I have been in Korea now for almost two weeks and I feel like I have learned more in these two weeks about another culture than ever in my entire life. It’s been such a whirlwind and it’s truly been wonderful. I am officially moved into my apartment in Gwangju and I am excited to start exploring my own city!
I have so much information to blog about…orientation with EPIK, my first day in Gwangju, my feelings about being in Korea…but in this blog I want to focus on a few key stories about Kindness I have encountered in South Korea. Here are a few example stories to share:
My first story is about my first “Oh my god Holy Shit I am in Korea” moment. Today was my first day in Gwangju so I decided to do my best and venture for a walk outside my apartment. It was terrifying but also exhilarating. I was walking along a super busy street and this 4 year old little boy bolts into the street and stands there crying. He’s lost and by himself and I try to call him over using the Korean hand signal which means come here and he stares at me and cries even hard. I’m sure it’s because I am the only one who is not Korean in a 5-mile radius so I just look different and scarier. Cars were flying by him and thankfully a guy was jogging by and saw the little boy and ran and got him out of the street and calmed him down. I didn’t know what to do because no one speaks English but we called the police and the little boy waited with the guy. It was so scary and the language barrier hit me full force at that moment. I kept looking around the streets with hundreds of people around me and there was not one person who was not Korean. The thoughtfulness in people’s facial expressions never stop though. I could tell how much the guy was concerned about this little boy. I could see it in his face and the willingness to stop from his run in the city to help take care of him. It was very heart warming but also scary. I also tried to speak with the man but he didn’t speak much English but I know we were both feeling the same away about the situation and that was comforting.
It’s okay Korea you can throw some Korean surprises my way. I will do my best to handle it.
Another nice story: A group of us went to a 7/11 gas station here and were having some soju and snacks on these picnic tables outside of it. These two 13 year old twin boys and their dad approach us and the dad says that his sons would like to practice English with us. The boys as a gift gave one of the guys in our group a box of chocolates to practice as a thank you. They were adorable and identical twins. After we practiced for a bit the kids went back to sit with their family. About 5 minutes later they brought all 10 of us ice cream cones as a thank you for practicing English with us. They just brought over the ice cream and bowed and said thank you in English and then left. It was a really cool experience. Koreans are so thoughtful in gifts and never expect anything in return. It’s all about honor and respect for elders and appreciating the community. It really shows too. I have seen it time and time again.
One more: My first day in Korea I had to bring my 3 gigantic suitcases on the subway with me to a hostel in Incheon. An old man took two of my bags…and I’m talking like 80 years old…and wouldn’t let me take them and carried them off of the subway for me to help me and just bowed and smiled afterwards. People are just really kind and it’s definitely something to learn from in our own culture.
The roles and hierarchy in Korea amaze me. The respect for their elders, the traditions they hold and the simple gestures such as the “right” way to shake someone’s hand. So many things seem strange and foreign to me with all the new rules I am trying to learn. But I need to remind myself everyday that I am the foreigner. I am the odd one out of this country. I did not grow up with these customs and I have absolutely no reason to think wrong of the way they do things. It is just different and I will continue to have an open mind even if that means I get sneezed on in the bus or a Korean is breathing down the back of my neck while grocery shopping. I’ll keep an open mind to anything that comes my way.
If there is one thing I have learned these past two weeks it is the kindness I have felt and I will take that with me wherever I go in life.
Excited to share pictures and stories from EPIK and my first 10 days here in Korea in my next blog post!