A Life Unexpected
By: Amanda GroveI’ll never forget my first night of living in a foreign country. My husband and I had packed up our life in eight bags and headed out for the greatest adventure we’ve had together. South Korea was our destination, and to be honest, I didn’t know the slightest thing about this foreign country.
First of all, I will ashamedly admit, I wasn’t really sure where South Korea even was. It took looking at a map and using a magnifying glass to find it (ok, it really wasn’t that bad). I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized the country I was moving to was the size of one US state: so much for epic road trips.
Second, I hadn’t the slightest clue how I was actually going to live in this foreign country. What would I eat? What would I wear? What would our housing situation be like? Would I have a phone? Would anyone speak English? How do Koreans feel towards Americans?
I can’t help but chuckle at myself when I look back on my silly little fears of moving over here. Before hand I honestly thought Koreans only ate kimchi, rice, duck heads, frogs, live octopus, live squid, and chicken feet. You can imagine why I was worried that I might starve to death.
I’ve found out quite the contrary is true. Not only can fruits and veggies be found, but Koreans love pasta, salads, pizza, sandwiches, and eggs!
My worst nightmare did come true in regards to the clothing issue. Half of that is my own fault. I’m 5’8,” so you can understand how clothes shopping in South Korea can be quite a daunting task for me. Buying pants and most skirts are completely out of the question. I’ve resorted to ordering bottoms online because of this fact. Shoes are out of the question as well. I’ve never felt so much like a giant with fat feet than I do here.
Before we moved to Korea I naïvely thought everyone lived in huts. It sounds silly to even write that, and I’m slightly embarrassed, but it’s true. Why I thought Koreans lived in a third world country is beyond me. I guess the lack-of-technology fear that I had as well falls into this ‘third world’ way of thinking.
I remember laughing at myself as we arrived in South Korea the night of February 16th, 2012. Not only was everyone in the airport using giant-sized smartphones, but outside the scene of hundreds of LED lights blinking from signs was shocking. I’d never seen such a sight.
Koreans have a surprising knowledge of the English language. I take for granted that 50% of the time I can communicate with the locals, just with using my native tongue and a small amount of charades. This fact alone was definitely something I didn’t expect before moving here, and I can’t forget how lucky I am to be able to be understood by most.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the love/hate relationship that the South Korean population has with Americans. When I first moved here I was enchanted by the way I seemed like a movie star to them. I was constantly asked to take pictures with families, constantly being chased after by little kids, and constantly being told I was very beautiful. Over time it grows a little annoying, and I can’t help but wonder if the reason people want pictures is to make fun?
There is a small population of Koreans that hate Americans. Who can blame them? We’re loud, destructive, charge an insane amount for teaching, and eat a lot of food. This is why I think it is so important to be aware of how I behave in public. My actions, to Koreans, are a direct representation as to how ALL Americans behave.
Now that I’m working on my second year of living in Korea, is there anything that still shocks me about this culture? The answer is yes; I expect to be shocked nearly every day.
Korean driving habits are by far one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve experienced to date. The complete disregard for any sort of traffic laws astounds me. Not only is it culturally acceptable to park in the middle of a busy street, I’ve seen numerous babies sitting on a driver’s lap. Red lights and stop signs are also optional here.
Table manners in Korea are a big shock to me as well. Not only is it culturally acceptable to slurp, smack, and chew loudly, but it’s also acceptable to reach across the table and share food. This goes against everything I know as an American .
It’s also perfectly acceptable for the elderly to get first priority in everything. The first time I had an older lady cut me in line, I couldn’t help but think it was some form of racism. Later that week I learned that in Korean culture the elderly could cut in line anytime they want to. The older generation is respected in this country (something that the US could work on), and it’s an honor to be able to serve them.
I have so much to learn about this country. Even after a year I feel like I have barely tapped into the culture. I am in a constant state of shock as I learn ways to live life completely different than my own. This is why I love being an expat; I have the opportunity to grow in worldwide culture awareness.
On February 16, 2012 moving to South Korea changed my life, and it’s continued to change ever since.
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Contest Comments » There are 4 comments
Wonderful article, Amanda. I can imagine it being a huge culture shock living abroad. As a Korean-American, I found it difficult to adjust to life in Seoul many, many years ago, and I understand elements of Korean culture from what my parents taught me when I was a child. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and learning about Korean culture. I will agree with you about the driving in Korea. I found that many other parts of the world also have interesting driving habits. =)
Beautifully worded, Amanda! It really sums up the life of an ex pat in Korea. You touched on a lot of the things I also felt as a woman moving to a foreign country for the first time - thank you for putting it into words.
Well written Amanda! You've touched on so many things, and written it in a way that I only wish I could write. It's encouraging to know that no matter what country you are living in, there are people who understand the "oddness" of other cultures. For me, it's you living in S. Korea while I'm in Mexico. It's nice to know that someone else understands, even if they are two totally different cultures, countries and continents.
Honest look at what it is like living in a land completely different than our own! Such wonderful memories you will have and are making every single day :)