Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ways We Change

It's hard to say if during the past year living in Korea I've learned more about Eastern culture or more about Western culture? Do I know more about my home country or more about my adoptive country?

The learning curve is a steep one. Our Korean vocabulary is constantly growing because our need is constantly growing ("How do you say, 'I need a crochet hook' in Korean?"). Our education of cultural basics and nuances increases daily because so does our necessity to understand. And yet, each bit of information about Korea inevitably tells us something about America. How they are the same or--most of the time--how they are different.

It's a dichotomy that at the same time intrigues and exhausts me. And it befuddled me no more than than when we flew from Korea to the States a month ago. The cultural re-education was a tricky terrain to navigate.

When we first arrived in Korea, we automatically spoke to people in the last foreign language we remembered: Spanish. When we landed in the States and went out for Mexican food, we automatically spoke to our waitress in Korean. And I bowed to the cashier on our way out the door.

But inevitably, we sank back into our America roots quite speedily. After all, this is home. But the observations never faltered our entire three weeks at home. I couldn't help but notice all the things about America that are just so much "better" and "easier". When people asked, "What's it like in Korea?" I could easily list for them several ways in which Korea is a hard place to live. In fact, until recently, I've probably never been so patriotic in my entire life.

In America, I love that people speak my language.
That I can drive a car.
That I can be independent.
That I can walk into a store and find what I need without a pre-written script.
That I can find gluten-free food easily.
That I can blend in.
I love that people make small talk.
That people smile or make eye contact with complete strangers.
That I know the rules (even unwritten ones) and I get the jokes.
That I am not a foreigner, I am a native.

The grass is always greener.

At one point when we were home, my sister asked me, "What things will you miss about Korea when it's time to leave?"

And that's a harder question. I sat for a long while looking out at the street. What would I miss about the life we have in Korea? The answers came slowly. Almost painfully so.

Obviously, we've made friends I would miss.
And I do appreciate how Koreans build up instead of sprawling out.
I do love me some bibimbap. Yum!
I like how the neighborhoods are set up with everything you need in a small area.
I like that we ride our bikes everywhere.
I like that public transit is the norm and buses and taxis are accessible.
I like the little farmer's market we frequent on Friday afternoons.
I really love our apartment.
I like acquiring a new language.
I enjoy the challenge of thriving in and learning from a different culture.
I like the availability of coffee shops. Everywhere.
I appreciate that Koreans give a damn about the planet.
I like that composting food scraps is basically law.
I think it's cool that most appliances have an energy rating.
Ironically so, sometimes I like being the foreigner.

As we head into another year in Korea, I'll be keeping this list in my back pocket. The things that make this experience unique. The ways in which our lives will never be the same.