2012/06/23 | 363 views | Permalink |
Whether you've been in Korea for four months or four years, there are bound to be things that you miss about your home country-be it your friends and family, specific food items and brands, or even some cultural aspects you sense are absent. These are the kinds of things can make or break it for a lot of foreigners living in Korea. Coming to Korea, whether it's to work or play, presents many challenges to any well-rounded individual, and one's ability to adapt and bend will surely be tested. Still, while living in this alien land with all its new and exciting experiences, many foreigners could easily share with you the things they miss from the place they call home.
Perhaps one of the first things foreigners tend to flag in this regard is food. Korean cuisine is filled with a wide range of new and tantalising tastes and smells, and it's one of highlights of any tourists' trip here. From Korea's abundance of interesting and delicious street food, to their seemingly endless spread of traditional restaurants and food stores; there is a lot to explore here, but one's initial fascination with the local cuisine sometimes wanes as the mind drifts back home and to the smells and tastes that were once enjoyed.
Everyone has a dish their mom makes, you know, the one that makes you drool on thought and that only your mom can do right. Or perhaps its that single food item that would make so many more dishes that much more delicious. Sure there are an increasing amount of specialised food stores in Korea that are catering to the foreign community, but you still have to go out of your way to satisfy your craving. And if its not just finding an item, its being able to get it conveniently and not at a inflated price.
For Koreans travelling abroad, this may take the form of the world's most popular liquor – Soju. Some traveling Koreans carry with them small juice boxes of it in order to avoid paying sometimes ten times or more for it in other countries. Airport officials in New Zealand have picked up on this trend and signs can now be seen that place limits on the amount travellers can bring into the country. The point is that even if foreigners are able to pack a number of comfort items in their luggage, the amount and quantity they bring will most likely have to be limited.
I myself brought over some Rooibos (red bush) tea, along with a few other things, but to my surprise I soon found this herbal tea almost everywhere. E-Mart and Home Plus both stock Rooibos, and it is never inconvenient to get more. Despite my luck on this item, I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say "ah, I just wish I could find ______ here!"
The popular K-culture bloggers Simon & Martin of eatyourkimchi.com share some of the things they miss about their home country Canada.
It's not that foreigners aren't sinking their teeth into the local flavours, not at all, but no one will deny those special tastes of home that stir up more than just stomach juices. I don't just miss my mother's cooking; I miss having dinner with her. Nobody really misses buying their favourite food back home and then eating it in a quite corner somewhere. No, it's the social act and the associated memories that come attached to it all. Foreigners also have to give up their support base from back home.
Of course most of the foreigners who come to Korea are young adults, and no one is crying out for their mommy and daddy. If Korea teaches foreigners anything it's independence and self-reliance. Sure, after a few months or years a support base develops, but there are no illusions that that you are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Besides the obvious lack of familiar foods, friends and family, many foreigners miss cultural aspects too. Young women comment on how doors aren't always held for them and that the Korean notion of chivalry is somewhat different to what they have grown up with. Others have said the Korean social system puts them on edge as they are forced to behaviour in strict accordance to their age, gender, and class.
Respect, for example, or rather purely showing it, is uncompromisingly attached to age in Korea. Those older than you are automatically granted a higher social status and many of Korea's customs revolve around this. Now, showing elders respect is not something new in many cultures, but the degree to which individual encounters bend to this rule is where the difference lies. Do I respect the old lady who barges past me in the line at the convenient store or at the train station? No, but I have to take check of where I am and, at least show, respect to her as an older women.
Another socio-cultural aspect that comes up a lot is sexuality. Although Korea's ideas on the topic are changing quite rapidly, there is still an expectation on Korean women to be almost naïve on the topic, perhaps an even a prude. Contrast this with, for example, the average Western women's understanding of sex and sexuality, and you will begin to see how social life can become uncomfortable and result in memories flooding back of home life. Foreigners aren't just longing for food and their family, there is a palpable yarning for cultural codes and conventions that bear a resemblance to those they where raised with.
There are many others of course, but these are just a few categories that, in my experience, come up often. I will soon be leaving Korea to head back home to study again, and that's what really prompted me to write this article. While currently my mind is racing with the thoughts of all the things and people I will be returning to, I know that once I have settled in back home I will be able to formulate a list of the things that I will miss about Korea. Off the top of my head I can say the incredible Internet, public transportation, the technology available in Korea, a few local restaurants I frequent, as well as all the inspirational people I have met during my four years here. Still, I know that it will be the small things that I will suddenly remember; the things that I may not be able to pinpoint now but will be revealed they as I re-immerse myself in life back home.
-C.J Wheeler ([email protected])
Added new stills for the upcoming Korean movie "A Millionaire on the Run"
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