From the BK to the SK
Sometimes it’s hard to manage a lifestyle here where you don’t feel like you’re always going to offend someone. Koreans are very last minute, and they are very forceful and much of their lifestyle revolves around food and eating. And it’s like, you don’t want to, in some way, create any kind of bad tension with any of your co-teachers, but when they ask you at 4:19 to go somewhere with them at 4:20, or they ask you to go with them to church, or they ask you if you want to try some new kind of food or some food like rice that will, in my opinion, always taste the same, you feel very caught. It’s like some kind of cultural chasm (is that the right word? I don’t even know) you are constantly wandering in, trying to find the middle ground with some big things, and most of that revolves around things that I’m afraid will offend my co-teachers. I want to be open to everything, yes, and I want to soak it all in, yes, but sometimes I wonder whether they consider the fact that my lifestyle is night-and-day from what I knew in the States.

I mean, I know that they do realize it, but it seems like they can easily forget, and though they are so excited to be ambassadors of the Korean culture and to make me feel welcome and to make every experience possible happen for me, sometimes it’s like, I need to change gears. Things need to move a bit slower, ease into the transitions and adjustments before I lost appreciation for things. If everything is hurled at you at once, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and to feel confused about how you feel. I came here to embrace the culture, yes, I know that, and I came here to experience a different lifestyle, but sometimes they forget that baby steps help the transition feel familiar overtime.

Anyway, things are incredibly different, and I learn a lot each day. One of the younger teachers who speaks English pretty well always comes and talks to me about different things. One day, she finally asked me, “Don’t you wonder what is my age?” I was sort of surprised. At training, we learned about how age is a level of respect in Korea, and that having someone ask you how old you were was a very intimate question we should all be glad we were asked. I was sort of confused and said to her, “Well, I mean, I do, but I thought I wasn’t really supposed to ask you. I thought you were supposed to ask me.”

She started laughing. “This is funny. In graduate school, and I’ve learned this other places, Americans don’t like to be asked how old they are.”

HAH. How do you explain that one? I go, “I guess that’s kind of true, because we don’t have the whole etiquette level for age in America so it isn’t important in conversation to know how old someone is. But I mean, you’re right. I think if you were to ask my dad how old he is, he wouldn’t be too happy.” (Sorry, Dad, you’re not old.) She was confused, so I told her basically, younger people are more comfortable talking about their age than older people are. No one likes getting older at home. Once people turn a certain age (which I myself am not even sure about), people start to kind of dread birthdays and getting older.

She listened intently and said, “It is funny, how we are taught such different things. You think not to ask me and I think not to ask you. I wonder what else there is like this where we think two different things.”

She had a point.

One teacher asked me if at home in America we bow when we greet people. I said no, you just wave and say hello, and that when I return home one year from now, people are going to give me a weird look if I bow when I greet them. She was surprised, and so now she always waves with both hands, very excitedly, and I find myself bowing my head regardless. Apparently, I’ve mastered the technique and bow like a Korean, but they love to give compliments, so I won’t pat myself on the back for that one just yet.  


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