August 5, 2014

Korea? America? My thoughts: Life is the same everywhere.

(The following is just my honest thoughts and perspective. They're not directed at anyone in particular; I'm just recording my opinion because it may be interesting for me to look back on later. ^^ I'm thinking...if you are sensitive about Korea, this may not be the post for you?)

Pic 1, Pic 2

One belief that I’ve come to adopt after Korea is this: Life is the same everywhere. People are the same everywhere you go.

The biggest misconception about Korea, in my opinion, is that it’s completely different from the West: People are polite there, willing to help out elders, they’re soft-spoken, humility is rewarded, and arrogance is chastised. In terms of appearances, everyone is thin and beautiful and has perfect skin. Plastic beauties are prolific and so are ulzzang. Korean street fashion consists of pastel-colored chiffon…The list goes on and on. Ultimately, Korea is portrayed to be so unimaginably opposite from the West. They teach you all these rules—DON’T blow your nose, DON'T do this, DO do that—as if Korea is some game, some mystical world that you must learn the rules for.

What I’ve come to believe is that that’s all bogus. Korea is not that different from America.

In terms of basic survival, countless foreigners get by just fine without speaking Korean. Why? Well, reading body language is part of it, but more than that, it’s simply looking for clues (in words or gestures) to verify whether or not what you assume the person is saying is correct or not. And more often than not, your assumptions are correct! This is because the routine of setting up a bank account, ordering at a restaurant, or checking out at the supermarket is the same wherever you go. (Do you have a membership card? Would you like a bag? Can I see your ID? What can I get you?) Daily interactions are no different in Korea than they are in America.

And in terms of manners, kindness extends to every country and culture. A kind, considerate, helpful gesture in America will be a kind, considerate, and helpful gesture in Korea as well. Conversely, ill manners also extend past the borders of culture and country. While there are indeed minor differences in mannerisms, it’s nothing that overrules basic judgment. In terms of character, what constitutes a selfish, rude person is the same in both America and Korea. The definition of a shy, weird, or obnoxious person also doesn't change drastically between these two countries. People are more or less the same everywhere.

On a related topic, I was one of those people that thought Koreans were all very polite, at the very least when dealing with strangers. After living there for a little while, though, I learned that condescension still finds a way to seep through their honorific speech endings. Then there's people who are just straight-up abominable. Not everyone is polite, even to customers. Classless bitches and arrogant assholes are aplenty in Korea, too. (I think we also sometimes forget that not everyone in America is rude!)

If that’s true, why the misinformation?

I think these misconceptions are born from exaggerations. These exaggerations are perpetuated by news articles, websites, and Youtube channels. I think a big part of this is because it’s what people want to see. People want to believe that Asia is so different, so weird, so out-of-this-world. And though I can’t speak for everyone, I think for many of us, it’s refreshing. It gives us something to yearn for. As young women interested in “weird” fashions like lolita, gyaru, or living dolls, we want to believe that there’s a place in the world for us. We feel like we don’t fit in in our home countries, and we look to Korea or Japan as our refuge. And through this demand, we end up encouraging that very sort of content. (Not that I blame those content-producers; there’s nothing wrong with keeping things lighthearted.)

But the point is, I think Korea is terribly misrepresented. Through inaccurate fashion snapshots, poorly researched news articles, and websites that ultimately seek to satisfy the interest of its readers, we are led to believe that life in Korea is vastly different from life in other countries. And this is something which I no longer agree with. Now, I won’t deny there are indeed differences between Korea and America. After all, I did want to go to Asia for a reason! The streets look different, the stores are different, mannerisms and fashion are different...everything just feels different.

But unless you plan on marveling at these small details for the rest of your life, at some point you will integrate enough that even those small differences will become routine for you (i.e. when you surpass the honeymoon phase.) When that time comes, those small differences may not be enough to continue fueling your love for Korea. And unless you plan on working as an English teacher for the rest of your life, you’ll still have to find a permanent career, settle down, and plunge into the very same stresses of adulthood that you would face in any country—retirement, taxes, marriage, buying property, raising kids, etc. Are Korean idols and Korean fashion still going to be your incentive then?

Am I guilty, too?

Do I also fuel the misleading representations of Korea? Perhaps I do; perhaps I make Korea look like a wonderland of pretty storefronts, cafes, and polite handsome guys. I sure hope not. But if I have, I’ll explain why now.

It’s the effect of two things: Subconsciously, I naturally pay more attention to cute and pretty things. Consciously, it’s how I’ve chosen to remember Korea. Anyone who knows me knows me a little more than from my blog knows that I’ve had more bad experiences than good in Korea. And if I already know the truth about Korea, it only feels unnecessarily painful to recall those incidents and eternalize them on my blog. I know I said in the past that I wanted to divulge my honest experiences, and I still do. It’s a lie to pretend they never happened. But the truth is, I’m hardly ever in the mood to dwell on sad experiences, much less walk on eggshells to minimize side-attacks.

Bottom line

When it comes down to it, I believe that life will be more or less the same wherever you go. You’ll meet good people and bad people, people that like you, people that don’t, good jobs, bad jobs …the routine of life is generally the same. Going to Asia may seem like a quick fix, but it's not. At least not for me.

Thank you for reading, ya didn't hafta~ P.S., also check out my latest review on this fancy shmanshy Missha toner~


  1. I've lived in Asia all my life and whenever I do get the chance to experience traveling the world and seeing other countries, cultures and people, I do see a lot of similarities and differences from back home. We all have our pros and cons, and I do think some "misconceptions" on any country is caused by how media markets/packages them to everyone else who doesn't live in that specific country. I guess the only way to know for sure is to experience it yourself, or ask a person who's lived there long enough to divulge on what life really is like in a certain country :))

    Strawberry Bunny

    1. Yes! I agree; one should just go experience it for themselves if they can. It's much more eye opening than reading about it online second hand. I had actually written that at the end of the post, but had taken it out when I proofread. You took the words out of my mouth!

      I also agree about how a country presents itself to other countries. It makes sense that they'd want to show an idealized version of themselves--at least, a version that caters to the interests of others. It's no different from how we'd want to look our best when going in public. But at the same time, with the availability of information and cross-cultural communication via the internet, I'm still very surprised at how wrong the images people/countries have of other countries.

      Since you've lived in Asia all your life, I imagine it must be strange reading my posts and hearing about these Asia-obsessed Westerners who glorify Asia. I'm guessing you might have experienced the opposite growing up, Asians glorifying the West? I know that's certainly the case in Korea.

  2. Well said Airi! No matter where you go, there will always be good and bad people, jobs, etc. The way people are perceived, in terms of personality and manners, won't change just because you went to a different country. I think I might also be a bit guilty too in thinking that Korea is different, and perhaps even a bit better than the US >__< But in reality though, I always knew that Korea's not that different. Like you said, life will always be the same wherever you go. There might be some changes, but the way you live your life will be generally the same as you would in another country. Unless you suddenly become rich or poor, but that's a whole different story! xD

    I'm so sorry for not commenting in so long ;__; I went to China for the summer and came back not too long ago. Blogger is blocked there so I wasn't able to read your posts >__< It's kind of interesting how you wrote this though, since I always thought that China is so different from the states. I actually deleted and re-wrote this comment quite a few times because your post really got me thinking. ^^; And after thinking about it, I realized that it's not THAT different. The streets, mannerism, and certain points such as the traffic (driving in China is so scary!), is definitely different, but my lifestyle wasn't really that different in China as compared to the one I have in the US. Things may be different if you're going to a country as a tourist, but if you actually settled down in any country, your lifestyle is more or less the same as what you had in your home country.

    1. Hello Gloria! Thank you for your comment. It's always lovely to read your comments. :) And welcome back from China! Where in China did you go/stay? You should post some pictures on FB if you have any! I'd love to see. :)

      And yes! I agree with everything you said! (Even though I know you were agreeing with me, I'm agreeing with you right back!) First off, I can concur that the driving in China is crazay! People complain about Korean buses, but they have nothing on the buses I took in Beijing. And yes, while the little things are definitely very different--houses, roads, mode of transportation, food, ambience--overall, your routine is still similar. Your daily life is still surrounded by your friends and family in either country. I also think you summarized it very well in saying that things can be very different as a tourist, but once you settle down, you'll see that your life will still be similar. Wake up, go to school. After class, eat with friends. Study, do homework, chill, etc. Asia may seem more different if you're coming from a quiet suburb in America, but the similarities are more prevalent than it seems. Unless, as you said, you become rich!

  3. Hi! I've been reading your blog for a while now but never left a comment.
    I really like your blogposts and how honest you are. You have a very refreshing way of writing that i really enjoy reading. (Keep up the good work! haha (=^-ω-^=) )
    This post got me thinking, and i guess you're right. I never really thought that life would most likely be te same and that only minor things will be very different.
    When you first came to Korea, did you feel like an outsider (much)?

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for your sweet comment! >3< I feel very encouraged now! ^_^

      I mean, things are definitely different! But I've come to believe that those differences are more at a superficial level, and in terms of life and general themes/issues that come about in life, it's still very similar in those aspects. :)

      Hmmm, outsider? I wouldn't describe it as "outsider." I definitely felt like a foreigner, since I couldn't understand or speak Korean, so it was like being deaf and mute. I didn't know anything that was happening, and I couldn't convey anything. But other than that, I generally blended in quite well. Korean culture is not too different from my own culture, and I think that was a bit part of me being able to fit in quite easily. And that's why I wouldn't say I felt like an "outsider" exactly, because the culture and people were easy to understand, but I still felt like a foreigner because I couldn't speak English!

    2. Ack, Korean, not English!

  4. Great post, Airi!! I really enjoyed this one as I can totally relate. Living here in the states, there are times where I wish I was living in Korea. There seems to be more convenience in everyday living (transportation, food options, technology, etc). But then there are those days where I enjoy the peace and quiet of my current city, and I enjoy the slow pace lifestyle and being close to the mountains and nature.The two cultures and countries are completely different, yet both offering their best in some things and the not so best in others.

    When I was a teenager, I thought Korea was the answer to all my "problems." I assumed that life would be peachy and people would be pleasant all the time, and I would make lots of friends, enjoy taking public transportation everywhere instead of driving, enjoy being an English teacher, buying all the stylish clothes and pretty makeup, eating all the delicious Korean food, etc. But as the years passed and I frequented Korea, I came to realize that the sparkle does eventually fade away. For me, the realization wasn't all of a sudden, but eventually I started to see that this magical world I had played out in my mind was exactly that- all made up in my mind (and played out dramatically through my imagination.)

    Now don't get me wrong, I still love Korea! But, I realized that in order to be truly happy with where you're at, you have to be happy with yourself, and see the beauty in your everyday life and surroundings now.

    P.S. My trip is coming up this month, and I can't wait! It seems like every time I visit Korea, it's changed in some way or another. ;)

    1. Thanks so much Michelle! Goodness me, all I have to say is yes, yes, and yes! You've said everything I've wanted to say and more. You even touched on something I wanted to mention in another video, in that the States and Korea are so entirely different, to the point that you just can't compare them. Like you mentioned, time passes so much slower in America. I actually couldn't believe it when I stepped off the plane from Korea. People were *not* running! You must know people always run to catch the subway, even when a subway car isn't necessarily coming at that very instant.

      And what you felt as a teenager is *exactly* what I felt as well. And I'm sure it's the very same feelings that plenty of other young people feel. I thought everything you thought about people being pleasant, making lots of friends, enjoying the subway instead of driving, buying all these cute goodies all the time, all of it! And just like you, I still like Asia overall, but just without the imaginary dreamy fluff. :)

      And I am super duper excited for you! I hope to hear all about your adventures on your blog, perhaps via your adorable little journals. :D

  5. This is an amazing post! I haven't had the same experience sadly :/ I live in Venezuela and I don't know why, but the amount of people here who are selfish and impolite is overwhelming, people don't think twice to insult others or to take advantage of the very few who care about respect and manners. I used to live in Europe and I've gone to other countries on vacation and the difference has been HUGE. I find it quite sad, actually :( it's one of the main reasons I want to leave, besides its not been safe at all.

    Lipstick and Mocha

    1. Oh, that's really sad to hear! :( Although I've never been to Venezuela or Europe (I've only been to Asia), I don't think I could last one second surrounded in that sort of environment--I'm too much of a soft cookie!! My heart goes out to you! :(
      And though I haven't been to Venezuela or Europe, I have felt that in one country I visited, people tended to more abrasive than in Korea and America. But at least between America and Korea, I think it's quite comparable!

  6. Thank you for such honest post! Actually I can't tell much because I have never been in foreign country for a long time. But reading this I understand that these long journeys are really necessary because you can find out advantages of your country and after this you will love it more ^^

    1. Yes! You're exactly right! After living in Korea, I was able to realize things about America that I appreciated that I didn't realize before. And it gave me a very balanced, realistic view of the world. :)

  7. Just found your blog and i'm obsessed with it! <3

    1. Omg, thank you sooo much!! I'm very happy now, hehe~~ :D

  8. Great article, I can only second what you've wrote!
    As an asian living in Germany I experience it myself that Asia and the West aren't too different, especially now with the globalisation I've noticed that asian people have changed too. Love reading those kind of blog post of yours and I hope there will be more to come ^.^

    1. Thanks for your comment!
      It's very interesting that you bring that up! I noticed the globalization/Asian people changing, too. For example, in Korea, snacks are very Westernized. You go to a cafe and order either cake, cookies, or waffle bread to go with your coffee. Sometimes they have little pastries like egg tarts. On the other hand, when my sister went to Taiwan, I noticed that traditional snacks (pineapple cake, sun cake, etc.) are still very common! I thought that was so cool >3< In Korea, I feel like people would more likely munch on cookies than on a traditional snack.

      And thank you so much! That's very encouraging for me; I never would have thought people would read through these sort of posts!

  9. I have noticed the same!
    Being born into two cultures I learned to see the differences and similarities very early.
    And to be honest the similarities come more from one of the countries being 3rd world and also racial differences.
    I have also experienced a strong europeanisation/americanisation in these countries during my life time. All the bigger differences I noticed when I was younger are slowly disappearing due to globalization.

    Now that I am an adult and was lucky enough to travel to a few different countries and continents I realized exactly what you describe here. There are big differences in cultures and politics and such in the world. But when it comes down to it they are all very similar!

    I like to use this example. I really love markets, and I visit them where ever I travel.
    The markets in Australia, America, South America and Europe sell all the same stuff!
    I mean I know these are all western continents but they are still considered very different. And even within those continents the different countries/cities sell the same things in their markets too.
    And yeah even though I would consider the markets in South America to be the most different they still sell a majority of the same stuff than the one mentioned above.

    So yeah, aren't all the markets the same in the end :)

    1. Thank you for your comment!
      I like that you brought up the 3rd world and racial difference thing. I'm not sure if this is how you meant it, but I believe the social hierarchy ladder I mentioned is also, in a way, a manifestation of racism. Although I brought it up in the context of pop culture, I think for many Asian children, it also comes from their parents' racist attitudes. And those racial judgements tend to base off the fact that other countries are poorer and less developed, and hence appearing lower on the ladder. I can't say this perception is prevalent in every country, but I know it exists in Korea.

      But I'm very glad that you know what I'm talking about, and as I told you on FB, I think your market analogy is just charming! The products they sell may be packaged a bit differently (Korean stuff tends to be cuter, I think), but when it comes down to it, you use it all the same! :)

  10. The only reason why I wanted to travel is to experience the weathers in different countries. Especially countries that have 4 seasons. Because Malaysia only have sunny weather and rainy weather. I wanted to feel how spring, summer, fall and winter is like. My mom doesn't want me to study abroad though because she said the winter season is really cold when she used to study in London XD But still, I want to experience it. To know how it feels like :D

    1. I get you! That was another incentive for me to travel abroad. Where I'm from we basically have sunny and dry weather. It occasionally rains, but not for long, and it never snows. You should definitely go experience the weather then. Just because your mom doesn't like it doesn't mean you won't! Snow sure is beautiful *_*


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