[[!meta date="2015-01-27 09:10:00"]]
[[!meta title="After a year in Korea"]]
[[!tag imported_PyBlosxom writing diary]]
I recently wrote a [series of blog
commenting on contemporary Korean society after a year living here, and
I was disappointed by the way about half of them came out. Further, I
didn't write down my current assessment of my year in Korea for my own
self and life. I intend to do that briefly here.
[[!more linktext="continue reading this entry" pages="!blog/entry/*" text="""
I originally signed up to come to Korea for a year for two reasons. I
had a great deal of curiosity about Korean contemporary culture and
society, piqued by spending a month teaching English in a nursing
college here in the summer of 2012. And I wanted to study philosophy at
a post-graduate level, but I couldn't apply to start a graduate course
immediately after my undergraduate because that would mean I would have
to apply with my third year grades before I'd got my fourth year ones,
which I knew would be much better as I dropped maths and did only
philosophy in my fourth year. I'll frame my assessment of my time in
Korea so far in terms of these two reasons, and then say a little about
the remainder of my time here from now until some time between August
Firstly, studying graduate philosophy. It's easy to build past
happenings that seemed undesirable at the time into a grand narrative of
one's life in which they turn out to be beneficial, and our culture very
much wants us to see them this way. I'm aware of this, so I don't take
the following too seriously. That being said: I think that going into
graduate study straight after undergraduate would have been dangerous
emotionally and intellectually, because I had a bunch of dogmatic ideas
about academic philosophy and its place in the intellectual and cultural
landscapes that I might not have shaken off to the extent that I think I
have. In contemporary self-help parlance, I've diversified my identity.
Secondly, my attempts to understand and learn from the powerfully
non-western elements of Korean culture. This has been much less
successful than the above. When I arrived I really threw myself into it.
I forced myself to eat spicy food, basically suffering through most of
my mealtimes, I met a lot of different Koreans to see if I could forge
some friendships, I used Korean products and Korean methods, even making
up my bed in the style of my Korean friend from university. And of
course I put quite a lot of hours into learning the language, though
this was fairly inefficient because I haven't learnt a language so
didn't know a lot that I know now about how to (and I'm very aware of
how far I didn't really get).
Now, I have a fascinating relationship with my Korean girlfriend which
wouldn't have been come about had I not made the efforts just described.
But really she is all I have come out with, aside from a bunch of useful
perspectives and insights that result from contrasting English-speaking
and Korean culture that I have floating around in my head. I've very
much wound down my efforts with regard to language study and fitting in,
not bothering with a lot of Korean food and not bothering with cultural
activities and tourism, because I've found that I've come out with one
close Korean friend aside from my girlfriend, one or two other Koreans
who I might see once every few months, and a feeling that there's not
actually that much to contemporary Korean culture after all.
There's a lot of weird ways that people behave that I'd like to gain a
better understanding of than was displayed in the series of blog posts I
mentioned above, but you can't really talk to Koreans about these---and
thus try to begin some kind of systematic engagement with the
culture---because they quickly take offense. Koreans are strikingly
similar in how they handle foreigners. It sounds crude and as though it
couldn't possibly be anything other than a surface impression, but it
really does seem that most Koreans would rather like you to just enjoy
some food and complain that the rest is too spicy and then they can feel
good for being in a cultural club that's capable of eating it, say that
you think various places in Korea are pretty, and then let them know the
start and end dates of your temporary sojourn.
I haven't managed to break past these barriers to serious and rewarding
engagement with contemporary Korea. I hope that there are answers, that
I just didn't try hard enough or engaged in the wrong way, but those
answers don't help me who did try as hard as he could and found himself
getting very little out of the country. A huge part of this is language,
and maybe it's just my lack of intellectual stimulation here. It's easy
to blame that lack on the country but really, the heart of it is that
what culture there might be is just straight-up inaccessible compared to
what's available to me in an English-speaking country.
With all this I need to say why I'm still here and plan to see out as
much of the second contracted year of employment as I can before I might
have to go back to the UK or even the US to go to university again. The
reasons are that I have a good life here and I have my girlfriend. Our
relationship is very interesting due to the cultural exchange and
differences, and it's very loving. I don't know what else I might want
to do and I don't want to think too hard about it until after this
likely final round of university applications, so continuing my life
here works very well for me. That doesn't mean I'm not disappointed that
I don't have more than I do.