Korea in retrospect

You may have guessed that I'm not too thrilled to be back in Finland, although with the knowledge (albeit tentative) that I'm leaving again in a few months, it's not too bad to be back. OK, so as soon as my plane started landing to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, I burst into tears, and I was still crying when my friends (who were late) came to pick me up from the airport. Happily they know me pretty well, so they weren't traumatised for life (but it was a close call for one recent boyfriend addition to the clan, but that's another story). Of course, it wasn't helpful to my condition that I'd been traveling for about 40 hours while on periods and down with a cold, and I hadn't really slept for a week beforehand (another few stories there).

I don't think I ever really had a major culture shock in Korea – therefore it's only logical, that the reverse culture shock is that much worse. Of course, it was clear from the start that this would come to pass. So, I'm dealing with the inherent boredom of my hometown until my classes start. Happily I'm not going out much (I don't really know anyone here, and there's nothing to do anyway, nor do I have any money. And everything's too expensive anyway.), so I don't have to suffer from the ability to understand everything everyone says around me (Although, to be fair, my hometown seems to be largely populated by Russian speaking shoppers.), and at the moment I'm not really paying my own expenses (thank you, parents) so I don't have to pull my hair out over the price differences between Finland and Korea. I actually quit smoking – as planned – before returning to Finland, but I do eye the cigarette machine at the grocery store with a certain look... And thus I am educated that cigarettes here cost almost three times as much as in Korea. Nice.

I keep comparing things to Korea, but I try not to bore everyone by ranting on and on about how "when I was in Korea..." (the category of war veterans and recently lovestruck). And at the same time, I feel as though I don't really want to meet anyone to "talk about my experiences". And... some things, people just cannot understand if they haven't been there. We already talked about this with Danielle when she'd been back to States during the winter break; there are some things that I'd like to share, but it's simply impossible to convey the experience or significance or meaning of them... And so, I stay silent.

I think I seem cold and ungrateful when I grumble about how horrible it is to be back – I can imagine it hurts my parents, especially. But to me, staying away for just one year is neither novel nor difficult. Sure, the last time I lived abroad, I'd come home once or twice a year, but... I don't know. This is the first time ever, since I moved away from home when I was 15, that my mother has told me to come home soon because she misses me. And as much as I appreciate the sentiment and the fact that she actually says things like that (not common in this family), I'm pretty sure that it's only brought on by a mere psychological factor of physical distance.

Anyway: parents...! *eyeroll*

I find myself being angry a lot of the time, here, and I'm not sure why. I think I was also angry a lot before I went to Korea... But it seems that while I was there, I was, in fact, and in lack of a better word... Kinda happy. I don't know why.

One of my favourite sayings about living abroad for a while, is that it's wonderful because whenever one makes a huge change like that, you grow so much as a person, without even realising it's happening. This time is no different... and yet, it is.

An immediately recognisable change is that I'm, well, girlier. Most Korean girls are so girly (or feminine) that I could find very little in common with most of them – those who've followed my exploits in Korea noticed that I was always hanging out with guys. But evidently, a little something of that rubbed off on me... and, maybe I'm getting old, but it actually hasn't caused me to spontaneously combust.

Apropos the other change. Korea... made me old.

I mean that it made me feel old. I never in my life thought that I would consider being 28 (or soon 29) as "getting too old", but there you are. I'm presume it's because of the culture difference, mostly. Unlike in Korea, in Europe it's not uncommon to go to work before entering university, and therefore older students are not unusual at all. In Korea, I was the "big sister". And of course, in Korea, my age was +2*. Another cultural difference is over expectations – a woman of 30 should be at least thinking of marriage, and/or have a profession, and preferably a family plan! The same expectations exist in Finland too, but they're nowhere near as influential as it seemed to be in Korea. Of course, as a foreigner, my social position was somewhat more relaxed. But apparently it affected me, anyway. And so – I came back to Finland feeling like 30 years old, which I never have before.

Suddenly I'm more than vaguely aware that, yes, it really would be nice to graduate and get a real job and buy a flat of my own, and... yes... it would be nice to meet a significant other soon, too. Before going to Korea, I was in no hurry to graduate – and now I find myself exasperating over the fact that my graduation will probably be delayed by more than one semester. I want to get out of school, damn it, and get on with my life!

And then there are changes that are certainly positive... Physically I lost 10-15 kg (22-33 pounds), without doing anything about it except drinking and eating more than I ever have in my life. Mentally I lost some of the self-loathing and self-doubting that I had before... I'm mostly attributing that to the positive attention I got from the opposite sex in Korea. I know I stood out because I was different (not Asian), but just the fact that someone actually noticed me as a female and made me feel worth noting or wanting made a big difference in my head. I became more open, and because I became more open, people found me easier to approach. A vicious cycle, but in the positive.

I went a little crazy over it, too. It's not every day a girl gets attention from a guy (or two! Or three!). Not in my life, anyway.

Someone also asked me what was the most difficult thing, or the most negative experience I had in Korea. Maybe I was extraordinarily lucky, or maybe I was just high because I was finally in Asia (after many wistful years), but I can't really think of anything. The most difficult thing was to make friends with the locals, but that's the same thing in any country. The most negative experience was personal, and had nothing to do with the fact that I was in Korea.

I'm annoyed at myself for being this damn positive about the whole experience – it feels as though I can't see things in perspective. Surely Korea cannot be my paradise on Earth! It's not, it's not... But, for whatever reason, I liked it there. And, for whatever reason, I want to go back and live there. I'm well aware that life in Korea is nothing as easy as it would be in Finland or in Europe, and that I would encounter real life** with all its problems, and possibly one day I might not want to live there anymore.

And yet, and yet... I think this is the first time I'm thinking that I might just like to live in this country for the rest of my life. And that's got to count for something.

*Koreans count their age from conception, so that you're 1 when you're born, and everyone ages a year at the Lunar New Year. So, for most of 2008 I'm 28, but in Korea, I was 30 years old.

** I may have said this before, but university life, and especially exchange student life cannot be considered real life. For a given value of real, anyway.

No comments: