Culture Shock

19 Feb

My brother speaks Korean a bit too deadpan… flat… completely flat, so they think he’s Japanese. I think this goes to show that one can be a fluent idiot. Even the ajussi here have more inflection than he does and because he doesn’t inflect properly, no one seems to be able to understand him.

I’ve had NO culture shock. Sure, I’ve been surprised at things, but I roll with it and try it out. However, my parent’s culture shock is severe. I think somewhere inside my parents, they truly believe that who you are in connected to what culture you live in, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think who you are is so ingrained that you’d have to go to the cradle of humankind and kill the ancestors there to unmake yourself. Who you are is ingrained in a long line of history, and who you are was ingrained into time before you arrived. It’s made up of a sum of choices that billions of people made, including yourself, to make yourself who you are right now. I think because of adoption I’ve learned this beautiful thing tremendously, and thus I’m able to let go of what makes me, “American” “Korean” or whatever and adapt to the world around me. And I found when you let go, listen, observe, watch that you learn sooo much more about who you really are, versus who you thought you were. Probably sounds a bit philosophical… I hope it sounds wise.

I fumble horribly with speaking Korean. But I lack the confidence with speaking. And I pronounce well, and even have slipped into Korean mannerisms. But my parents aren’t listening and watching so much. They are so tightly balled inside that they aren’t actually seeing the country for everything it has. My Mom is whining about her back problems, but I think complaining makes everything worse, because you internalize that pain from your head, blame your body, your body responds by making you hurt, which is your body saying to you, Hey! it’s not my fault.

I’m trying to get them to say Kamsahamnida… My mom is slowly trying, but my Dad won’t even start with annyounghaseyo. Plus they keep insisting on going to Starbucks for breakfast. Uhhghh!

My objection is that you can be tourists, but if you listen, watch and try to open your mind and learn there are sooo many beautiful things to see. When you do so, you stop othering people and you start to see past the shell of culture and what truly makes this world of people human isn’t how you take a shower, what shoes you wear on a subway, how one dresses, what language you speak, but what makes us all human transcends all of those things.

Because I prepared and opened my mind, pressured myself to learn Korean, be Korean, and learned the culture before I came, I think that all those years of abrupt culture shock in the United States has culminated in me having no culture shock and even being able to blend a little. I’m willing to make mistakes, look like and idiot, but my pride isn’t surrounded by my outsides, it’s by the confidence that the world is as it is right now and this is where and who I am because everything has culminated in this direction. So I belong here, right her, right now. Having that kind of confidence I think really makes it easy for me to blend and adapt to culture…

Anti culture shock then is made up of these things:
1. Confidence in who you are without labels. “Writer” “American” “Korean” That is NOT who you are.
2. An open mind. I’ll try ANYTHING as long as I’m in that country. Silkworms, fine, they smell good. Escargot, fine, I’ll try, I’m in France.. gotta be good for something.
3. The ability and willingness to make mistakes *then* correct them. If you let go then beautiful things happen. You understand why people do what they do, what effect it has on them, and you can see past the surface. I learned about Korean pride by correcting my posture. I learned to go with the flow by not pushing through the crowd like one foreigner. I learned many things and was able to see into the face of what makes us human, just that bit more. Human beyond what our culture tells us is human.
4. Don’t panic. If you panic, then you think you are a victim. Which ends up in an us v. Them which means you’ll never accept the culture. For example, the subway wouldn’t take my ticket, so I was thinking, how to get out… So I called, but since Ajumma here was busy, so I breathed, I centered myself and then watched. Eventually I learned how you get through. You go to the exit labeled “help” raise your right hand.. if the attendant doesn’t see you you call out to them, “Ajussi.”

My mom experienced the same thing… but instead, she completely panicked. Then my Dad panicked. I was trying to explain, but they wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t calm down at *all* wasted 3,000 won, making it hard for me to go home later. Later my Mom basically said, “Why me?” “What did I do wrong?” If she had calmed down not thought, I have to stay American and thought that this is another country, so everyone and everything is out to get me, found herself and watched, she would have been able to get out, listen to me and what I was trying to say.

20 years of constant culture shock in the US, somehow having a different kind is always freeing… but I’m still waiting for it. ’cause I think culture shock can be fun… which ironically gives me none.

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