Sorry guys, I’ve fallen a bit behind with my posts. But that’s simply because my time in Seoul has been SO MUCH FUN that I’ve got distracted/tired and I have literally fallen asleep thinking “man, I should really write a blog post…” But to make up for it, here is the first of three, yes three, blog posts that I will be publishing this weekend, one today, one tomorrow and one on Sunday.
Perhaps one of the things that has been most tiring is the fact that I am very aware of how ‘different’ I am. How I look, how I sound, how I dress… even the way I eat is different to some people. There have been many times where some of my Korean friends or acquaintances have been surprised about the way I eat. “Do you actually like that?!” “That’s not too spicy for you?!” “You know how to eat that!?” I’m not offended by this at all, in fact I often take it as a compliment as they often times seem impressed. The fact I like Kimchi, and can use chopsticks quite well, and can handle my soju intake is often times a pleasant surprise for my Korean hosts. But it does make me very aware of just how much I am being watched.
If you haven’t seen my #ConnieIsTooTallForKorea series on Instagram, check it out and you will see that even my height makes me stand out. There are some doorways in Korea that I have to crouch under to get through.
The number of times I’ve walked down a street, or got onto a subway carriage and have heard “와, 그녀는 너무 키가 커!” (or “wow, she’s so tall!” for those of you who can’t read Korean) is too numerous for me to count. I’m also so aware of people just looking at me… everywhere. I’m not wanting to make it sound like I’m being self centred or that I think that everyone always looks at me, but here its feels like I always have a spectator. Whether its a small child, staring at me, waving and pulling their mothers hand to look at me too, or an older gentleman or woman who watches me with fascination as I sit trying to read on a park bench. I don’t fit in here. I’m very, very aware of that.
And yet at the same time, what makes me stand out is actually how much I fit into Korean life. I have helped a Korean woman with her shopping up the stairs, I have given up my seat for a pregnant lady on the subway, I’ve played with children and made them laugh, I’ve cooked here, I’ve ordered food here, I’ve given directions in Korean… I even have a portable fan that I whip out whenever I’m too hot which has led a few of my friends to laugh and say “wow, you’re a real Korean now”. I think the fact that I am trying so hard to live here normally, not as a foreigner who is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with Korean culture and practices, in a way makes me stand out more.
I’ve heard stories of foreigners who’ve lived here for years who never bothered to learn Korean, or people who live here and have refused to adopt any Korean cultural habits. I not only find that just incredibly narrow minded and self indulgent, but also incredibly boring and isolating. I know that when I move here I will be ‘that tall British girl’ for a very long time, and even though I know I have friends here there is still a barrier because of my differences. The difference in appearance, the difference in culture… the difference in language. But perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that I don’t yet call Korea my home. In a few weeks, I have to get back on a plane and return to the UK. Of course I am looking forward to going back to my home in the UK and seeing my friends and family there, but I’m also sad. I’m sad because now when I go back to the UK, I don’t fit in there either. I don’t fit in there because I’m already so committed, so invested in the idea of learning, working and living in Korea.
I don’t fit in Korea, at least not yet. I may never fully fit in here. But I can tell you this already, that’s not gonna stop me moving forward and moving here. Even if I don’t fit through doorways, I’ll crouch down and make my own way in.
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