Tuesday, 1 January 2008

My friend's thinking about coming to Korea. Here's what I wrote to him.

Lists and point form are dead giveaway signs of sloppy, lazy writers. Though they'd say it's just that they're very organized thinkers, or maybe accustomed to making presentations, in truth, top ten lists and bullet-points are sure-fire signs a writer has a weak idea, or doesn't have the time or inclination to write proper transitions, the way a professional would. So I'm lazy. It's a blog. Your refund is in the mail.

My bud is about to graduate university, and he told me he struggles with indecision and a kind of lack of direction; I've taken out personal details, but basically, here is what I said to him about how travel can help one get a better idea of what one wants out of life. I kinda liked what I wrote, I think it lays out my feelings about traveling (especially when you're young) as a means for personal growth.

--kindly substitute the world "travel" any place where it says "come to Korea" -- our conversation specifically concerned coming to Korea, but traveling anywhere can have the same effects I describe here, if you travel for long enough, and especially if you spend a longer period of time in one place.


Whether Korea will help you be more decisive depends on why you come here, and what you do once you're here.

Here's how coming to a foreign country will help you:

1. you'll get out of the circle where you grew up, and see a totally different way of living, thinking, acting. Suddenly you'll see that things you thought were "the way things are" are actually just "the way things are in my family" or "the way things are in small-town western Canada". There are things I thought of as “Right” that were actually just “how we do things in Canada” That can be a bit of a mind-f*ck. However, once you get THROUGH the culture-shock, you'll have a much better picture of what is essentially you, and what is actually just your culture talking, or your upbringing, and you'll have a chance to measure those things against another way of living, and decide if you want to hold onto them or start bending your idea of what it means to be you/Canadian/human.

2. Because a small percentage of people speak English, the pool from which you choose your friends is smaller than in Canada, and you end up hanging out with people you wouldn't hang out with in CA. My best friend now is a guy who, if we'd met in Canada, I'd have just about run the opposite way to huddle with my bible-study friends -but when we started getting to know each other (because there was noone else to talk to), it turned out we were pretty much soulmates.

3. Because your family's way back in Canada, you can know for damn sure that you can stand on your own two feet if you make it here, and the confidence of knowing that you MADE it without a safety net, will stay with you always.

4. It'll change the way you think (if you actually engage with the differences here, rather than just reacting defensively to them).

5. By making the ballsy decision to hop an ocean to get a job, you'll see, and know, that you CAN make a big decision. That might (probably will) empower you to make decisions more boldly.

6. If part of the reason you often feel indecisive is because certain people in your life are smothering you with their opinions of what you should do, this will give you a time-out, so that you can start looking in the mirror and seeing your OWN face, instead of theirs projected onto you.

Here are the things it won't help you do:

1. It won't help you find that thing you're really passionate about (unless it just happens to be studying Korean). The reason I usually know where I stand on something [he had commented on that as a trait he admired in me] is because I know what's important to me, and I measure most of the other decisions I make against that. It keeps the small stuff in perspective and simplifies my choices. The process of finding out what you're passionate about is a deeply personal one, and a change of setting can submerge those questions for a while as you adjust to changes, it can give you a space where you can examine them without distractions, too, but it won't make them go away, nor will it automatically answer them -- they'll never go away until you face them and answer them yourself. If the surroundings you're in now are making it easy for you to coast instead of grabbing the steering wheel and finding the answers, maybe travel will help, but there's no guarantee it will, unless you travel with the goal of using the travel time to go through that exploratory process, and then DO it.

2. It won't make you a stronger, more independent person just by the mere virtue of being here. If you come with the aim of learning about yourself and stretching your boundaries, you still have to put yourself out there once you're here -- some people come to Korea, form a comfort zone as rigid as they had back home, hang out only with westerners, eat ONLY western food, and complain that Korea's weird and everybody talks funny. They leave after a year and they haven't learned anything about Korea, or themselves. They’re still just as narrow-minded, ignorant, and insular, as they were when they came. Others come to extend their irresponsible, fun college life for another year before they have to start being responsible, and basically live fast and hard, drink a lot, party and chase Asian girls (or guys), and (again) don’t learn a single thing about themselves or the world.

Once you're here, you gotta be intentional. Meet people, travel around, learn about Korea, maybe learn some Korean, make some friends that are very different from yourself, try to understand how they think, maybe read some books, and see what comes of it. All these things can be done right where you are now, but you're kinda FORCED to do them if you come to Korea, because your old comfort zone is in Canada, so you can’t fall back on it when things get tough.

If you’re looking for a new direction, Korea’s a good way to make a clean break between your New self and your Old self, but you still have to do the work. Wherever you live, and whatever your situation, the onus still falls upon YOU to find out what (in Good Will Hunting's words,) "blows your hair back" and then pursue those things above all else. Korea can help with that, and odds are you’ll probably become stronger, more flexible, more confident, and more independent, but the meaning of life won't drop into your lap when you step off the plane, or on the third Tuesday of your eleventh month here, or something. You still need to dive into situations you’ve never experienced before, get in right up to your elbows, and see what happens.

Knowing what you want out of coming to Korea is at least half the battle, I'd say, and personally, I think Korea would blow your mind and change your life, in a lot of good ways, but of all decisions, you have to make this one yourself, and not because anybody else is telling you what you ought to do.

1 comment:

Roboseyo said...

This is GREAT advice! I am about to move to Seoul in August and I am a bit nervous about making friends/getting involved in the community...in other words...not creating my own seclusive bubble. What's your best advice for meeting people when you know NO ONE in S. Korea? How did you make friends? Thanks!