I got an email this morning about a blog post from my friend Jackie. Her site is http://www.bringinguptheparks.com/ . If you are looking for some interesting stories regarding being in a multicultural family, be sure to follow her. She recently blogged about how being in a multicultural environment has changed her. That got me to thinking about how being in a Korean/Korean American environment has changed me over time. True, life has changed me over the years, but so has being involved in a new culture and meeting new friends. So here are a few ways that I feel Korean culture has changed me.
New Respect For Asian Culture
Before learning Korean, my background was in European languages and cultures. I speak fluent English, or the American version of English, and I have studied some French, Spanish and German before I started learning Korean. While I did know some Asian people, oddly enough I grew up not knowing that they were Korean, I really never studied much about Asian culture. But one thing that history has taught me is that I need to discover things for myself instead of just reading about it.
While many people portray Koreans as being greedy people who worship money and White people, I found that most of the Koreans that I met were humble people. They valued their relationship with God more than anything else. They also had a great respect for family and cared for their neighbors. This is something that I’ve seen in other Asian cultures as well. Korea has truly been a gateway to a new world for me. Now more than ever, I have a profound respect for Korean people and the Asian community as well.
Willingness to Try New Things
The first time I tried Korean food, I was 10 years old and hated it. It was 갈비 (galbi or Korean style ribs), 밥 (rice) and 김치 (gimchi). I would kill for that meal now, but not then. Even when I first started learning about Korean culture, I didn’t want to eat 김치. I ate fried chicken and rice with fork. Now, for me, a life without 김치 is a boring life. I eat noodles with chopsticks. I’ve tried seaweed and seaweed soup, and loved it.
Do I like all Korean foods? No. I still don’t like dried squid, still are not big on tofu and am not the biggest fan of 소주 (soju). (Especially onion flavored soju. Cucumber was okay and had a very smooth taste.) But at least I tried it. I tried things that I never would have tried before. And while I’m still shy about certain things, I’m not afraid to try different things and different ways of doing things. I never would have come out of my shell like this if it wasn’t for Korean culture.
I Can Do Things That Seem Impossible To Others
My journey in Korean life and culture has not been easy. For the majority of my time, I have not had a lot of support or encouragement to learn about Korea. A few months after I started learning, my grandmother died. A couple of days after her memorial service, my uncle told people that I was learning Korean. Their reactions? “Why are you wasting your time learning Korean? You can’t use that in life. And it’s too hard to learn anyway. You should learn something more useful like Spanish.”
Even Korean Americans would encourage me to stop learning Korean. They would “warn” me that “real Koreans”, meaning them and their friends, would never accept me and that I would never be accepted into Korean culture. Others told me that my Korean was horrible and that no one in Korean would understand me. Some flat out told me I didn’t belong, told my friends not to invite me places because the didn’t want “the Black guy” around, told me that I would be viewed as being ugly in Korea because of how dark I am and even told people that they would never accept me marrying their daughter because then their grandchildren wouldn’t be “pure.”
However, Wednesday September 3rd, 2014 changed everything for me. That was the day that I landed in Incheon and was finally in Korea. (Blog post about that day to come later.) All of the negative things that I heard about how Korean people were in Korea, mainly from Korean Americans, was false. I received so much love and respect, it was almost overwhelming. Didn’t matter what part of the country I was in or if I was in the street, on the subway or out to eat. I was treated like a human, not like the black sheep that my so called “friends” viewed me as back in the States.
And oddly enough, even though my Korean is nowhere near perfect, everyone understood my Korean. I went hours, days even, without speaking English with no issues. I could have conversations with people, order food at restaurants and express myself and my life story in Korean. I wasn’t viewed and being dark and ugly; I was viewed as being very handsome, and was told that a number of women wanted get to know me better. (Although, no one will tell me who these women are for some reason.) I was adopted into many people’s family, and still am family to many people to this day.
What did I learn? I can speak Korean and have Korean people understand me. People who are negative and discouraging really weren’t my friends; therefore, their thoughts no longer mattered to me. And I learn to see the world for myself, not the way others wanted me to see it. People in Korea saw me for me, not for my skin color. As a result, I made many friendships that will last a lifetime. It’s sad that I had to cut people out of my life that were lying to me because of their own prejudices, but I’m much happier for it. It taught me that I cannot allow others to influence how I view myself and what I’m able to accomplish.
Needless to say, being in Korean culture has changed my life for the better. I will always be grateful for the lessons that Korean language and culture has taught me. Korean culture is truly a gateway to which I discovered a lot about the world around me and how people view me. But I also learned that if I work hard, I can overcome most obstacles. Some of you reading this have heard negative things about Korean and how you would be viewed in Korea. But don’t let other people’s negativity control your life, or to determine what you can and can’t do. Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage your dreams. Yes, some dreams won’t ever come true. But some dreams may be more realistic than you think. See the world for yourself and see how things are for yourself. You never know what you can overcome if you learn the lessons that only life, and the willingness to try new things will teach you.