Not fitting in – 어울리지 않는다

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.

42218125_1810490525732363_7911320834289958912_nPerhaps 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 42219139_266924640827064_6001576403651264512_nKorea 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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The importance of taking time for yourself – 자기 자신을 위한 시간을 갖는 것의 중요성

Hey guys and gals,

I’m finally back in Seoul, and even though I’ve only been here about 2 and a half days… I’m loving it. I’ve met up with friends everyday so far and I have a wedding to go to tomorrow. Life is good.

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter or on Instagram you will have seen that I have been suffering from the most SPECTACULAR jet lag I have ever experienced. Even today, I slept through two alarms and woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon. 

This concerns me quite a bit as I really REALLY can’t sleep through my alarms tomorrow because I HAVE to be at my friends wedding. It’s the reason I flew out here. And I’m in an unfamiliar city (this is only my second visit here) in an unfamiliar apartment, I’m still not as comfortable with the language as I would like and, I’m not gonna lie, I am so hot and uncomfortable because of the weather and my size. I’m basically a BSG here in Korea, a Big Sweaty Giant. I’m very aware that all of these things might lead me to not feeling my best mentally.

However, I’m not feeling miserable. In fact, I’m actually quite happy. And I think that’s because I have made sure that even in these first few days, I’ve not overwhelmed myself with having to do all the things possible with all the people possible. I’ve made sure to take time for myself and say no to things if I needed. Whether that’s giving myself a day to feel tired and jet lagged and just stay in bed (today) or splashing out just a little bit and having some quality me time while I got my hair done at Juno Hair in Hongdae (thanks to Moon Chae Rin for doing my hair, giving me a discount and for talking me through you hair tips). I knew these first few days were gonna take their toll on me, and I wanted to be sure that I didn’t burn out too fast. So while making sure I do the more obvious and active elements of looking after myself like socialising and exercising and going outside, I am also allowing myself time simple just for me. So I can rest, both physically and mentally.

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In Korea it is a social taboo to ever turn down an invitation from someone important or someone more senior than you. It’s considered very rude to do so, unless you have an excuse that takes a higher priority (family issues, health issues, appointments etc). I’ve only been here 3 days and I’ve already had 2 friends say they either couldn’t meet up in the first place or that they had to cancel because someone more senior asked them to go out. Now, I’m not trying to make these people feel guilty cause I didn’t mind, I understood that they had to change their plans accordingly, and neither am I trying to say that what they are doing is bad. What I am saying is that sometimes we all have a tendency to put something else before our ‘own’ time. Whether its work, or friends, or something else, sometimes we feel like we have to say ‘yes’ when we really want to say ‘no’.

Maybe we all need to start thinking of ourselves as someone who is of a high priority. Humans are very prone to over working themselves and pushing too hard. Doing nothing can actually be far more useful for you than trying to do too many things at once. Time for yourself provides healing, rest, reflection, space for doing things that you enjoy and that make you happy. Taking time for yourself is important, so please make sure you are taking that time and using it well.

follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @ConnieunKiga

My first Big Fat Korean Wedding – 나의 첫번째 크고 뚱뚱한 한국 결혼식

One of the most exciting things that is happening on my next trip to South Korea is that I am attending the wedding of one of my oldest friends. 이소윤, who I knew from school as 38223884_10217113886749480_4838639481986744320_nChristina, is getting married (to the very lovely  박정남). We met up in Itaewon for drinks and dessert, chatted a bit and that’s when I was invited. Of course I said yes, and we then met up with Christina’s fiance and went to the Han river to get to know each other and eat pizza looking at the view. I was so excited to meet 정남, and I was happy to tell him a little about what Christina was like at school. I was also honoured to be asked to catch Christina’s wedding bouquet.

This request is what stirred my curiosity  in understanding Korean wedding customs. In the UK, the bouquet is caught through chance, there is no planning or selection involved. It’s also more common for women who are dating or in longer-term relationships to attempt to catch the bouquet. I am almost chronically single, so at first I felt a little odd about being asked to catch it. However after asking Christina why she asked me, and after asking other Korean friends about the significance of being asked, I learned that it is in fact a special request for dear friends. I have also learned that the apparently keen interest that many of my new Korean friends have in setting me up with “a nice man” is a sign that they care for me. It’s something I am just going to have get used to.

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In case anyone else is invited to a Korean wedding I thought I would make a handy guide to wedding etiquette in Korea. However, I would say that it is always a good idea to ask either the person who invited you or a fellow guest if there is anything specific you need to know about the wedding. Not all weddings are the same, and its impossible to create an entirely universal guide.

  1. Attire is commonly very formal for western weddings, however you don’t need to stress so much about what to wear to a Korean wedding. You’ll want to look neat and presentable, often the dress code tends more to semi-formal or even business wear. So don’t feel like you need to doll yourself up too much.
  2.  Presents aren’t typically given at Korean weddings, usually cash is given in a crisp, brand new envelope. Try to find new notes as well. If you’re a young person attending a friends wedding, you would typically be expected to shell out 30,000 won. If you’re planning to give 50,000 won (for a particularly close friend), then give one 50,000 bill as opposed to five 10,000 bills.
  3. Commonly weddings take place in  an all-in-one wedding hall. Some couples opt for church weddings but typically it’s all in a wedding hall. The couple will rent the the main, pre-decorated auditorium for 1-2 hours and have their ceremony quickly before the next couple runs in. When you enter the wedding hall they will be a reception where you can hand in your gift and exchange it for a meal ticket. Then, when it comes to finding a seat, there is no bride’s side or groom’s side as there are in western weddings. So you can sit wherever you like, but try to get there early. Wedding invitations in Korea are often spread wide out of politeness, so many people are invited. I-Do's and Donts
  4. After the ceremony, the guests a line and take turns congratulating the couple and will take pictures. First will typically be photos with the couple’s family, then they will do photos with friends. Some couples may choose to have a traditional Korean wedding.  A traditional house or temple may be the backdrop and the couple will wear classic wedding hanbok. These ceremonies tend to be a little more intimate because the venue isn’t shared with another couple. Time is less restricted and you know that everyone there is part of the same wedding party.
  5. Most weddings in the UK have a reception, Korean wedding usually don’t. What happens instead is that there is an eating area, often on a different floor with a large buffet ( but occasionally, venues will have the wedding and eating all in one area). If it’s a large wedding venue with multiple halls going at once, then you may be eating with the guests from several other weddings. The bride and groom will sometimes have a reserved table with their families. The couple will usually make the rounds to greet and thank their guests before they eat their dinner. After eating and congratulating the couple again, you should get out of there quickly in order to make room for the next wedding party.

 

follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @ConnieunKiga

My next trip to Seoul – 나의 다음 서울 여행

Most great movies always have a slightly underwhelming sequel. Back To The Future had Back To The Future Part 2. Kill Bill led to Kill Bill Vol. 2. Die Hard had Die Harder. And the soon, I too will have my own sequel, although hopefully in this instance this part 2 will be as good as the first, if not better. If my first trip to Korea had a movie title, I’d probably go with ‘Seoul Survivors’.

Poster Seoul trip 2So get ready for this years most anticipated sequel after The Incredibles 2 (which if you haven’t seen you totally should, just saying)… ‘Seoul Survivors 2: Return of the Wegukin‘. In under 3 weeks time, I will be back in South Korea and I’m VERY excited about it.

There are many things I’m looking forward to on my return to ‘the land of morning calm’ but I think most of all I’m looking forward to preparing for my move there. I will be there for 6 weeks this time, so much longer than my initial visit. Among the list of activities that I’d like to get up to, which are pictured bellow, I am hoping to interview for some jobs and spend time getting my footing as a citizen of Seoul. Of course I’m also so excited to see some of the friends I made again, and of course make some new ones.

Seoul List

I will also be making some videos about my journeys to and from Korea, as well as my adventures in Seoul and Daejon. This will be the first time I’ve made videos of this sort, so I hope you enjoy them.

If you think of anything you think I should do whilst in Korea, please do let me know and I will try to do it.

Tweet me, follow me on Facebook or find me on Instagram at @ConnieunKiga, and let me know what I should try out. I will be writing posts while I am away, so please look forward to my blog posts.

The reason why I don’t have a best friend and why that’s okay – 내가 가장 친한 친구가 없고 그것에 대해 행복한 이유는

“So who’s your best friend Connie”

38209711_10217111446128466_2149874402890612736_nWhen I was in Primary school I dreaded this question. I hated it when I saw pairs of friends walking around, whispering secrets, playing games or speaking languages that only they knew cause they were ‘best fwends’. I thought that something was wrong with me because I didn’t have anyone who I called my best friend.

To be quite honest, I really didn’t have the best time in primary school. I shan’t go into too much detail but it made me very insecure, I constantly tried to get people to like me and made up stories to impress them, or have something in common with them. I felt like who I was wasn’t good enough. This feeling continued into my older years, through high school, through sixth form and still exists, to some extent, in my adult life. I don’t feel the need to make up stories now, and I’m far better at cutting out harmful people from my life, but I still sometimes worry about whether people like me or not.

38235159_10217111446008463_3847281139383271424_nMy worry about not having a best friend lasted through high school and sixth form too. I craved someone to be my best friend and for me to be theirs. But I didn’t have one. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, I had great friends, friends I really trusted and who made me happy. Many of whom I am still friends with now, almost a decade later. But they weren’t my best friend… and I wasn’t theirs. I often heard the phrase “you are one of my best friends”, which sometimes felt like a bit of a slap in the face. Why ‘one of’? Why not the only? What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone want me to be their BFF?

Another thing I feel I should mention is that there have been… patterns I guess, in my life, of people letting me down, hurting me or using me. This often too the form of someone who I might have thought of as my best friend doing something that completely broke my trust and hurt me. I absolutely don’t want this to be a pity-party post. I am not looking to write a poor-me-narrative, because I know that people can be cruel and unkind as well as people being kind and supportive. It’s part of life. That unkindness can be deliberate or accidental, but it happens to everyone. Everyone experiences it. And sometimes, well a lot of times, I was a bit of a doormat and I didn’t stick up for myself. I don’t think I deserved to be treated unkindly, but I sometimes didn’t help myself. I thought that being a friend to someone, or being a nice person, meant just forgiving and forgetting everything. I thought that the way to get people to like me was to not complain. I also doubt that I was never unkind myself, but I hope I always tried to show kindness. I didn’t want my hurt and pain to make me someone who hurt others.

37997467_10217111432848134_5983963112137555968_nIt took a lot of being mistreated and hurt for me to finally learn how to stick up for myself in an effective way. It took a lot of feeling sad and upset to learn how to surround myself with people who made me happy and challenged me in a productive and positive way. I learned that I can’t make everyone like me, and I don’t need to be friends with everyone. I can be kind, while still being kind to myself. I learned to be my own best-friend. It took a long time to get to that point, and sometimes I’m a bit of a rotten friend to myself, but I now have friends who can be a good friend to me when I can’t.

I’m actually happier without searching for that one person to be my best friend. Now I have friends who I can call on in certain situations, or for particular advice. I think if I limited myself to one person who I invested in totally, I’d end up unhappy again. I think that when I desperately sought to have a best friend, I was actually seeking for a sense of identity. I wanted a best friend because I didn’t know where I fitted in. But I wasn’t able to find it in other people, and as I tried to shape myself and my personality around what I thought others wanted, I lost sense of who I was myself. And people sensed that. They saw that I wasn’t sure of myself. Some people saw that as an opportunity to make me an easy target, and others just thought it meant they could get away with more. The friends who have lasted the longest, lasted the longest because I was myself with them, and who I was was enough. Rather than having one partner who is like my second half, who I rely on entirely and who relies on me, I have a network of support. I think nowadays the idea of having one best friend terrifies me a little bit. Because what if I’m hurt again? Or what if I hurt them? Then I’d be alone, or at least I’d feel alone.

You might just think that my unwillingness to have one singular best friend reflects my38204200_10217111433088140_7448592826029309952_n issues with trusting others, but I feel I trust people a lot more now that I’ve stopped seeking a BFF. Because now, I accept that relationships and friendships can last, or end, and that that’s okay. I accept that I’m not able to befriend everyone, that not everyone will want to be my friend, and that honestly there are people I don’t want to be friends with. I accept that people are flawed, but that doesn’t mean I can’t trust people. But most of all, I accept that that best friend I can ever have, is myself.

 

 

 

 

follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @ConnieunKiga