It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, which usually means I write a massive post…but I’ll try and keep it short this time.
First off, I haven’t been updating as much because…well, I haven’t really felt like writing and two, because during the second year, it really does become more of a “home”, and most people don’t write about their day-to-day activities. I’m also not as busy as I was during the first year. Focusing really hard on saving.
Anyway, the main focus of this post is on a few things. Instead of an intro though, I guess I’ll just dive right in.
Korea has really been a shock to me in more ways than one. Aside from language and food barriers, there’s also the culture aspect. AspectS.
As you may know, Korea is an extremely homogeneous society. Homogeneous as in most people look similar, act similar, dress similar, etc. And straying from that “same-ness” can be…a bad choice (assuming it’s a choice to begin with. ie: looks. Get to that later).
Pretty much right away, as a foreigner, you’ll have people staring at you. Not always super-noticeable and it’s not always constant. But you do have a bit of a celebrity status, in a way. People look at you, but it’s pretty much just out of curiosity and they don’t mean any harm by it. Again, it’s not all the time, but it’s often enough that you take notice. At first it bothers you and then you just say “Eff it.” And just stop caring. But…you do care. And you don’t realize it because you bury that feeling.
One of the things I miss most about being home IS the multi-cultural aspect. Granted, we aren’t perfect either and we have racism and such, but I miss being able to walk down the street and not feel strange or unusual.
They stare because you look different…and they’re curious. At times it’s kind of like being an animal at a zoo.
But. Obviously, I’m not an animal. I’m a human being…with a family and a past and goals and dreams.
Looks are a HUGE (and by HUGE…I mean, you need to experience it to believe it) part of the culture here.
Mirrors are in elevators, people taking self-photos in public and girls applying makeup in the middle of a date or in a coffee shop with friends is all completely normal.
They have A standard of beauty..and if you don’t stack up…people will tell you. And often. And I’m a foreigner. It’s so much worse for Koreans.
Light/White skin-and by white, I don’t mean Caucasian….I mean…white. (whiteners are added to lotions and SPF 50+ is the standard for sunscreen), strong jaw (V-Line), and general Western-looking features are best. Wide/Big eyes. (Surgery to “correct” their eyes is EXTREMELY common).
And skinny. “Diet, Diet, Diet”–another common word.
It makes me sick, and it starts young.
I’m not trying to bash them, but I’m just very concerned and I feel really terrible knowing my beloved kindergartners and elementary schoolers are headed toward that mess as they age…and some of them already are.
Parents sometimes give their kids plastic surgery as a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION present. The comments about appearance and everything come from friends and family members. Plastic surgery ads are common too.
Anyway, I’ve been asked quite a few times if I’m going to stay a 3rd year, and I honestly don’t know.
Being away from home isn’t anything crazy anymore, it’s just part of the game. I’m now taking my own well-being into account. I feel like my self-esteem has taken a major blow since I’ve been here and confidence too.
It stems from the foreigner population being placed at the bottom of the totem pole and people not giving a (Pardon my French) Fuck about you. You’re extremely expendable. They know foreigners come and go, so what are you to them.
My Korean friends are nice, but unless they’ve been abroad, it can be difficult for them to fully understand what it’s like to come to a country that is so focused on appearance and working. I was brought up in a way that encouraged me to try different sports and activities and to be the best person that I could be. Honest, hard-working, patient, kind, and also that inner-beauty is a very real thing that should also be nurtured and polished.
I mentioned that my self-esteem has taken a hit and I don’t want that to come off as a pity-party or that I’m fishing for compliments or whatever. I think this is definitely one of those “testing” experiences. It’s meant to make me stronger, and that’s the angle I’m working on right now.
I don’t think compliments will really help. I’m not depressed and I still like the way I look, but I’m just more (and more often) aware of what I look like…and my flaws. So, I know it’s up to me now to embrace those flaws too.
I’m just not used to hearing direct criticism (or laughter) about parts of my body.
“Teacher, baby?” (pointing/touching my belly pooch)
“Oh your feet. Very big.”
*pointing to the men’s section* when asking about shoes for me
I’ve had friends who have been turned away from trying on clothes because “No, no. You too big!”
I suppose it all ties into them being a homogeneous society.
If you don’t travel, then all you see is what you know.
They aren’t used to seeing girls with muscles or girls running for enjoyment (however, it’s much bigger in Japan!) or with shoe sizes much above a 7.
I was even second-guessing my own toned legs a few weeks back. I started asking myself if my legs were too big. Which I’ve NEVER even considered until now. I normally love my legs and have worked very hard to get them toned and into the shape they are. I’m fine with it now…but again, now I’m super aware of that.
I also noticed yesterday that I was happy when the sales-clerk correctly guessed my size for a dress I wanted to try on (and it was a small).
Why the hell do I care about this?
My brain is starting to focus more on appearance and I feel like I’m digging my heels in the dirt trying to stop it.
I want to be focused on my skills and attributes and have confidence out the window, but I’m working on not nit-picking my body and what the gossip is at work.
This isn’t me.
I’ve never been the type to care about gossip or celebrity junk, and here I am getting sucked in (except celebrities).
So, that’s my answer about staying for a 3rd year.
I honestly have no idea.
I love the idea of saving more money and continuing to pay off debt. That’s my number 1 priority, but it all depends on how I’m doing (mentally) around the 7-8 month mark. If I’m still reeling from the comments and the looks and am in need of some TLC, then I’ll leave.
If I’ve got everything is under control and I’m happy, then I’ll *consider* staying longer.
I really like the teaching part and would be happier with another school, but my own personal well-being comes first.
Note: The comments and looks aren’t all the time, but once you get one, it sticks with you. Even if you don’t want it to.
Be careful with your words.
Note 2: You don’t need to be worried or anything. I’m not going through depression and I’m not starving myself or anything. Still me, but just a little frazzled and trying to find myself again.
Note 3: I did this last year, but I’m doing “self-esteem”/”What I Like About Me” projects with my classes. I did it with 2 classes last year and I’m going to try and do it with all of them (except beginner 1.1 class) this year because I think it’s so important. If you’re curious, just ask about it and I can explain it. Don’t want to get too wordy on here.
This is a great follow-up blog entry, and I really suggest/recommend that you read it too.
This is good too: