Reaching the 6 month mark in the beginning of June felt like more of a milestone than any other month thus far. Up until the half way point, I felt like I was building towards something. Now? It feels like I am counting down. One of my good friends will be reaching the end of his year in Korea in just a few weeks, and while it is a really sad thing to say goodbye to another friend, I have selfishly decided to make this a learning experience. As I have listened to his concerns about what life will be like after returning to the states, it has dawned on me that I too will be going through this same experience in a very short time. I feel that returning to life in the home country will provide equal if not greater culture shock than I experienced when I first came to Korea, and our thoughts on what this means have provided fodder for some interesting conversations. So, without further soju, I will present some of these concerns to you in bullet point form.
- The 'I'm Special' Complex
Looking back on my first few months here, I remember constantly noticing that people were staring at me wherever I went. As a foreigner in Korea, everything you do is watched, and at first this made me feel a touch uncomfortable. Is it weird that I kind of like it now? At restaurants and bars, we are frequently joined by random (probably drunk) Korean strangers who will simply pull up a chair and join our group. Granted, they frequently speak little to no English, but they will like you from the start and often will pick up the tab. When I go home, I am going to have to work to make friends and talk to people. Here I stand out by simply existing, and it is going to be a strange reality to face when I no longer have that. When I go to Seoul and see large groups of foreigners, I almost feel threatened. This is my thing. I am the special one. What am I going to do when I don't have Korean students lining up to try to touch my hair and tell me that it is the color of gold? I'll tell you what I will do, I will go home, back to the land where everyone understands that my hair is plain brown, and cry. (On a side note, I am currently writing this post at an Internet cafe, and the man next to me has has not stopped staring at my computer screen, wondering what exciting thing I will do next. The direction of his face towards my computer means that the cigarettes he has been chain smoking are all being blown in my face. I have given him eye contact several times to let him know that I am aware he is staring, but this has not stopped him. My writing this now is a last ditch attempt, hoping that he maybe understands English and can see that he is making me uncomfortable. Sir? Can you understand this? No?...)
-The Foreigner Shrug
More than chopsticks, more than the Korean bow, I have picked up the 'I'm a Foreigner Shrug.' This beautiful gesture excuses everything under the sun, and the language of this shrug is universal. Norebang is closing and we don't want to leave? Foreigner Shrug. Food we blindly ordered turns out to be a big plate of pig skin and livers*? Foreigner Shrug. Turns out I am 200 won short of cab fare? FOREIGNER SHRUG! Baby, I am going to miss you.
-The Beauty of Not Understanding People Around You
At home, I feel like I was always really angry when listening to those around me. I remember feeling like I was constantly surrounded by people having really loud, really stupid conversations that never failed to piss me off. Until I recently was perusing the English section of a bookstore in Seoul and was forced to listen to three people loudly discuss the literary genius of Tuesday's With Morrie, I didn't quite realize the calm that comes with being around people speaking in a language that you can't understand. I am sure that people here are having conversations that are just as stupid as the ones that pissed me off at home (although, probably none are about the questionable citizenship of Obama) but I don't understand a word of it! I can just assume that everyone around me is a polite, insightful person, and happily move on with my new found confidence in humanity.
- Really Excited Text Messages
Finally, the thing that I potentially fear the most, is the evolution of my average text message. Your typical Korean cell phone comes with hundreds of preset emoticons, emoticons which I use on a regular basis.This is only topped off by the very acceptable usage of the exclamation mark, which I generally use 3 of after every statement. Here are a few of the emoticons I particularly enjoy using:
(u_u) -I tend to use this one when sad, though the !!! after may negate the initial sadness.
(z_z) - Sleepy, awwwwww.
T.T- So sad I am crying. This is generally sent with no !!!
^) /u * u/(^ - This is two little people looking at each other with their arms in the air , the letter 'u', twice, and a star. I am not sure what it means.
That is all I have for now.
Until Next Time,
* Yeah. It really happened.