“It’s not the place [. . . ] It’s the people. We’d have all been the same anywhere else.”
This quote is from Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger (good, but not as good as his famous The Book Thief.) I recently read the book, and this line really stood out to me. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with it. Would I be the same person I am now regardless of where I lived? At the deepest level, yes. I would have the same values, interests, and feelings. However, there are ways that I have changed since living in Korea.
1. I live with less. We were allotted a certain weight for our belongings in moving to Korea. We aimed for less because we knew that we would be buying items in our time overseas. We have items in storage in three different states (yeah, I’m not looking forward to sorting that out.) Sometimes it’s really difficult for me to remember what we have in storage. I know there are several hundred books, which I miss very much, but otherwise… what was all that stuff?! We have so fewer things here. No longer are there seasonal decorations, random garden gadgets, the odds and ends cluttering up our American lives. I really wonder how much we will get rid of when we move back to the US because we have gotten so accustomed to having less.
2. I order more. In contrast with my last statement of living with less, my online shopping has skyrocketed. In 2012, I placed 4 Amazon orders; so far in 2014 I have placed 18. (By the way, I love that I can look back at all my Amazon orders. My first one was September 10, 2005, and I bought four novels for my Young Adult Literature class.) There have been things that we left in storage and then realized that we needed them here. Shopping here is limited, at least for me. We have the PX on post and a few reliable Korean stores, but they don’t always have what I’m looking for. (Why is it so difficult to find a julienne peeler?) Amazon makes my life possible, especially Amazon Prime shipping. I can order an item and have it in less than two weeks, which is lightning fast compared to some places that take 30-45 days (1-800 Contacts!) I have ordered everything from baby gifts and coconut flour to a dustbuster and craft paint.
3. I always carry tissues to use as toilet paper. This boy scout idea of “always be prepared” has saved my… well, it’s been useful many times.
4. I’m less self conscious. I have blue eyes and light brown hair. I’m white and from America, I clearly had no experience as a minority. Then we moved here, and I was. And Koreans stare. Openly. Often. Not always kindly. (This is mainly old people on the subway.) At first it was really unnerving and bothered me. I worried that I was doing something wrong or offending them. Then I stopped caring. I can still sense that people are staring and perhaps talking about me, but it doesn’t make me nervous like it used to. In fact, when I went back to the states, I felt the absence of this feeling and that made me feel weird.
5. I eat more international cuisine. And, no, I don’t mean only Korean food. Living in a big city has opened up so many dining opportunities. Indian and Thai food have completely pushed Italian out of the way and often Mexican as well. I am also more willing to try new things than I used to be. Part of this is just maturing, but also because I have had so many favorable experiences with other dishes.
6. I dress more nicely. Koreans care about how they look. The younger generations always look very put together. I was never one to wear my yoga pants to the store, but that’s unheard of here. I try to avoid my former tank top/shorts/Old Navy flip flops outfits and make more of an effort. Even then the Korean ladies are still much more formally dressed than I am. I find it inspiring though. Why shouldn’t we try to look decent for people? (This type of thinking leads me to that internet shopping issue again.) I also think about my feet more often. I consider if I am going to someone’s house where I would feel comfortable barefoot or if I need to take socks in case we end up at a no-shoes restaurant.
7. I explore more. I know this is due to the allure of a foreign country. Even when I don’t have plans to travel, I am making plans to go to different cultural centers or new neighborhoods in Seoul. I didn’t do this in the US. I made weekly plans to visit Specs or Target, but that was it. It’s not that the places I lived in didn’t have a lot to offer, but that I didn’t make to point to see what was there. I hope I can hold onto this mindset when we finally leave Korea. I hope I continue to explore regardless of where I am or how much I think I already know about the place.
8. I watch less TV and don’t listen to the radio. We just use Hulu and Netflix for TV watching. We actually started that our last six months in the US, and I really liked it. Since we can’t just mindlessly flip through the channels, we end up watching much less. We have our certain shows that we watch, but we never just have the TV on with House Hunters playing in the background. I am the first to admit that we will go on binges with certain shows and watch entire series in a week, but I’m ok with that happening every once in awhile. Because of this I don’t see commercials any more. Sometimes they pop up on Hulu, but it’s always random, like a car insurance company in Michigan. I also don’t see movie trailers unless I seek them out. There is an AFN radio station that we could listen to for American music and DJs, but our car radio doesn’t work. I just use iTunes Radio and my beloved NPR app. Again, very few commercials. The limited TV and radio means that I have very limited knowledge about pop culture. It’s amazing! I never hear those little one minute celebrity updates they do on the radio. It’s like a little Bethany bubble. It’s cozy.
9. I blog. Obviously. Just like living in Korea has inspired me to explore more, this blog has changed me and inspires me to look more. I am always looking for something that might be fun fact to share on here, or a good photo for my photography challenge. Blogging has made me reflect on what I do. (In college, my education professors were always pressuring us to write a reflection on our lessons; who has time for that?) I don’t just visit somewhere new; I look carefully through the pictures; I reread the brochure; I research online; I form an opinion. I make notes of funny characters I see or the ways people act. This blog indulges that creative side of my brain that previously had no outlet.
I’ve been in Korea for 1 year and 4 months. How could someone live in a foreign country for so long and not change? I have 1 year and 4 months left in Korea. (WHOA! I did not realize that I am at the exact halfway mark until I wrote this paragraph. I need to explore my thoughts on this a bit more.) How will I continue to change? What changes have happened without me realizing?