(I started this .. after my first semester. I never finished it. It’s been too long to know where I was going with it, so I’ll publish it untouched.)
Life in Korea is not what I expected it to be, in fact I honestly don’t know what I expected. My only ideas of Asia have been either influenced from Kung fu movies or Anime. But of course only China and Japan are represented. I’d never even heard of Kimchi until a Chinese friend told me to eat it to prepare for my trip. Was Kimchi a type of rice? I had no idea what it was or where I would even get the stuff. To further my embarrassment I had no idea where Korea was even was on the map at the time of my application, and the only time I’d heard of it was in relation to the Northern part of the peninsular.
So in preparing for my trip I had no idea what to expect and no frame of reference to refer to. I had the stereotypes of course, the ones like, Asians are really small people, they study all the time, they only eat rice, they eat raw fish all the time and they are always shy. Some were proven right for example, compared to me many of the Korean women are small and rice does seem to be a staple of every meal (not that I complain) others were wrong, Korean students might study hard, but they also party hard very hard.
I’d like to stress this… nothing, nothing at all could have prepared me for living in Korea. The past four months have been the most intense four months of my life. To be perfectly frank, I felt like a pioneer not just because I was one of only two black people in the whole school, but merely because I am foreign. I’ve honestly never really felt what it was like to be foreign before in my life. Sure I’ve had my brush ins with racism and bullies, but I’ve never ever felt like I couldn’t try and be a part of the bigger picture. In England, I blend in. Even though I wasn’t born there and I don’t look like a ‘native Englishman’ I still feel like I can identify with the country, I belong there and I’ve always felt like that.
The simplest things become so complicated because of my status in the country, something so simple as getting a store point card became a challenge because I am foreign. You see, you can collect all the points you want (and I did, a whole LOT of them too) but when you want to spend them, you have to input your ID number into their website… but you have to be Korean to have such a number, Alien ID does not work. I know it’s petty to be annoyed at this, it’s their country right? They can do what they want with it. 90% of the time I barely noticed because I was too busy having the time of my life getting away with the silliest of things (pushing in the lunch queue) by playing the foreigner card (see, not all bad). But the times when I felt particularly homesick, it hit me like a brick wall & I all of a sudden felt so out of place and alone. It was horrible. There are very few things that felt homely for me to cling onto during those times… in the end I became very good friends with Mr. McDonalds.
I make it sound like it’s all bad! But it’s really not, like I said time of my life! My gosh, I felt like such a country bumpkin, in Seoul lights are always flashing and so much to do and eat at insane hours of the day. It really is a city that never sleeps. I thought London had a lot of tourist attractions, but a few friends and I pretty much did them all in one day. In my four months living in Seoul… I don’t think I’ve been to all of it. The people are so friendly, so kind. I know it’s like a mantra you have to say after being to a new place. But honestly they were really nice. It was hard to get used to the lack of personal space, in England… no-one touches you. If they brush past you there is the rush of apologies and the obligatory scurry away. I had to quickly get over my feeling of unease when older ajumas were all up in my space. The fascination with my skin and hair was fully expected but what I hadn’t anticipated was that they would just touch without a word. I had to laugh at my own naivety, of course they would be intrigued!
Younger people though, really couldn’t care about what I looked like, except that I was, ‘cute’. I LOATHED that word when I first arrived. Cute at home means childish and a little silly. In Korea it was a compliment, cute meant fun and sweet.