Top 5: Ways Korea Changed Me

January 29, 2016

After living in Korea for 4 and a half years, there are a few things that I've noticed about myself.

First day in Mokpo - August 2011

1. Driving Habits

Starting off with something not entirely new or shocking: Driving in Korea has required me to be both an aggressive and slightly inconsiderate driver. Believe me when I say it's necessary to drive this way because I generally have to assume that other cars are not aware of my existence. To give myself some credit, I still signal my turns and abide by traffic lights which is more than can be said about some other drivers.

2. Clothing Modesty

Women's clothing styles in Korea have a specific kind of modesty; While baring your shoulders and neckline are generally a no-no, there isn't much of a limit to how much leg you can show. Growing up in a small town in Canada, it was pretty much "to-each-their own" with regards to clothing style/modesty. I mean, women could legally walk around topless but that wasn't something taken advantage of so I guess there was some limit. When I first came to Korea, I was mindful of the difference and did my best to cover up but still wore my "scandalous" Canadian clothes (shoulder-less and slightly plungey shirts) sometimes. Over time, I've become more accustomed to the Korean way of things to the extent that the sight of cleavage shocks me. I hardly have cleavage, but it never sees the light of day and my shoulders are almost always covered even in the blistering, sweaty summer.

3. Speaking Patterns

I think English-speakers who have lived in a predominantly non-English community for an extended amount of time could agree that their English begins to suffer. Before coming to Korea I really took the power, function, and flexibility of language for granted. Especially when teaching English, aspects about the language constantly surface.

"Teacher, what do you call a 'hair shop' in Canada?"

This simple question literally stumped me.
After getting my hair cut at a 'hair shop' for so long, that's what it is to me now.

Korean students generally have a bank of English words that aren't entirely correct (Konglish), and they begin to seep into your own vocabulary. Not only that, but there is also a distinct Korean accent that English words take on which I began using for the benefit of my students' comprehension. This is likely not for the benefit of their natural English acquisition and clearly not for the benefit of my English ability either... but who perfect. Some days it's possible for me to go without having even one coherent English conversation, and those simplified conversations start to become the norm. In my case, I think I use Korean more than English on a day-to-day basis.
I road rage in Korean.
I talk to myself in Korea.
I talk to my cat in Korean.

4. House Life

Seeing people wear their shoes in the house via Western TV really throws me through a loop. I know not all Canadians wear shoes in their house, but it's at least not entirely taboo or repulsive if you do. After living in Korea, if after putting my shoes on I realize I didn't turn off my hair straightener, I start from zero and take off my shoes before stepping out of the "shoe zone" that exists inside the doorway of Korean houses/buildings.

In addition to that, my house also has a rice cooker that I know how to use and I have rolls of toilet paper strewn about which function as Kleenex/paper towels. The toilet paper thing really confused me when I first came to Korea; Even restaurants tend to have a roll of TP hanging above tables instead of napkins. My Canadian mind always associated TP with bathrooms. Not no mo'.

5. General Existence

This is probably the aspect of Korea/Korean culture that I got accustomed to the fastest. After my first year in Korea, I went back to Canada where I continued slightly bowing to people when greeting them, or handing over things with two hands. As much as I tried, I couldn't stop.

In terms of general/personality things, I find that I am a lot more laid back since living in Korea. I never regarded myself as a very high-maintenance person (was I? am I?), but coming to Korea with no knowledge of the language, I started to just take what came to me because I didn't know how to speak up.
"Oh... but... I ordered ice coffee... it's 30 degrees and 148% humidity... err... whatever"
"Wow are these tentacles in this soup?... err... whatever"
"We're sharing this bowl of soup amongst 10 people I don't know? Ok!"
"You want me to drink out of your glass? Sure!"

You could call it passivity, but I like to think of it as yielding to the universe.

Last but not least... After living in Korea for over 4 years, this is how I pose for photos 93% of the time.

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1 comment

  1. Does this work? So i am listening to Of Monsters And Men while reading your blog. I find it relaxing. I see that you have stepped it up. I have noticed. I must admit your writing is not too shabby.


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