Monday, February 18, 2013

Goodbye, Korea.

Oh, Korea.

I think that is one of the phrases I uttered most during my 5 years living there.

Wow. Five years. I can’t believe that I lived in Korea for five years.

I finished graduate school and zipped to the other side of the world to teach English while still looking for a job in my chosen profession (technical writing). I taught some brilliant and amazing kids at Avalon. I met and worked with some amazing people: Korean and foreigners. I miss every single one of them. I also loved Korea – I loved the people, I loved the culture, I loved the history. I embraced everything about it. I also spent a lot of time with Koreans, so that helped.

I loved the pride that the Korean people have in their culture and history. I loved seeing the old buildings mixed in with the new, modern architecture. I loved how they preserved their architecture and other cultural artifacts. I was just as sad as everyone else while watching Namdaemun burn down during Lunar New Year in 2008. Koreans are intensely proud of their country and their heritage. I believe this is because over the course of their history, other people kept trying to take it away from them.

However, it is that intense pride and homogeneousness of the culture that began to irritate me the last few years. Many Koreans very much have the mindset to follow whatever the masses are doing or whatever is "Korean" and refuse to think for themselves or outside of the box. I have a friend whose parents would complain to her that she needed to "act more Korean." Another friend would get upset with me if I ever said anything remotely negative or critical about Korea even if Korean media had said the exact same thing I expressed just because I was a foreigner. Another friend still believes that "fan-death" is a thing because it's been so ingrained in the culture even if it's wrong. Yet another friend had been told that the grandchildren of mixed couples (Korean and non-Korean) would be mentally handicapped.

I know foreigners that have been spat at, yelled at, cursed at, or just given the stink eye by older Koreans because they are out with a Korean of the opposite sex (friends or dating). I have friends that have refused to teach lessons in Korean schools because they blatantly promote racism or racial stereotypes. I have a friend that was told by a 5-year-old student that she (my friend) "lived on the street because foreigners couldn't have apartments, couldn't cook or anything because foreigners are stupid and can't do anything" (paraphrasing from a rusty memory). I have been shoved out of the way while standing in line for something, I have been cut in front of in line, and I've had rude little Korean children just shove past me simply because I'm a foreigner and, therefore, non-existent. Even though Korea may tout itself as a modern, hip, and progressive country, in many ways it is just like America in the 1950s and still has a long way to go before it actually has the face that it shows to the world.

When little things began to irritate the crap out of me (see earlier blog postings), I knew it was time to leave and go back to the US - plus I missed my family and friends. Despite all of the things that bugged me, I will still miss all of my friends (Korean and foreign), Korean BBQ, Suwon, and many other things about the country.

So I leave a little over five years later more jaded and cynical, but I do still love Korea: Suwon was my home for so long, how can I not love it?

And I still can’t believe I'm gone.

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