me to stop.
To reflect.
To take it all in.
To look back.
To absorb the bigness of the situation.

And today, we celebrate NINE MONTHS in Korea!

And this may be a small thing, as it certainly doesn't feel like a BIG thing on this Monday afternoon, but, it's still a thing. Worth mentioning. Worth noticing. Worth commemorating. I mean, what isn't worth all of those things? And why the hell not?

Here we are, on our way to Korea!

I expected Korea to be harder. More of an adjustment. More of an uphill battle. More foreign. I expected that more people would speak English (or at least more people who are capable of speaking English would speak English with me). I expected foreign food adventures.

I experienced that Korea is a relatively easy place to live. It can be lonely being such a minority. It can feel isolating at times, but that's part of the experience, I suppose. We feel like a minority, because we are and that comes with all kinds of unique lessons I'm quite grateful for. But our new friends here have been good to us. Helping us find our way. Getting set-up with bank accounts and cell phones and internet service and on-line banking/bill pay and all the nitty-gritty parts of life that we simply couldn't have done on our own. And yes, we've experienced our fair share of food adventures.

I didn't know nearly anything of use about Korea. Not much to base my expectations on, but a few things have surprised me. I didn't know, for example, how big baseball is over here. Or how very versatile their meat-eating variety can be. And that while eating dogs is rare, it does happen. I didn't know that for all of Korea's modern conveniences and advances in medicine and technology that they still rank fairly low in terms of gender equality and essentially ignore any existence of homosexual people. I didn't know that Koreans drink more than any other country on earth. I didn't know that LG and Samsung and taekwondo are all from Korea (and I've never heard a Korean person call it "tay-kwondo" only "tekwondo"). And a whole slew of other interesting things that surprise me every day.

And I didn't know that after nine months, we would want to sign up for a second year. But we did.


oh, Korea
In these last nine months, I've learned that nationalism gets you no where. Saying that you are from this country or that country doesn't better qualify you to have an opinion. It doesn't make you smarter or better or cooler.

It means almost nothing and practically everything. 
At the same time.

A great portion of who we are is because of our upbringing and where we come from. We can hardly shake it. It determines our race, ethnicity, language, social norms, government, currency, how we dress, whether we are metric-users or those crazy others, and it defines what we call "good" and what we call "bad." Where we come from is what makes us unique and different and interesting.

But at the same time, there are very specific stereotypes and truths about what it means to be from a certain place. And only a crazy person would say that their country and their culture is perfect. Without fault. One-hundred percent awesome!

Travel makes us better. It makes me see that people from all over the world have found a way to lead happy, healthy, and successful lives, even if their methods and ideas are in direct contradiction to my own.

It's humbling and it's beautiful. Both.


Troy Beans said...

No doubt that travel is one of life's greatest teachers. I have often heard the argument that principles are universal regardless of culture. For example: Love, kindness, service, freedom, respect, integrity, honesty, fairness, justice and equality. In your experience would you say this is true?

Heather said...

Is that really an "argument" among some people? Are there really some who think that in certain countries principles like love and kindness simply do not exist?

Because yes, I personally believe that of course things like honesty and fairness are valued regardless of where you go. However, the amount to which they are valued is probably different. For example, in Korea, respect holds a much higher value than it does in the States. You shakes hands a certain way. You don't make eye contact. You turn your back to take a shot of alcohol. You bow deeper. You even use a completely different set of words and word-endings when speaking with someone who "out-ranks" you.

Intriguing, isn't it?