The Ways I Fit in Korea

Re-acclimating to US culture hasn’t been too difficult during this first trip home.

Driving for the first time was slightly scary (for about 5 minutes). Casually greeting my neighbors while jogging felt really awkward the first few times. (I’m used to giving people blank stares now.) But all in all, slipping back into daily life here has been easy.

There are, however, certain ways I’ve realized I fit more naturally in Korean society than American:

1. Being emotionally expressive.

The other night, a character started crying in the Korean drama I was watching with my mom. A common phenomenon in Korean dramas. My mom said, “In Korea, people are much more open about crying than they are here. People in the US get really uncomfortable when someone cries. Good thing you live there, honey.”

I was like, “Haha, thanks Mom..”

But it’s true. I have a lot of emotions, and living in Korea feels like being set free in how I express myself.

For instance, texting. Koreans use a ton of emoji’s when they text. When someone says they can’t make it to dinner, a crying emoji with tears streaming down the face is considered a normal response.

2. Avoiding the sun.

While driving to the beach with my step-sister, she commented, “You are extremely white. You really need a tan. But I guess you blend in well in Korea.” I laughed, but then realized that was perfectly true.

In Korea, whitening cream is a best seller, and people use umbrellas in the summertime to guard themselves from the sun.

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I meanwhile, have been paranoid about skin damage since high school when I attended a compelling skin cancer presentation. (Any tan is a sign of skin damage, if you didn’t know!) Also, I don’t like how the sun tries to steal the smoothness of my skin. And how it gives me new freckles.

So yes, I’m pretty white, and that is considered ideal in Korea, which is convenient.

3. Not needing a personal bubble.

I’m not sure if I was always like this or if Korea has changed me, but I’ve noticed that I don’t mind having physical contact with complete strangers. As long as they aren’t creepy and smell okay, I sometimes slightly prefer it. While riding the subway, my shoulder rests against the person next to me, and it’s kind of nice.

Pretty sure that isn’t considered normal in the US.



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After living in South Korea for over 7 years, Elizabeth is back in the States finding a new normal. Currently in seminary, she is enjoying unpacking questions of faith in a new context. Amidst the tension of brokenness and conviction, she continues to find grace. And above all else, she continues to pursue the God who inspires childlike wonder.

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