American in Korea

I usually use this space to document places I’ve visited in Seoul and abroad, but I’d like to start treating it as a journal as well. I miss writing a bit more personally, so I figure I’ll use this post as a way to say a bit more about myself than I usually do. As my friends and other familiar readers know, I graduated from Sogang University’s Korean Language Center here in Seoul a few months back (July), and since then I’ve been teaching English, editing and getting back into shape. I still feel, however, like I’m in between my education here and something else. As much as I enjoy teaching, I’m hoping to move into a different field here in Korea; where I can make use of my Korean and everything I’m learning in a broader way. That’s part of the reason I continue maintaining this blog and shooting photos. I love writing and shooting, and I believe my writing, at least, could be something I bring to my future career, be it as a journalist, blogger, marketer, etc. In the meantime, I’m learning a lot still from teaching and just simply living my life here in Seoul, working on the language, meeting new people and pushing myself in different ways.

It’s strange. People ask me often “When will you go back to America?”. I imagine some day I will, but as of now I’m able to live here doing what I am and I’m building upon the skills I’ve decided I want to work on (photography, writing, exercise, editing). So, regardless of whether I’m in Korea or America, I’ll still be pursuing these things. On top of that, I enjoy it here. I feel energized in Seoul. Despite the frustrations, occasional loneliness and challenges, I receive inspiration from my surroundings to learn more and, in the end of the day, something keeps bringing me back to the culture and language…something inside of me keeps driving me to learn more, even though at times I feel like just throwing my hands up. Note: For anyone who hasn’t learned Korean, it’s tough. Yet, it’s definitely worth all the stress and hard work so long as you’re properly motivated. (I’ll write some posts later about my Korean learning experience/story).

This past year, however, with all the drama of the election season in America, it’s been harder than usual for me to place most of my focus on Korea. I was caught up in and passionately supporting Bernie during his run, and since his loss, despite my disappointment, I’ve continued following the debates and everything else happening. The whole spectacle of this year’s election has been like nothing I’ve seen before and so often resembling a drama more than an actual race, without Bernie’s influence bringing in the real issues as he consistently did in the primary. For me, however, it’s not so much the details of this time period in America that have so transfixed me, but rather the intensity of it. America looks as if it’s undergoing a massive transition, as if this era of American hegemony is beginning it’s decline. From here, I often feel a desire to be back with my people, amongst the familiarity of my culture, during all that’s happening. Yet, on the other hand, I enjoy the distance. It gives me an ability to look in and observe what’s going on more objectively, without all the emotions so present in my surroundings. But all this has brought me back to myself as an American in Korea. When I first came here I dreamed about assimilating, about making my place amongst the people and really blend in to the crowd. There’s a few problems with that. One, I’m a tall white guy. Two, I never will be able to fully assimilate, nor do I wish to. What I failed to realize at first was that while my orientation to Korea would change over the years, through my experience and language learning, Korea wouldn’t. The cultural differences between America and Asia, and particularly America and Korea, are vast. The challenge, in the end of the day, seems to be being able to tolerate always being a bit outside of the culture. To be okay with some of that loneliness or confusion, rather than to attempt to break that divide. The divide’s always going to be there, and I’m learning to embrace it while simultaneously appreciating how far I’ve come in my own way to adjusting and adapting to a culture so different from my own.

So here’s to America, in all it’s current pains and joys, and to my new home, Korea, in all it’s grit and beauty.

Clearing Out

I spent part of yesterday gathering up boxes of stuff of mine I no longer want or need and shuttling it to the nearby goodwill for donation. This included one massive box and one garbage bag of old clothes, two large boxes of books, an old VCR/DVD combo player and some random items including a marshallow gun (sorry Alyssa!). As much fun as a marshmallow gun is, I think it’d be in better hands with a younger brother looking to pester his older sister (like I would as a kid). Now, I can shoot my mom, or maybe a friend who visits, and absolutely my sister when she comes by..but, it’s not the same. The fun wears off. This is the first step of my clearing out process leading up to Korea. The second will be to collect all my old toys/stuffed animals/games, etc, that are still boxed up in my dad’s house basement. More importantly, however, I’ll have to find a new home for my chinchilla Hombre. He’ll be the hardest part of my life to leave behind, as I’ve had Hombre for 4 years now, and him and I have been through our share of trials (including two home breakouts, him surviving a rainy night and recovering from a broken femur…as well as a leap off a 10 foot roof)…I know I sound like a negligent owner, but trust me, there’s complicated back-stories behind these incidents I won’t get into.

It’s been bittersweet starting up this process of removing no longer necessary stuff from my life. It’s, however, felt mostly good. I’ve always admired people who’ve managed to live very simple lives, and aesthetically, I’m drawn to simplistic design and spaces. I’m a pretty cluttered person. My mind’s very active, I think a lot, and my spaces often reflect this in me, with papers, books, clothes all strewn about. I guess I’m drawn to spacious, open designs, because it balances me’s maybe what inwardly I’m often seeking. I’m also drawn to Asia for these reasons…the attention to detail you can find in the architecture and design of traditional hanok and japanese style homes, and the thought that goes into so many otherwise mundane elements of life.

Essentially I’m being required to finally deal with my clutter, and boxes of stuff I’ve let sit for a while but never attend to. I couldn’t be happier to get rid of 95% of my old clothes. Growing up in Vermont, fashion was kind of an after thought to me. I’d pay attention to it, but I’d be lying if I described myself in the past as a fashionable person. I did enough to look presentable, other times arguably not..but, really, in Vermont the bar for appearances is set pretty damn low. I’m enjoying reinventing my wardrobe in Seoul. Originally I was pretty disinterested in Seoul’s fashion/shopping meca reputation, but after walking around the city feeling under-dressed, and then shopping with You Jeong in Myeongdong (One of Seoul’s major shopping areas) amongst other places, I began to really enjoy this aspect of the city. Seoul’s a great place for me to reinvent my style. After all, I like colors. I like pinks, oranges, yellows, purples…and men wear these colors in Korea. I don’t mind that at all, just Vermont’s hues are more earthy: browns, greens, dark blues, black, dark red, so I feel less comfortable using these colors in my style here in the states.

This whole lead up period, getting ready for Seoul, is my period of saying goodbye to my old life as I open up to the next chapter in Seoul . I’ve learned and grown a lot here in Burlington, but before I knew much about Korea (Pre-February of this year), I’d been looking for an opportunity to restart in a new place. I’m preparing myself both practically and mentally/emotionally (and also making both of my parents really happy to no longer be dealing with my stuff) by clearing out my life of unnecessary things. By the time I leave for Seoul, I hope to have two large bags of clothes/books/whatever else and a backpack. That’s it. I’ll have a few books left at home, but otherwise, have all I need.

In other news….I’m really excited..tonight, talking with You Jeong, she proposed the idea of a trip together to Jeju Island once I return (the “hawaii” or “bali” of Korea, off the south of the island), followed by a cruise to Busan (Korea’s second largest city behind Seoul, a port city) and possibly a stop in Daegu on the train ride back from Busan to Seoul. I’ve really only seen Seoul, Incheon, Bucheon and Jarasum, all cities/towns within the same general area…so it’ll be great to see new parts of the country that I’ve been wanting to visit for a while, especially with my girlfriend 🙂