Saturday, August 14, 2010


My attitude towards Korea stinks. This has been bothering me for a few weeks now.

When I go back to school after the vacation I will have less than two months left - there will be many people asking "will you miss Korea?" "are you sad about leaving?" "Will you come back to Korea?" etc. This started before the vacation and even then I was finding it hard not to be too honest: I don't think I will miss Korea. I will miss some individual people I have met and built friendships with (Koreans and fellow foreigners). I will miss some of my more special students and the feeling of affection and warmth I feel from many of them. I will miss the financial and travel freedom and safety I have felt whilst here. But I won't miss Korea. And now, when the questions start I think I am just going to be honest. "I am ready to go home". "I am tired of being a foreigner in another country." "I probably won't miss Korea very much." "In fact...I can't wait to leave!!!" urgh. They won't like hearing that. Koreans themselves are good at sugar-coating the truth, beating around the bush, not being direct and honest. The harsh truth might be a shock to them. They will likely feel offended. But I have had enough.

I can't even seem to get myself to enjoy Korean food anymore: I avoid Korean restaurants. More and more we eat Pizza rather than healthier, cheaper Korean food which is more readily available. More and more, Korean people annoy me. Little things, big things. Spitting snorting, sucking teeth to clean them whilst sitting on a train, staring at me, staring at us, staring at our food, asking 'what are you eating?', bumping into me, pushing in front of me in a queue, old people pushing young people around and so on and so on. I am just in a downward spiral of seeing only the negative.

Also the negatives in society in general: women obsessed with their appearance and constantly checking their make up in hand mirrors: in restaurants, on trains, on busses, waiting for trains, waiting for busses, on top of Mountains: after hiking all the way to the top of Mt. Halla, Korea's highest, for goodness sake!

The way the Korean government is pushing ahead with the hugely destructive "4 rivers project": it's clothed in words like 'ecological restoration' but in fact it is a huge, economically-driven project to deepen Korea's 4 biggest rivers to enable more ship transport across the country. Trucks are working 24 hours a day to dredge as much sand out of the rivers before environmental groups or cival society realise what's going on. Urgh. I have walked past some of the construction trucks parked in Sangju, and for the first time in my life been genuinely tempted to sabotage something: it would be so easy to shove a kitchen knife into the tyres. It would slow down the destruction a tiny bit and annoy them project managers quite a bit more...

The way kids just have to study study study. The way mothers just have to take care of their families an have no time to relax. Who does one see when out at night eating and drinking? Korean men. No women. Women have no time to relax and eat and drink they are too busy keeping the home fires burning.

The way some of the brightest and forward thinking students I have met will likely not make it into the leadership positions they deserve and would hold so well. A young girl student of mine writes brilliant, insightful, analytical even critical essays about the Korean government and society, she should become a lawyer and a judge. But she grew up in the countryside and her English is no match for the youth who grew up in Seoul and whose parents have the right money and contacts to get them into the right universities. Sorin will likely not achieve her dream of becoming a lawyer: not because she doesn't have the ability or the drive, but because she was born the wrong sex in the wrong place. Such inequality happens all over the world, but for a country as developed and economically successful as Korea is, such inequalities should not be. For a country that prides itself so much in its success, as a member of the OECD etc.
Then of course there are the old issues of cruelty to animals and gender inequality... Don't get me started!

So feeling so bitter about being here does not sit well with me. I feel I am walking around with a scowl on my face. I am intolerant to any small impolite social interactions which are quite normal: bumping into people in a busy train station, people spitting on the pavement in front of me, men honking loudly and clearing the phlegm from their throats. I am starting to speak English to taxi drivers even though I can converse with them in basic Korean.

I'm not sure why I am feeling overwhelmed by all these negative thoughts. Maybe it's the summer heat and humidity which seems harder to bear than it did last year. Maybe it's that I just need a break. Maybe it's that I am homesick. Maybe it's that I KNOW I am leaving Korea soon and I can let down my guard i.e. I don't have to try so hard anymore to accept and understand this foreign culture an the people. I don't like feeling so negative. Then I think - what kind of experience of culture has this been, if, when i 'let down my guard' i.e. stop trying to accept and understand, I become overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings? Have I been tricking myself into having a good time?

Who knows. This post is a bit rambly, but pretty representative of my state of mind for the last few weeks. I don't mean to offend any Korean people by it. I am just expressing my feelings and trying to understand why I feel like this. Comments are welcome and will likely be helpful :)

1 comment:

Kim B said...

Ah Jess. My first response is to want to give you a huge hug and say we can't wait to have you back here. But I know that doesn't change the immediacy of your struggle. What struck me while I was reading was the way in which values that you hold to be precious and important (gender equality, protecting the environment, simple respect and honesty amongst others) are being violated on a daily basis. I would find it strange if you felt no sense of outrage at all!! Perhaps in answering your interrogators you can reflect on what you are grateful for out of the experience as a whole rather than being specific about Korea(ns)?? Hang in there, dear Jess xxx