Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No man is island except this guy right here.

Last week Chortle told me about a mandatory teacher training workshop.  The district education office organizes a few of these things each year and I think teachers are required to attend x hours of them; I went to two last year.  She had a visual aid with all the details in Korean.  She pointed at stuff and told me what it meant.  Good enough.  All I needed to know was where to go and when to be there.

Yesterday she approached me with the same document translated in the margins by her blue ink scrawl and relayed all the particulars to me again as if the conversation hadn't happened already.  Which is okay, I mean whatever, she's a busy lady, I don't mind getting the same info twice every now and again.  But she hadn't told me the first time that one of the presentations would cover adapting to life in Korea, for the benefit of the waygooks who arrived in March.  When she mentioned this during the recapitulation she chortled and said I seem to have adapted quite well enough already.  Which got me thinking.

Chortle likes to diagram graphomaniacally while she explains things to me.  I think she distrusts her spoken English.  This document was her visual aid for explaining my schedule this semester.

I give the appearance of having adapted to life in Korea, e.g. I can eat kimchi with chopsticks and a straight face and I don't cry myself to sleep squeezing a USA teddy bear, but I don't think any noteworthy process of adaptation has occurred.  Aside from the new job for which I was totally unprepared, what was there for me to adapt to?  Being unable to establish rapport with people at the grocery store?  Only the subway was a whole new thing for me and it was easily conquered with my color vision and ability to read. 

I've been here 9 months and haven't been homesick an instant.  I don't mean to denigrate my pre-Korea circumstances by writing that.  My Korea life (outside work) just isn't very different from my USA life.  I'm not living in a mud hut here.  I have reliable electricity and internet access:  my life goes on uninterrupted.  My lovely companion is a new addition and I have less spare time and hate/dread my job with greater intensity but otherwise little has changed.

Before visiting China in 2008 I had to sit through an orientation session re culture shock, this international travel inevitability which was made out to be kind of a big important thing.  I encourage you to blow off any such orientation that impinges upon your life.  Unless your equipoise is so precarious you'll be pushed over the brink by the sight of hordes of Asians or the grating syllables of their hideous tongue you have little if anything to fear in China or Korea.

I've said before that I don't think culture shock exists and as I enter month 10 in Korea I still believe it.  But perhaps it's just easy for me to say because I've been an island.  I spend 40 hours a week with Koreans but none of them are my friends and none speaks English well enough for anything greater than the smallest talk.  I'm surrounded by Korean culture but not the least immersed in it and I can't be shocked by something I'm ignorant of.  I sometimes feel I'm missing something important in this sphere of life but it's my nature to opt out of society.

As I sit here reflecting I realize the intense alienation, insecurity and (above all) revulsion I felt south of the Mason-Dixon and in trailer parks--which I think of as pockets of South--may well have been culture shock and I now wonder if this island nation strategy that's insulated me from being freaked out in ostensibly more foreign places is a product of my time in Texas.  Whoa:  potential big personal revelation there.

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