I suppose marking a year in a foreign country naturally turns the mind toward reflection. Not only do I think of this past year, but previous years, previous adventures, trying to see where this current one has brought me in comparison. In many ways, I’ve already done this through other blog posts throughout the past year. Is there anything else I’ve learned? Anything that’s dawned on me in the past couple of weeks?
I’ve learned how fast a year can go. Which is why we are staying another.
I’ve learned how easy it is to lose weight when you don’t have a car or cheese just, you know, laying around.
I’ve learned that I’m still not interested in settling in a big city.
I’ve learned that perhaps settling in one place for at least a time might be a nice thing.
I’ve learned just how much I rely on my husband, how much he is my absolute best friend, the best companion I could have been given.
Living in a vast city - a recent wintery view from our apartment.
I’ve learned that the best time to reflect on this year is on the sidewalk, or in the bowels of the metro, with hundreds of people streaming around me, bumping into me, hitting me with their upscale shopping bags, my backpack smacking them back as I turn to look at something in a shop window. It’s during this time, with so many faces swarming around me, that I am able to see how important it is erase the lines we draw around us, those lines in the sand that say I am here, you are there. For how can I draw that line with so many people in this world, each with their own story worth sharing? For I am here, in this cavern-like shopping mall, underground, amongst hundreds and I feel my own story is worth sharing so why not someone else’s?
I’ve mentioned this feeling before, the feeling of so many people existing at once, yet each one with their own story. It is a strange sensation to experience – being in a place so different from where I was raised, but also knowing that each person has their own purpose – their own place in the world…that no matter how different, the creator of the universe is still stretching his hand to each one. It makes me feel very small and very big at the same time.
Conversely, I’ve learned what it means to live within a culture from the outside. Not knowing the language has had a huge effect on how much culture we are able to absorb. I’ve talked a lot about the effect of language. It still is the single most important factor in our lives here, as far as what has the biggest influence on our lives. It has affected who we are friends with, and that in turn has affected how much of the culture we get to experience. It is true that some things can be experienced without language, but you miss out on a lot of the nuances of life –the conversations my students have with one another, the interactions between my co-workers, commentary of ajummas sitting on the street. I miss out on all of this because I don’t know the language.
Lost in translation works both ways --- is this really a placenta face mask? Found this gem by the cash register at my local mart.
Language isn't the only thing that keeps us on the outside. For although we are living in Korea, we are still foreigners and there is no way to get around this fact. It is not like in North America where you can’t discern if someone is a “native” based on their appearance. Here, people look at me and they know I am foreigner. Sometimes this has made me think of how different the experience must be for Korean Americans, and others who are of Korean descent, but grew up elsewhere. How do Koreans react to them?
Because I am a white-looking foreigner (yes, even Koreans are shocked to find that I am half-Mexican), I am expected to not like kimchi, not know how to use chopsticks, not be able to withstand spicy foods, and just not like Korea in general. These are the stereotypes that many Koreans have in their head of foreigners, and I am sad to say --- many of these are true. I’ve met or interacted with many foreigners who fit these stereotypes and have no interest in curbing them. They are openly disdainful of Korea, and to me it is shocking.
Luckily, I am able to help repair this aspect – there is actually something I can do, whereas with the language aspect it is quite slow going. I interact with my co-workers as much as possible. I share my American treats and smiles, eat kimchi, and astonish them with my chopstick skills and my ability to eat “spicy foods.” (Sorry, Korea, but your spiciness has nothing on Mexico’s.) It goes a long way when I ask them to teach me how to pronounce a certain food or dish and jaws drop when I show them pictures of the Korean food I cook at home. These are all of my attempts to get a little more inside the culture. It’s during these times that I get to experience true Korean culture – for as I take a step toward them, they take a step toward me.
My kimchi friend rice (김치 볶음밥) - one of the easiest Korean dishes to make.
There are some others things that I am only just beginning to learn - perhaps these things are more mysterious and harder to grasp. But it’s only been a year. A year that has gone by in a flash of lightning. Thus, we are compelled to stay on at least another year, another year to move a little more inside of what Korea has to offer.