Friday, 16 September 2011

Cultural Reflections From South Korea

This week’s teaching has been all that of about 2 days. My Grade 6 class this morning was cancelled, so this week I’ve only taught about 8 classes, all of which have been super fun. I feel like I’m really getting to know my kids now and apart from a few minor annoyances (they are very loud) I think they’re a great bunch. To be fair they are some of the kindest, most polite and respectful kids I’ve ever met. They always say hello. They always try. They have good hearts. Which is comforting.

I thought as I’ve been living here for a month now that I’d share some initial thoughts with you all. More than anything else, being non-asian here in the rural depths of Korea you are an outsider. People are polite don’t get me wrong. They greet you with a smile and will go out of their way to help you, but people don’t want to get to know you here. There is something comforting about knowing that no one knows you, and that no one can, not even if they wanted to. The culture is so far removed from what I’m used to. There is such a boundary. It’s exciting. It’s frustrating. It’s exactly what I wanted. At home, as soon as you see someone, you eye them up, you can weigh up their age, sex, body language, clothing, and a thousand other things and make a judgement about who they as a person are and how they relate to you in society. In a culture as foreign as this, that's impossible. You have no idea how the people around you relate to you in society.

One of the things I’ve especially liked about this element of anonymity living in a new culture is that advertising cannot affect you. Advertising here means nothing to me. It is being marketed towards a Korean audience with a completely different cultural position and in a completely different language. Not being surrounded by adverts trying to sell me things every five minutes, is bliss. Also, when sat on a bus, and people are yammering away at the top of their voice, and you have no way of interpreting what their saying, ahhh, isn’t that wonderful? Not knowing what the old lady is yammering on about is lovely.

When removed from your native culture you are forced to examine yourself in ways that you never thought possible. We define ourselves by our relationships. Our relationships to our jobs, our achievements, our friends and family, our hobbies, and the culture we consume. If you strip away all those things you really have to look to yourself to find your sense of identity. Your job might help, being a teacher in a foreign country certainly brackets you as a certain kind of person, but your friends and family aren’t around, your hobbies are out of reach, and the culture you are used to is totally gone.

Basically, living here is a bit like being a child. You never really know what's going on, if you have a question about something, well, asking it could take you hours, you don't have responsibilities the same way you would at home, you're easily surprised, and routine events like going to the supermarket or cleaning your apartment are novel and exciting. It's incredibly frustrating, but also really enjoyable. I’m very happy with where I’ve landed. And I’m ready to be swept away in the adventure of it all.

Good night.

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