Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Perspective is everything

The whole time that I've been here at Handong I've been keeping in mind the differences between the US and Korea. The subtle things, the things that being quiet and boring as a youth gave me time to think about. I've also been considering how the people are different. I've been to four different areas in the general period of time before I came here: Australia, Alaska, Texas and Massachusetts. Each one of these places has its own foibles and differences which are fun to note and compare. Compared to a completely different culture, however, they are all mostly the same. You see, the people that I were with in those four places all came from(and based their culture on) pretty much the same base- Europe. All my white friends that I hung out with in MA, TX, and AK were generally of European descent and cultural influence. Australia was populated with English... people and has a distinctive flavor of its own, but at the root is still European.

Korea has a very potent culture of their own, with almost nil European influence. I was told that Korea's population is 99% Korean ancestry- Korea has very tight rules on immigration and Koreans are passionate about preserving and respecting their culture. The net effect of this is is a very undiluted culture that is vastly different from anything the average American has encountered.

I like to think of myself as an open minded, thoughtful, critical thinker type person. I even think that I have a good grasp of empathy. Now, I know what you're thinking- but it's like common sense- just because I have it doesn't mean that I see fit to make use of it all the time. Many Americans are very ethnocentric, sort of a carry-over from patriotism, but this has the effect of making a lot of us either think of the rest of the world either very little or in a self-superior light. I'm not afraid to say that the US is better than a lot of countries, but by the same rule a lot of countries are better than the US. No, I haven't turned into some raving-mad Bush-hating anti-patriot. I can just recognize innovation and good systems when I see them; and I can also recognize that the US is falling behind in this area.

What happened there? I didn't intend for this post to be political. Oops. Anyway, perspective- I think that it's everything. Whenever I encounter something new here, and adapt to it, I think of how other people in the US would react to the same problem. Many times I cringe. You see, their perspective would be off. I came to Korea having had about a week out of the country to warm myself up to change and adaptation- I did lots of research about Korea, and I came here with reputation in mind. I don't like to judge something until I've experienced it myself(many times this ends up with me learning the hard way).

There are many differences from the US, some of which are hard to get used to. Taking off shoes indoors. Koreans have different ideas of cleanliness- shoes are not worn past the entryway/lobby of a lived-in building. This annoyed me greatly at the beginning, and I actually rebelled a bit and for a little while I wore my sandals in the 'no' zone after talking to some upperclassmen international students who confessed to doing so themselves. I thought the idea was stupid, counterproductive, etc. Then I realized: I'm not here to make waves or to press my idea of culture on them. I'm here to experience their world. Another difference that I thought was odd at first: the age-respect scheme- different language for people older or younger than you, sort of like the 'usted' modifier in spanish. Sometimes just a year could make a difference.

And so here's my pitch to people considering Handong- do it, but have the right perspective. I could just see some unprepared "My state is better than your state" Texans coming over here and getting all fouled up, and also stepping on a lot of toes. Treat other cultures with the same respect you'd want yours to be- remember, you're not naturally better just because you're from the US. Try not to offend anyone- maybe you wouldn't mind someone coming to the US and calling every little thing 'weird'- but you wouldn't like it much if someone said your nose or hair or whatever was 'weird' and then tried to pass it off as nothing. It can be an insult. It's often tempting to judge something on the first go, especially small things. However, wherever there is an effect, there is a cause. Korea is the way it is for a reason- something caused the difference, and if one will take the effort to figure out why that particular nuance is the way that it is, it makes a world of difference. So remember: open mind, closed mouth.

The obligatory daily life section:
I did laundry for the first time today. It's the same thing here, except there are no dryers. The concept of a dryer here is a centrifuge that is more of less a stepped-up spin cycle. It gets of a lot of water out, then you supposedly hang it out to dry. However, with only 46 square feet of room per student, this gets interesting. I haven't figured it out yet. I did two loads of laundry, most of which is stacked on my bed, damp, right now. I'll need to figure this out before the end of the semester, for sure. Koreans LOVE cell phones. I'm definitely becoming a bit annoyed by the constant chirping, music, blinging, and little girl voices. For some reason, many of the ring tones here include a little girl announcing something in Korean, presumably 'You've got a new message" or "You missed a call, doofus".

My computer is acting funny, like it's a normal, ill-maintained computer- being laggy, taking more than a moment to load something, etc. I thought I was oiling it like a well-oiled machine. I think some kind of driver issue that caused a BSOD a while back has been festering into a bigger issue. I'm considering doing a nice fresh reinstall of XP just so I don't have to have it worrying me anymore. It'll be easy using my external HD.

I'm very happy with my new PDA, but the slight downside is that in my exuberance for having something to read on, I kind of didn't sleep. It's 7AM right now, last night was a fairly late night due to reading whenever I had a break in the action(of doing laundry) and not stopping until I finished the chapter. Then I went to bed and read some more, tried to go to sleep and noticed that the sun was coming up. At this point I decided that the prospect of forcing myself to sleep was pretty much shot, and got up. On the up side, I used the extra time to read the material for Understanding Lit. And no, I still don't 'get it' the way that I'm expected to.

On that note, I feel like I owe an apology to all the creative people that read my spiteful post and were offended. Sorry. As I stated, I am tactless, and yes I was a bit ruthless in attacking any kind of deep poetry/art stuff. That really is how I feel(as of now) and I'm not going to lie about my feelings. As long as I feel the way I do and you feel the way you do, we won't have any fun with that topic- so let's agree to disagree, eh?

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