A week ago I booked my flight home, so now it’s official. I’m leaving Korea at the end of next month just 5 days shy of my second anniversary of living in Korea. Living in Korea for two years has been a crazy rollercoaster ride and so are my feelings about leaving. While I still get super sentimental and sometimes even sad about having to leave, I must admit that the days where I’m just plainly looking forward to leaving and starting a new chapter back home are becoming increasingly more frequent.

Korea is a country full of contradictions and so, not surprisingly, this country at the same time has made me feel both loved and hated, has both embraced and hurt me, and has given me both the best and worst moments of my life.

I’ve learned many lessons, some more painful than others, but the most important one is that I don’t belong in Korea. I love Korea (at least many aspects of it), but no matter how hard you try, Korea will never fully accept you if you are not Korean. The social rules that apply to other Koreans will not necessarily apply to you, and your otherness will be highlighted time and again.

So, while counting down the seven weeks until I depart from Incheon airport I thought I’d list the things I’m excited about in moving back home aside from reuniting with family and friends.

  • I can’t wait to breathe in the clean air every day. Korea is struggling with severe air pollution and it’s already resulted in two nasty rounds of bronchitis in my case.
  • I get super excited just thinking about going grocery shopping without feeling like I’ve been robbed. Fresh produce is insanely expensive in Korea, and the selection is quite limited. Not ideal if you follow a primarily vegan lifestyle.
  • I desperately want to blend in again. I’m tired of sticking out in public and have creepy old people stare at me. This weekend was particularly bad and I ended up cursing at one in Danish demanding what the H… he was looking at.
  • I look forward to taking a break from teaching. I love teaching, but having taught non-stop since September makes me feel like I need a break soon.
  • I look forward to being able to gradually restore my trust in other people. Koreans will lie to you all the time in order to save face, and you can never trust anything anyone tells you. The closer you are to the one who lies, the more it hurts. I’ve developed serious trust issues over the past two years, and I pray that the damage is not permanent.
  • I look forward to being able to exercise outdoors. This is close to impossible if you live in central Seoul. While there are parks, they are always overcrowded, and the air makes it quite unhealthy on most days.
  • I look forward to being able to take a walk without having to navigate among hundreds of smartphone zombies who will walk straight into you if you don’t move fast.
  • I look forward to making plans with friends, knowing for sure that what we plan will in fact happen, and being able to look forward to the event. This is impossible in Korea, where your friends have next to no free will and constantly have to answer to parents, bosses, and, if told, will cancel plans with you at a moment’s notice without even blinking.
  • The above is the one single reason why it’s impossible to become friends with Koreans, and I look forward to not having to accommodate the schedules of people I don’t even know at the cost of my happiness and self-worth.
  • I look forward to being judged by who I am and what I stand for rather than what I look like. Koreans will always comment on your looks, and appearance is everything in this country. I’ve seen advertisements on the subway urging mothers to suggest plastic surgery to teenage daughters with low self-esteem, and another for laser treatment of acne which said: “your bad skin may be the reason you can’t get a job”. I’ve even had people suggest that the reason I score high on my teaching evaluations is that I’m young and female and relatively easy on the eye. Yeah, it’s probably not my passion for teaching, my hard-earned Ph.D. degree, my intellect and my sense of humor. Got it!
  • I look forward to being able to speak freely. Korea is a high context culture, where even very important messages are implied. When Koreans say “hmm, that may be a bit difficult”, it means “I can’t do that”. I miss calling a spade a spade and having people speak to me in ways that don’t require me to summon Sherlock Holmes and Watson to figure out what the H… they mean to say.

Whoa, this list got a lot longer than I thought. I’m curious to hear from other expats in Korea who may be nearing their departure. Can you relate to any of the above? Do share!

4 Comments »

  1. Wow. I’d be interested in what others have to say also. I’m currently reading “The Korean Mind: Understanding Contemporary Korean Culture” and it hit all the points you mentioned, and more. In short, Koreans look at foreigners as curiosities. They’ll be kind and polite to them, but treat them indifferently, like way one looks at exotic zoo animals. Korea is so democratically new that they just haven’t gotten used to being part of the larger world — and maybe they don’t want to, and rightly so. They just want to enjoy their Korean-ness for a while. On the other hand, having the lowest fertility rate in the world means the plummeting birthrate of Korea will result in their own extinction in 735 years, so, get your kimchi while you can. 🙂 (http://www.businessinsider.com/south-koreans-could-be-extinct-by-2750-2015-6)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Sofie

    I have always been a silent reader but I really enjoyed every one of your blog posts. Regarding why it’s impossible to truly become friends with Koreans. I couldn’t agree more with you. I have had my share of disappointments in my interactions with Koreans. We can be friends for a period of time and then suddenly the person just doesn’t reply messages anymore and disappeared for good. Recently, a so-called friend whom I thought we had been having good conversations suddenly doesn’t reply to my messages anymore. This hurts my feelings and I have just lost faith in making friends with Korean people.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your kind words.

      I’m very sorry to hear that you have been treated like that. It seems that Koreans want to avoid a conflict at all costs and therefore tend to choose silence instead. It’s terribly frustrating to be on the receiving end of that behavior and I know how it feels. I’ve had similar experiences with platonic acquaintances that I was hoping to turn into friendships only to end up being completely ignored. As a consequence I find myself increasingly keeping to myself and not reaching out for fear of (yet another) rejection. It’s particularly hard being a foreigner trying to make Korean friends because any Korean will have so many other priorities and obligations that come before their friendship with you. You, on the other hand, being the foreigner, don’t have the same network and rely heavily on your Korean friends. But while they are an important priority to you, you remain but one of many options to them. With this type of imbalance in the relationship the friendship is off to a difficult start, and as you have witnessed yourself, sometimes also to an abrupt ending.

      Despite these negative experiences, I sincerely hope that you’ll meet many lovely people and make great friends in the future. ❤

      Like

      • Thank you for your reply and for sharing your experiences. It does make me feel better. I guess I have to come to terms with this and shall not put too much expectations in establishing friendships with Koreans.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s