A few weeks ago, I posted on facebook and twitter inviting people to ask me questions about my YAV year so far in South Korea. I kept the questions in the order that they were received. If you want to read them in the order of easiest questions to hardest, read in this order: 4, 3, 5, 1, 2.
Q1. What is the greatest thing you have learned about yourself while learning about how another culture lives? ~Kim
A1. Well, this is a lesson from both New Orleans and South Korea. I prefer a peaceful world, one without arguments and tension-it’s a personality trait that I have-I tend to try to be the peace maker in most situations when I can. And in trying to keep things peaceful and eliminate chaos from my heart and life, I stopped reading and watching the news. I stopped paying attention to what was happening to everyone else. I got rather selfish.
In New Orleans, the culture is quite different from Western PA. Layne (site coordinator) works hard to open the eyes of the New Orleans YAVs to the several injustices still present in the US and in New Orleans. It was heart breaking to read and learn about things that are happening in today’s society and then see what we read about come to light, whether in New Orleans or with both Michael Brown and Eric Garner. It is also encouraging to see people seeking justice through peaceful means.
Coming to Korea, learning about a number of massacres that have occurred, (at the hands of both the US and Korean military–the US has had final say over any major Korean Army activity since the 1950’s) and how the people involved have chosen to seek justice, and ultimately peace, has helped me to realize that while it is heartbreaking to see the pain of the world, it is necessary to work to bring the injustices of the world to light, and to seek justice, healing, and peace for the world.
So, I’ve learned that I can happily give the Miss America answer “I wish for world peace.”
Q2. What was your lowest moment over the last year? ~Shawn
A2. Almost immediately after landing in South Korea, I hurt my back. Seriously-I had only been here for about two weeks. This leads to the lowest moment in my year. It began in early December 2014 when a doctor told me that the only way to heal my back was to stop doing things. I was told not to go to my Korean Language Class, and I was told not to go to work. I was to rest, laying down, and my exercise was to be walking. Walking was difficult because it was winter and Korea doesn’t really use salt to clear walkways and roads which meant that it was often icy on campus. Being unable to do what I had determined was my purpose in Korea-working with my students at the children’s center was frustrating. And being unable to go out to eat with friends (sitting made, and still does make, the pain worse) was upsetting.
I was angry, lonely, tired, and depressed. I was in pain, in a country where I can only speak a little bit of the language (I was also frustrated with my inability to retain Korean words!), with few friends, housemates that are quite busy, and while I could speak to my site coordinators, the last thing I wanted to do was admit that depression had taken hold of my life again. It was so painful. I started questioning all of my life, the calling God has placed on me, hesitated to complete my seminary applications… I was pretty low. And I did not want to worry people at home and tell them about my depression. It was my thing, not theirs, to deal with…
So I hid, or at least didn’t outwardly say, that I was depressed until one day when I was meeting with Kurt, one of the SK site coordinators. I had been thinking about the last few times I’ve had serious bouts of depression, and realized that it doesn’t go away for me until I start talking about it. There’s a quote somewhere about being able to pretend things aren’t real until you say them out loud. So, I said it out loud. It didn’t instantly fix things, but I was able to talk to the people around me about my depression, tell them what I needed, and continue from there. And, I started talking to God about it too.
I realized that I was pretty pissed off at God for calling me to South Korea and then letting me end up hurting and unable to DO… It was around then that I realized what Kurt and Hyeyoung (SK YAV site coordinators) had been saying from way back when I first interviewed with them: the YAV program is for us to participate alongside our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and to learn about BEING. So while I was worried about not being able to do things that I “should” be able to do, I was forgetting to “be” present with God, and with the people that I did have the opportunity to meet.
I’m not 100% out of the depression zone, and I’m still aggravated regularly by pain in my lower back, but I’m learning to adapt to it and work despite the pain. But I have my friends, family, YAV family, church family, God–I’ve got this awesome support system, and I’m still learning to let them support me.
Q3. What is your favorite thing about the culture so far and what’s your favorite food?! ~Keely
A3. Oh goodness. Do I have to choose just one? Well, here’s one that’s right up my ally… I love the concept of 눈치 (nunchi or noonchi). If you click on that link, wiki actually has an okay explanation of nunchi. There isn’t a word in English that it translates to, but maybe emotional intelligence is fitting. It is something as simple as noticing if someone is low on water at the dinner table and offering to pour them more water, to not taking the last 만두 (mandu) and instead offering it to someone else at the table that you have noticed really likes them, or offering it to the eldest, or most important person at the table. As someone who tends to pay attention to little details, it is indeed right up my ally.
Outside of the dining room, it’s also recognizing when a friend is tired, rather than having to ask about it. That has actually caused some frustration between housemates and I-all solved now-when I notice someone is tired, happy or frustrated, I might ask how they are feeling to invite them to talk to me about their day rather that stating that they seem unhappy, happy, etc. Basically, nunchi deals with the power of observation and empathy/sympathy/compassion. Emotional intelligence…
My favorite food is probably 떡국 (tteokguk). To pronounce it properly, think of saying “talk” with a bit of a “aw” instead of “ah” and “good” with a “k” at the end instead. It is rice cake soup. Sometimes it is 떡만두국 (tteokmanduguk) which means their are mandu in the tteokguk. It’s quite tasty, and I love it. 국 (guk) means soup, by the way. 삼계탕 (samegyetang) is also pretty tasty. It is soup with ginseng, a whole chicken in it (minus the head and feet) with garlic and rice stuffed in to it, and it’s just delicious! 탕 (tang) also means soup, though the broth has a thicker consistency than the 국 (guk) which is more watery. These two soups are also rich in salt, where as many dishes are made with peppers and are a bit spicier which is absolutely a reason I like them.
Q4. Who do you talk to about the things that others just don’t “get”? Missionary things, American things, Korean things, family things, all things… ~Kathleen/Kim
A4. Missionary things: fellow YAVs (both in Korea and in other places), my site coordinators.
American things: fellow YAVs, new American friends living in Korea, friends and family from home, site coordinators.
Korean things: my Korean friends, Jordan (the other YAV here in Korea), and when it’s particularly sensitive, site coordinators.
family things: family, friends…
Q5. How about reentry? What are the things you’re most excited to see and do when you return home? And what are the things you are most nervous about or dreading? ~Kelly Couch
A5. I’m so excited to see my niece and nephews. I might cry-no, I will cry. And I can’t wait to see the rest of my family too. One of my cousin’s is having a baby, and I can’t wait to meet the little guy.
I’m also pretty excited to have easy access to a dryer-most people in Korea have washers, and then hang their clothes to dry. While that’s cool and all, sometimes it would be nice to be able to dry things faster and not have to worry about taking up space on the drying rack and my housemates not being able to do their laundry for at least a day after for lack of a place to put the clothes…
I’m incredibly excited to go to the New Wilmington Mission Conference a few days after I come home. And for the first time since first attending in 2004, not be in the dining hall or on staff. Although, I am happy to help out here and there.
I’m also excited to start seminary at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. YAY! I’m also nervous about starting grad school. I’m excited, but it’s going to be a big shift from the last three years that I’ve spent working and being a YAV. Distractions abound back at home.
I am dreading having to deal with the fact that in the US, it’s pricier to eat out than to eat in, whereas in Korea it is opposite, especially around college campuses. Really though-free, refillable (in most places) side dishes, a meal can cost as little as $4.00 and keeps me full past the next meal time-the knowledge that a small appetizer can cost that much in the US makes me cringe. Although, I am excited to buy more fresh food and make my own meals, that ability to have someone else cook when you don’t feel like it for a relatively cheap price, is always nice.
And I’m dreading choices. Right now, I have about a seven days worth of clothes with a few shirts and underclothes to spare, but when I go home, my selection will almost triple, if not more. Also, I can’t go out and find clothing that fits me very easily. I am much larger in size than the Korean average-in fact, I wear the largest size they typically offer (it’s equivalent to a US large or extra large) which means that I can’t just go buy a new outfit when I feel like it. Nope. I have to search for something, and really need or want it, in order to have the choice to buy it. I am thankful that certain pieces of clothing that I brought with me are so well made, otherwise, I would be a very sad person.
If people have more questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments, or send me a message on facebook/email/etc. 🙂