This post is part of Blogging Abroad's 2017 New Years Blog Challenge,
week one: Global Citizenship.
After traveling or living abroad, upon returning home everyone loves to ask the same question, or at least a variation of it, "[How] have you've changed?". Obviously, uprooting your life and moving to a different country will change you; some things are obvious, like the foods you eat or weather your accustomed to, but the lesser known and noticeable are the changes that occur within. Living (and traveling) abroad has taught me new ways to live life, values held by different groups of people, and differences in day to day activities. What I've noticed along with this though, is that the world is also changing, the United States is no longer the only 'melting pot', there are now cultures, races and religions mixing all across the world.
"Travel is fatal to predjudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on those accounts.
Before moving to Korea I never really had to question, or even think about my identity, I was just me. Even in High School I didn't identify with one group over another, but rather extended my limbs in various directions. My friends included band 'geeks', football players, student council members, class officeres and cheerleaders. I never had a probelm fitting in or falling out, but then again I did grow up in a predominantly white, middle class suburb, I was the 'norm'. It really wasn't until I decided to uproot my life and move to Korea did I start to think about how I define myself.
Similarly, Korea has always been Korea and because of that their citizens have great pride and you can feel a sense of nationalism throughout the country. This is something I've come to both love and hate about Korea; it's endearing to see people care so much about the place their from, but it also creates a challenge when trying to assimilate. It wasn't until recently that tourists started pouring into Korea, previously there was only a long standing influence through the United States Military and various Native English teachers. The problem with these two groups though is that the former tends to stay in their American bubble, while the later is a group rotated out and replaced anew every one to two years. Recently though the pocket of expats who chose to stay and call Korea home has been increasing, which in turn means changes for Korea.
It's a bit ironic; I grew up with a mom who has a deep love for Asian artwork, our house filled with Buddha statues, Samurai swords and the like, but never in a million years did I imagine I'd one day be living on that side of the world. To many people in the western world Asia is seen as a lesser explored fronteir, everything is different - history, culture, language and values. I understand my freinds and family who had [have] hesistations about visiting me, it was an unknown world to them. For me though, having lived and traveled there for nearly five years I appreciate and sometimes prefer all those differences. Which leads me only to a state of confusion; who, where and how do I identify myself.
'Global Citizen' is probably a term that wasn't thrown around too much previous to the last five years, but is quickly becoming more popular. Living abroad has taught me that people, at the core, are really all the same. Everyone wants to be happy, achieve their dreams and believe it or not, help each other. It's for these reasons that I still haven't worried much about how to identify myself because deep down people are just people.
I sometimes distance myself from the 'American' label, not wanting to fit the stereotype of a loud, bossy, somewhat ignorant tourist, but at other times bond quickly with those from home. I often surprise friends with my knowledge of Asian culture and media, along with my ability to eat spicy food (with chopsticks!), but also find msyelf annoyed when I face the lack of personl space that's common in Asia. Being able to switch back and forth from one side of the world to the other, adjusting your attitude, manerisms and tastes, is what I believe makes a global citizen, and something many people are learning to do.
Not only do I see people changing and adapting to their new worlds, but it's the world itself that is in a constant state of flux. With so many people moving to new countries, they're not only adapting to new ways of life, but also sharing their own, ultimately influencing that culture. In Korea this is most apparent in the language, although drastically different from any of the Roman languages, Korean is quickly adapting many English words, allbeit with their own unique pronunciation. A few of my students have voiced concern, believeing that with the growth in popularity of English, the Korean language will slowly dissapear. While I don't forsee a complete takeover of the language, there is some fear that too much western influence will alter the country.
It's like a juggling act though, trying to balance yourself between assimilating to the new, while retaining the old. Although I don't have a strong sense of patriotism or pride for my home country, I still retain a feeling of who I am and where I've come from. More important to me than the country are the people I grew up with, family who has supported me and friends I've bonded with along the way. It's this strong foundation, full of support, which has allowed me to grow and adapt so well in new surroundings. Knowing that 'back home' I have a solid support system gives me the confidence to visit new places, meet new people and explore new ideas. My friend pool now spans upwards of twenty countries and I'm thankful for each and every one of these people and how they've affected my life or altered my view on things.
Korea, while still an extremely ethnocentric country, is also learning to open its doors to outsiders, taking in new ideas and customs. Not only are outsiders coming in, but more Koreans are leaving to study abroad and travel, returning as global citizens with little bits of new cultures. Aside from adapting English words into their language; media, food and even personalities are changing in Korea. From the time I first arrived in the country five years ago, to today I've noticed drastic changes in the availabilty and presence of western foods and products. Like I said though, there's always a balance that needs to be found. While it's appealing to me to be able to find my favorite snack or ingredients at the supermarket, I cringe when I see children eating processed garbage like Mc Donalds or Oreo's.
This trend of globalization will only continue, there's been predictions of what the 'average American' will look like in 10 - 20 years and I can tell you it's far from the blonde hair, blue eyed magazine models of today. I'm glad I caught the travel bug when I did, opening my mind to different cultures and customs, learning how to adapt to a new way of life because it seems that will soon be the reality for everyone.
In Korea though I'm interested to see what happens, for as much of the western world they may admire or welcome into their lives, there is still a large barrier. Living there, I often felt that I would never completely fit in or be 100% accepted. I'll always stick out based on looks, and no matter how much of the language I learn or amounts of kimchi I eat, I'll never quite be part of the 'us'. Although that will never stop me from trying.
Emptying my Head
I'm an overthinker, my brain is always on overdrive. Sometimes the thoughts are pertinant to life, and other times they're just a trove of wonder. They're usually about, related to or in memory of travel. When they're good I like to share.