This was originally supposed to be a follow-up to "5 Things I Love About Living in South Korea," 5 Things I Hate About Living in South Korea. But I'm in a good mood and don't feel like being a negative Nancy! So here goes, some valuable things I have learned.
I moved to Korea alone. I hold the sole responsibility for my own well being here. I thought I was pretty independent in America, But I have reached a new level of independence now. Alough I have friends to hang out with, I spend a lot of time alone. I am still learning to make the most of my own time alone and enjoy my own company. Just two weeks ago, I went to the movie theater to see Aladdin by myself. It was probably one of the best decisions I've made. Why? I was on my own time. I went when I wanted to; left when I wanted to. I didn't need to consult with any one else and I did as I pleased. FREEDOM! I will make an efforet to spend time with myself more from now on. While spending time alone I can know myself better. What I like. What I don't like. My stregnths, and my weaknesses.
I am always waiting. Waiting for the bus. Waiting for food. Waiting for a text message, Waiting for the weekend. Instaed of waiting in vain (Shoutout to Bob Marley!) My desire is to wait intentionally. In South Korea eveyone, including my students, has a smartphone. During the daily commute almost everyone has their face in their phones, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Its a form of entertainment, that passes the time. I get it. But its also a distraction from reality. Instead of passing the time on my phone, I'd rather be present, through practicing mindfulness. Paying attenion, non-judgementally, to my own thoughts. I'm not saying I always do this, but it would be nice at least fifty-percent of the time. Because I have a very active imagination, I am more often thinking about some future situation that will never occur. But at least I have this blog post as a reminder to hold myself accountable.
On many occasions, I have watched my students share the smallest quanties of food. If Hana has ten Haribo gummy bears and four friends, how many gummy bears does everyone get? In Korea, everyone gets two gummy bears. YAY!! In America, Hana gets ten gummy bears and her friends get nothing. NOTHING! YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY SIR!!! Seriously, if there were an olympic games for sharing, Koreans get the gold medal. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I've even had co-workers have one cookie and break that cookie in half to share with me. This may have something to with ideals of Confucianism along with the scarcity of food and goods post-Koren War. Coming from the dog-eat-dog, every man for himself United States of America, this was shocking at first. But after awhile, I too began sharing snacks and thinking about others more than myself. The moral of the story is, if I'm eating, you're eating too! Period.
During my first visit to Korea, what made my experience terrible was a lack of friends. The loneliness was overwhelming, and I was most excited to return home to my family. This time around I was blessed with a great community (wink, wink!) of friends. These friends have become my family here. They support, encourage, and advise me daily. We have even overcome hardships and differences time and time again. These friends, who come from different backgrounds, have taught me how to build harmony. I am able to be transparent and also see their, sometimes, differing points of view. We ask each other intruiging questions and learn more about each others thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I feel bad about having different values or desires. But I have learned to stand strong in what I want and what I believe in. Which leads me to the final lesson...
This is my favorite. The ability to to maintain my own identity in a homogenous country is an achievement. South Koreans have this unofficial desire for unity or sameness. Nobody wants to stand out. Don't be different! Blend in with everyone else. At first I tried to live by the the same rules. But I found it stifling and mentally draining. I am not a Korean, in many ways. I never will be, and that's okay. It's more than okay. Its beautiful. My beauty lies in my individuality. Not simply physical either. I am individual in my thinking, my desires and my values. I value diversity. And my goal is to have people around me who are not the same, so that they may challenge my thinking and beliefs, This is how we evolve and understand the world. This is how we grow.