Sometime in the first month of living here someone explained to me that your love affair with Korea comes in waves. Every three months or so something or several things set you off into a negative outlook on the country. This has been mostly true in my experience, but rarely do these slumps last too long. Well, that is, if you don’t let it. Inevitably something reminds you what a special place Korea can be. That could be a stranger buying you goat soup or a taxi driver taking absolute delight in the fact you got in his or her cab.
It can be difficult to live in Korea as a minority. You stand out, you do things Koreans find funny, and you look goofy. No matter what, you won’t fit in. For a long time Koreans looked at foreigners with a great deal of suspicion. Korea has been invaded by other countries 3,000 times in its history! It seems that this has infiltrated their national conscious. They are extremely proud of surviving as a people and feel very passionate about continuing in this endeavor. I cannot help but understand Koreans feeling this way. But sometimes through the lens of a Westerner one cannot help but think how xenophobic and racist this seems.
One friend of mine has dated a couple of Koreans and his experience has been interesting. The first girl apparently caught some flack from Koreans who were strangers to her. Whispering such sentiments like “only whores date Westerners” loud enough for her to hear. When we spoke to another Korean girl about going on a blind date with this same friend, she was very much game but preferred we kept it a secret. (This also has to do with the fact we live in the most conservative province of the country)
But the reality of it is that Korean history is far different than American history. Many times Koreans were invaded by more powerful countries looking to benefit from their strategic location in Northeast Asia. Every time Korea bounced back with their culture and people still in tact. It has been this way for a thousand years and who can blame them for wanting to keep their culture, tradition and people for long into the future.
But let me be clear in saying that while Koreans can be somewhat exclusive, this in no way makes them bad people. Nowhere in the world have so many strangers taken care of me or smiled at me as much as they do in Korea. It is a paradoxical place for sure, but one that I am very happy to live in.