Saturday, December 31st, 2016
As 2016 quickly comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect on how my westernized eyes have changed since this year started. I started this year full of hope, ambition and gratitude. I left all that I knew behind to start anew in a foreign land. My process of becoming entered the next level. I thought the things I read in books about Korea was enough to prepare me for actually living here. Boyyy, was I wrong. Nothing can prepare you for the next level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be prepared and fully aware of your next move. But, experience will always trump book knowledge any day. In this blog I hope to give a brief snippet of my 2016 year abroad.
I made a huge mistake. I entered the Land of the Morning Calm thinking I knew everything I needed to know to live here. I must admit, I was not teachable in the beginning. In my westernized eyes, there were too many things that were backwards. For instance, the communal soap bar in the public bathroom to wash your hands, the lack of napkins in the restaurants, the extremely cold hallways at school, the twisted perception of women roles- that’s just a few things amongst the plethora of examples I can give. I thought the problem was them, but in retrospect the problem was me.
My westernized eyes valued independence; separation from the crowd and my own personal opinions. I cringed to have to do anything mandatory- to not have an option was societal suicide. Yet, I found myself living in a foreign land where the pressures of community were absolutely necessary and prevalent to life. Everyone was a part of something. When one eat, we all eat. When one speaks, we all contribute to conversation. When one is by themselves, we all come together and join them. Community, the backbone of the Korean life. There is no such thing as independence here. Separation from the crowd means you don’t care and personal opinions, if they are not relatable to the situation at hand, keep them to yourself. My beginning stages of life in Korea was a constant collision of resistance of two different cultures battling one another, instead of learning from each other. In retrospect, I was just being stupid. Comparisons can be a deadly force, especially when the similarities are hidden behind the blind spots. Again, I thought something was wrong with them, but the real problem was me.
The first three to six months of 2016 I was in a constant battle with myself. I used to think it was the people conspiring against me- but, in reality, it was my westernized eyes. It was how I viewed them, their world and culture as a whole. I entered this new level of life abroad all wrong. As mentioned, comparisons can be a deadly force, especially when the similarities are hidden behind blind spots. In the western world, the bathrooms don’t always have soap. School buildings don’t always have heat. Gender roles in the west are just as twisted as it is in the eastern hemisphere. Personal opinions aren’t always welcomed, especially when it’s not benefiting anyone or the situation at hand. I had the same challenges when I lived in America, so what made them so different or alarming living in South Korea? It’s the fact that the experience was unknown, unfamiliar and never experienced.
As for community, in the West we emphasize the differences between introverts and extroverted people. If you like to talk, you’re a social butterfly and you’ll thrive in any situation. But, if you’re an introvert, like me, people will just think you’re a loner, snobby and super weird. I struggled with community too, when I lived in America. What makes it any different now? It’s the fact that I had to finally confront my issues with community, instead of hiding from it or acting as if it doesn’t exist. I actually have met extroverts that still struggle with community. Extrovert or introvert, it means nothing. We all have our own separate challenges. We are all somehow resisting change. We are all in the process of becoming.
2016 has taught me a valuable lesson: confrontation with self. The ability to take a deeper look with what’s going on inside of me. My resistance to things that can actually produce growth. This year has given me a deeper understanding of my root system. My western eyes has caused much dissension with my surroundings. But, it’s not all bad, valuable life lessons were learned throughout it all. I can see my progress. Who I was in the beginning of 2016 is not who I am now. I have learned and understood that all created things need community in order to survive. My westernized eyes did not fail me completely. It actually opened my world view. There is more to life than just me, my experiences and culture. It’s all about being honest with yourself and seeing the purpose in the life you’re experiencing.
At the end of it all, 2016 has been a great year. I had challenges but I also had a lot of memorable moments. I still end this year with hope, ambition and gratitude. I learned so much. My process will continue to grow my character. In that regard, I end with, “Happy New Year.” Let’s learn how to be honest with ourselves, so that we’re authentic with the community that surrounds us.
I’m just speaking out loud in my process of becoming…
Date: Saturday, December 31st, 2016