Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A List

Hi, everyone!  This is Lizzie, and I'm living in Iksan attending Hamyeol Girls High School with Ami and Ashleigh.  Since you already know a little bit about our daily school life from prior posts, I won't bore you by going over the same thing again.  Instead, I thought would talk a little bit about some of the general cultural differences, both expected and unexpected, that I have noticed here during the past six weeks.  Some of these differences have been surprisingly easy to adapt to, while others are so foreign to me that I don't think I'll ever fully get used to them.  Here are some of the most noticable points:

Things that I am getting used to/have gotten used to
  • Seat belts: In America, I wouldn't leave the driveway without putting my seat belt on.  Here, seat belts are more of a suggestion rather than a rule.  I now rarely wear a seat belt unless I'm on the freeway, and I think I'm going to have a hard time remembering to wear it when I go back to the US...
  • Pace of life: Koreans tend to be a lot busier than Americans.  The first few weeks I was in Korea, I was so exhausted that the only thing I wanted to do when I got home from school was go to sleep-- and I get home from school at 6:30! This is extremely early by Korean high schooler standards, but I’m at school each day for two or three more hours per day than I was in America, and this has taken some time to get used to.
  • Korea food/table manners: Mealtime is very different in Korea than in is in America.  Food is so much more family-based here, and except for your rice bowl, every part of the meal is shared amongst everyone in the middle of the table.  It isn’t considered strange to touch the group food with your own utensils as it would be in America, and it is also pretty common to feed someone by putting food directly in their mouth.  At first I was really uncomfortable doing this, but now I have accepted as just a normal part of Korean food culture, even if it is strange to me.
  • Touchiness: Koreans are really touchy with their friends, and girls especially will hold hands when walking together or do other things that would be seen as couple-y by American standards.  I am not a touchy person at all, and I still feel a little awkward when my classmates try to hold my hand if they are taking me somewhere, but I certainly feel less awkward than before.
  • Staring: There are quite a few foreigners in Iksan, but in the suburbs where I live, I’m pretty sure I’m the only foreigner in the whole town.  The same goes for Hamyeol, where our school is located.  As a result, when Ami, Ashleigh, and I go out after school, everyone stares.  Ajussis, ajummas, harabojis, students-- everyone.  It can get pretty awkward when we walk into a convenience store to buy a snack and everyone in the whole store stops their conversations to look at us.  But as time has passed, I’ve started to become oblivious to the staring, and I oftentimes don’t notice until Ami or Ashleigh points it out.

Things I don’t think I’ll ever get used to
  • Heating: I thought that coming to Korea would be tough on me weather-wise because I’m from Texas, where school is usually cancelled if the temperatures drop below freezing.  However, I’ve actually had the opposite problem: my host family is so worried about catching a cold that they turn the ondol floor heating in their house at night up to what feels like 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  In addition, I am constantly reminded to wear a jacket when I go out because it is 추워, despite the fact that it’s maybe 70 degrees outside.
  • Crossing the street: Jaywalking is a lot more common here in Iksan than it was where I’m from in the US, and I’ve accepted that aspect of Korean life.  What I have not embraced, however, is the fact that I have to dash across the street unless I want to run over.  Cars here don’t stop for pedestrians here unless they are at a light-- they just expect you to run faster. ;)
  • Illness: People here really like to go to the doctor’s office (or maybe it’s just my host family...).  In the US, I would only go to the doctor’s office if I was really sick, sick enough to miss school for 3 or 4 days.  However, my host family and teachers here urged me to go the hospital one of the first weeks I was here simply because I was sneezing and coughing.  The doctor there also gave me almost a week’s worth of medicine for my symptoms...
  • Shoes: I’m used to taking my shoes off when I go inside, but I haven’t mastered the art of putting my shoes on without having to use my hands.  I don’t understand how Koreans are able to put tennis shoes on so fast with just their feet.  My host sister always has to wait for me in the morning because I take twice as long to put my shoes on.  It also makes me laugh whenever I see people out of the house wearing slippers, which is a pretty common thing to do here.
  • Public space/pushing: In the US, if I needed to pass someone, I would say “excuse me” and wait for them to move aside first before going forward.  However, in Korea, people generally just keep going as if you are not there, kind of pushing you aside.  This struck me as rude at first, and even though I know that it isn’t by Korean standards, it always surprises me when it happens.

There are so many things about Korea and the US that are different culturally, but these are just a few points that I can think of off the top of my head.

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