Saturday, October 12, 2013

Being Half Korean in Korea

I've lived in Seoul for four months now, and it wasn't until I moved here that I gained significant insight on what it's like to be living in Korea as an American of Korean descent.  Generally, there are two types of Koreans from foreign countries living here.  Those who are of a mixed racial background, and those who are full-blooded.  My newly discovered knowledge is a result of living amongst, and interacting with numerous full-blooded Koreans who were born and raised in America and Canada here in Seoul.  Koreans call them "Gyopos."

From my experience, regarding Gyopos, I usually associate the word with Korean-Americans or Korean-Canadians, because they seem to be the most common nationalities that I have come across, and have interacted with.  They also come from numerous other countries.  I've met Korean-Mexicans, Korean-Argentines, Korean-Brits, and even Korean-Brazilians.

Although one of my best friends in Gwangju was a gyopo from San Francisco, it was rather rare to come across them there, so I was rather taken aback by how numerous they are in here in Seoul.

In Gwangju, the Koreans that I grew accustomed to interacting with were the ones who are native to Korea.  These are the Koreans who act Korean (Obviously.  They are from Korea after all.)  These are the Koreans who call me, "Ca-dee-su," instead of calling me "Chris."  These are the Koreans who say, 'Sek-shi,' instead of 'sexy.'  These are the Koreans who say "stu-rain-jee," instead of "strange."  So, at first, it's rather strange (no pun intended) to meet a man who looks Korean, and dresses Korean with a stereotypical  Korean hairstyle, and hear him ask me in a stereotypical American accent and tone of voice, "Do you know where I can get some fish Tacos?"

And it's funny hearing a girl who looks Korean, and dresses Korean with a common Korean hairstyle say in an aggravated tone with a stereotypical American accent, "I'm so over it..."

Many of the gyopos that I've met are like me in that they grew up only knowing English.  A lot of them grew up in multicultural societies such as America or Canada, and had parents who didn't want their kids to be at a disadvantage.   Numerous others were put up for adoption by their biological Korean parents as infants, and were adopted and raised by non-Koreans.

Gyopos come to Korea for numerous different reasons, but when they get here, many of the ones that I've known seemed to have a difficult time adjusting.  Upon arriving, Koreans seem to notice that these people have Korean faces, but they don't dress like a Korean.  Their skin is tan, instead of the preferred fair skin.  They don't have Korean hairstyles.  They don't have Korean mannerisms.  Many Koreans mistake them as Asians from other countries, which, in all actuality, they are.  They are American/Canadian/British/Etc.

Then they eventually manage adjust, but still, they struggle to fit in, because of the language.  Koreans will try to speak Korean to them.  Many of them are unable to answer, and many of those who are able to, do so with an American accent, so the funny looks continue.

On a plane from San Francisco to Seoul, I met a gyopo lady who was a Korean adoptee raised by white parents.  Like me, she grew up trying to fit in with white American society, and one day, became suddenly fascinated with her biological Korean heritage.  She came to Korea excitedly thinking, "I'm going back to the mother land." 

She described how fitting in in Korea was rather difficult, and this is how she described her predicament, "Since I look Korean, a Korean person will look at me, and automatically expect me to know how to speak Korean.  Once they speak to me, and realize that I can't, they look at me like, 'Who is this idiot?'"

I, on the other hand, being half-Korean and half-white have it rather easy.  I look white.  I dress white.  I have a white American hair style.  I act like a white guy.  Naturally, Koreans don't see me as a Korean.  In terms of first impressions, they see me as a white American.

I'll never forget this.  Back when I was a boy back home in America, one of my mother's Korean friends told me, "Chris, you don't look Korean.  You look more like a Mexican."  My feelings weren't hurt, but I was taken aback.  Around my mother's Korean friends, I wanted to look like and be a Korean.

My Korean is rather unsatisfactory, and when Koreans hear my feeble attempt to speak, they don't give me the same strange looks that they give full-blooded gyopos.  With me, they give me a big smile, and sometimes laugh, and say in a strong Korean accent, "Oooooh!  Very good!!"

I realize that I don't speak Korean well.  I only know 'survival Korean,' and I don't consider that to be "very good."

Usually, being that I am an American, I am able to set a strong first impression among Koreans, so when I tell them, "Naneun omaga Hanguk saram imnida (My mother is Korean)," they are usually really surprised.  Some of them brush it off, and act like I am this American who can recite a sentence in Korean without actually knowing what it means, because I couldn't possibly have Korean blood, because I don't look Korean.  But when it actually registers in their minds that I am indeed of Korean heritage, their opinion of me almost always increases favorably, because now they sort of see me as one of them.  The favorable impressions will probably be stronger when I learn Korean.

I've accepted the fact that Koreans see me as an American, but sometimes it annoys me when the Korean waiter at a restaurant goes to the kitchen to bring me a fork.

The longer I am in Korea, the more American I feel.  After all, it's only natural, because I am one.  I mentioned in a previous post that before coming to Korea, I would have cheered for Korea, if Korea was playing America in a sporting event, or if a Korean was in direct competition with an American in the Olympics.  Now, I unabashedly cheer for the American.

Still, I am half Korean.  I've heard American friends talk about numerous things that Koreans do that drive them crazy, and because of that, I've found myself being rather critical of the expat community here.

I've always felt almost as much at home here as I do in America.  I've never experienced the culture shock that most expats have experienced, so sometimes, I don't understand their perspective.  When I first moved to Korea, a foreigner who was a Canadian of white descent asked me, "What are some of the weirdest things that you have seen here?"

I couldn't give her a good answer, because, honestly, nothing was really that strange to me.  

With very few exceptions, I've always understood why Koreans do the things they do, because being a middle child, I am naturally adaptive, and most of the time, I can be rather empathetic.  It's kind of funny how I am that way with the Korean community, and not the foreign community.  Another reason why I've always seemed to inherently understand how Koreans act is, while growing up, Korean culture was a significant part of my life every day in my home.  In some aspects of my life, I have a Korean mindset and a Korean perspective.  One of my Korean friends once told me that I have the inherent humility that Koreans have.  I took that as a huge compliment

I'm ashamed to say that when out and about by myself, which I find myself being quite often, I avoid foreigners like the plague.  In my workplace, and in my church, that is not the case.  My best friends here are foreigners from church, and foreign coworkers.  But on the street, I've preferred not to meet other Americans and foreigners.  I've always wanted to meet and interact with Koreans.  It's something that needs to be changed, but my mindset has been, if I want to be around Americans, I should be living in America.

Westerners, particularly Americans, can be seen as extremely loud and boisterous in public here in Korea, and I see the dirty looks Koreans give them when they act that way.  Koreans can be rather loud sometimes, but many of the people from the older generation have something against hearing English spoken loudly in public places.  My mindset here has always been that of a guest, and that I should abide by the cultural norms, and wishes of the natives here.  I believe in standing up for myself, but I also believe being courteous keeps you out of unpleasant situations that are avoidable.

I get so uncomfortable when in a restaurant or a cafe with a large group of westerners, and they proceed to take it upon themselves to rearrange the tables in order to accommodate themselves with total disregard for how Koreans are perceiving them.  In America, such a practice is completely fine, but in Korea, I've seen some really awkward looks from Koreans.

I've heard numerous Americans say to me without realizing who I am, "Koreans throw logic completely out the window."  It's been said to me numerous times, and I get so annoyed whenever I hear it.  Those things contribute to my willful avoidance, and I've recently found myself being rather unforgiving, when I should be more empathetic.  After all, I am a westerner myself.

The other evening, while on the neighborhood bus that shuttles me to and from the subway station, I saw a white foreigner, who looked to be an American, and looked like he could have been a nice guy.  It's rather rare to see foreigners on that particular bus route, moreover, it was the first time I had ever seen one there.  I know it was the same for him also.  I can say that, because he looked right at me.  I made eye contact with him, but I acted as if it were completely normal to see another American on the bus, and I immediately looked away, and completely avoided contact.  I did it in sort of a haughty manner, and for that, I am ashamed.

I could tell he wanted to talk.  Maybe he was having a difficult time, and needed another foreigner to talk to.  Maybe he felt alone in this strange country where people "throw logic completely out the window."  Maybe he could have been a friend, so looking back on that interaction, or lack thereof, I felt bad.

I should make myself more available.  I should also be more forgiving, and I shouldn't allow my critical feelings to get in the way of being more outgoing and helpful.    

Again, as a half-Korean, despite my attitudes towards some Americans here, the longer that I am in Korea, the more I see myself as an American.  At the same time, I've always understood Korean culture, and their way of life.   All my life, I've always been accustomed to being around Koreans, and hearing a language that I don't understand, so being here has always felt rather normal.   Not to mention, I've always loved Korean food.

I realize that I can't speak for other halfies, because numerous factors can determine the quality of a person's experience, but for me, living in Korea as a half-Korean is a good life.  Being in the middle of two cultures, and feeling at home in both can be rather comforting.  I would highly recommend it to any halfie that is at home considering moving here.

Being Half Korean in America

My full name is Christopher Choi Polk.  'Choi' is my mothers maiden name, and my two brothers have it also as their middle names.  I am from a suburb of New Orleans, Lousiana, called Slidell.  I remember on numerous occasions having to correct white and black teachers on the first day of school on how to pronounce the name 'Choi.'  I remember hearing them say things like "Chow," and "Troy."
In high school, my brothers and I played football for Slidell High.  I remember our friends giving my older brother the nickname, "Bok Choi."  I became "Baby Bok," and my little brother was "Brussel Sprout."  

My mother is an amazing cook, and she used to cook Korean bar-b-que for our teammates and friends.  My brother used to joke, and tell them that my mother was cooking dog meat, and we used to tell them that the reason we had our dog, Annie (God bless her soul.  She recently died at the age of 16.) was to fatten her up for a future bar-b-que.  But they knew we were joking, and it would get a laugh, because some of our teammates that didn't know us as well as our close friends would actually believe us.  

Some of my first memories were eating kimchi and rice for lunch at the dinner table with my brothers and my mother.  I remember my mother licking the red pepper off of the kimchi, so it wouldn't be too spicy for a little boy such as the one that I was at the time. 

According to the Korean consulate, there are around 4000 Koreans living in metro New Orleans, so my mother has always had a lot of Korean friends.  As a little boy, I called each of them "ajumma."  When I got older, I called them Mrs. So and So.  

My aunt and uncle live near my mother, so between them and my mother's numerous Korean friends, hearing conversations in Korean in my house was a daily occurance, but I was never taught it, because my mother wanted us to be Americans.  Many of my foreign friends here in Korea get upset when we are hanging out with a group of Koreans, and they speak Korean to each other.  It never bothers me, because hearing a different language without understanding it is quite natural for me.  I am quite comfortable when that happens, and many times I will find myself listening and nodding along, as if I am a part of the conversation, even though I don't know exactly what is being said.  

At school, I never really saw myself as Korean.  I've always identified with my white friends, and saw myself as such, because my brothers and I never had any major problems fitting in with our white peers at school.  I was kind of a nerd/dork in elementary school, but it wasn't because I was of Korean descent, it was because I am naturally a little quirky.  I began to hang out with the popular crowd in middle school and high school, because I played football, and also because my older brother was always popular, and well liked.    

I've always looked just like my father, so people in school used to ask me if I were adopted, upon seeing my mother.  

It's ironic that I grew up calling my Korean mother, 'Mom,' and my American father, 'Appa,' which is the Korean word for dad.  He is from a town in south Mississippi near the Louisiana border, called Picayune.  He speaks with a thick southern accent, and I never realized that I spoke similarly until I heard my Canadian, and American friends not from the south tell me that they like my accent.  I am proud to be from the south, and proud to be from greater New Orleans.

Growing up, my goal was to be as white as possible, so I could fit in with my friends as well as possible, and I believe I did well, because I never had problems making friends, but despite that, fitting in with the popular crowd was difficult, not because of my Korean descent, but because of my inherent quirkiness, and the fact that, during high school, I was self-conscious of it.  

One day, as a young professional working in sales in the cellular industry, being the young single man that I was, I suddenly became interested in what Korean female celebrities looked like.  I can't explain exactly what spurred that curiosity, but I suddenly became extremely fascinated with Korean culture, and my roots as a Korean.  Throughout my academic life, I tried so hard to be white, and to suppress the Korean in me in order to fit in with my friends, and at a point in my life when fitting in was no longer necessary, I developed a strong fascination with the my Korean descent, which led me to embrace my Korean heritage.

Anyway, on a random night on the sofa with my laptop in my lap, sitting with my roommates, coworkers, and friends while relaxing, and watching a random NFL football game on the big screen at the house we shared in Baton Rouge, LA, I googled, "beautiful Korean celebrities."

Kim Tae Hee, and Song Hye Kyo were the two most prominent Korean celebrities that appeared in Google Images.  There is no denying that they are both gorgeous.  Any man would think that, and I was no different.

I was back home, and working in sales in America when Kim Yuna won the gold medal in women's figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  I was also home during the World Cup in South Africa, as I openly pulled for the South Korean team, who was rather competitive.  At the time, I would have pulled for them against America had they played each other.  And in the Olympics, I would have pulled for the Korean athlete if they were in direct competition with an American.  

A few years before that, I remember being secretly disappointed when Apolo Anton Ohno controversially won the gold medal against a Korean in short track speed skating during the Winter Olympics.  Ohno was seen sort of as a hero among Americans, but I never saw him as such.  To me, the Korean would have been, had he won. 

Kim Yuna and the Korean World Cup soccer team helped fuel my intrigue.  I began to look deeper into the blogosphere about Korean culture, because I had a strong desire to know what life was like over there.  I became addicted to learning about the culture of modern South Korea.  My hunger for info became almost insatiable.  

During the period of my fascination with Korean culture, my father, who works in the oil business, had an opportunity to accept a job in Malaysia.  My mother soon followed him, and they lived there for over a year.  While they were living in Malaysia, they suggested that we meet them in Seoul for a vacation.  My brothers, my sister-in-law, and I would fly over from America, and they would fly up from Kuala Lampur.  To say that I was extremely excited was an understatement.  It's funny how the timing of things sort of works together.  I don't believe any of it was a coincidence.  Moreover, I don't believe in coincidences.  

We spent one week in Seoul, and three days in Jeju.  When it came time to fly back to America, I didn't want to go back home.  I loved being in Korea.

Again, it's kind of funny how things work out.  Looking back, I believe it was the hand of God who blessed my desire to come to Korea, because around the time that I returned home from my vacation, I lost my job in sales.

I began to look for ways to return.  I quickly found out that teaching English was the best way to do that, and I had no problem finding a job.  I accepted a teaching position in Gwangju, and to say that I was excited when it was time to fly over the Pacific ocean for the second time in my life would be quite an understatement.

And now, here I am.

In my next post, I will discuss what it's like living in Korea as a halfie.  Stay tuned...    

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Coach Paul Dietzel - A Champion

This post isn't about Korea, but I hope that you take the time to read it.  Yesterday, I heard the news that Coach Paul Dietzel died at the age of 89 yesterday, and I was rather saddened by it, so I decided to honor him with this post.

Football is a big part of Louisiana State University, and it is a big reason why I decided to attend.  Many people associated with the football program at LSU, including players and coaches, achieve nation wide fame, and students there cross paths with them regularly in classes, out at bars and restaurants, and at places like the grocery store.

I try to avoid interacting with celebrities when I see them in public out of consideration to them.  I am sure it can get rather annoying for them to have hundreds of people a day bugging them for pictures and autographs wherever they go, so I prefer not to do that.  I don't avoid them all together.  If a celeb wants to be my friend, then who am I to turn down such a friendship?  But I definitely avoid fawning over them.

Among the memorable interactions that I had were having Rohan Davey, an all SEC quarterback and an eventual backup to Tom Brady with the Patriots, ask me if he could borrow a floppy disc in the computer lab.  I used to see Andrew Whitworth, starting offensive tackle for the Cincinatti Bengals, every single weekend at a bar called Reggies.  He is the largest man I have ever seen in my life.  Matt Mauck, quarterback of the 2003 national championship team, was in my spanish class, and he had a great sense of humor, as he made me and my classmates laugh a few times, as he would tell jokes in broken spanish.

I was fortunate to attend LSU in 2003, the year we won a national title, and Nick Saban was the head coach.  To date, it was the funnest year of my life.  At the time, Nick was larger than life at LSU, and in the state of Louisiana.  You only saw him on TV, or if you were to see him in person, it was usually from the stands in Tiger Stadium, while he is coaching the Tigers in a football game.  Before he was there, LSU was a perennial loser, and he turned them into a perennial contender for the SEC, and National title, so he was seen as a hero.

I usually parked my car in a student parking lot near Tiger Stadium, and the athletic offices.  One morning after parking my truck, while walking to class, I saw a large luxury sedan pull in to a reserved parking spot in the front row of the parking lot near the athletic building.  Out of front driver side door steps Coach Nick Saban, and he began to walk directly towards me.

Nick had a tough reputation.  He was a no nonsense coach.  People in the athletic office were known to dislike working for him.  He wasn't known as the most friendly of people.

I immediately recognized him from the distance when he bagan walking towards me.  And it began to register in my mind that I am about to cross paths with Nick Saban.  And as we passed, I couldn't help but stare, and he looked right at me, grinned, and said in a kind gentle tone, "Hey, what's up man."

It made my day, and it gave me a favorable impression of him, even though he is now the head coach at the University of Alabama, a school that almost all people associated with LSU love to hate.  To this day, I respect him, and have no ill will towards him.

While at LSU I attended church at First United Methodist Church in downtown Baton Rouge.  It was a rather large church, and even the more famous of people could get lost in the crowd there, but one of the people that regularly attended was Coach Paul Dietzel, head coach of the 1958 national championship team.  He was rather young when he coached the Tigers to their first national title.

I didn't know Coach Dietzel as the coach.  My dad was a middle schooler when he was coaching at LSU.  I knew him as the man who attended First United Methodist Church almost every Sunday in the early 2000's.  He was an old man, but was tall, and was still able to stand straight, and walk proudly, but he had an air of humility about him.  

A unique thing about First United Methodist Church was that the pastor never read the scripture that the  sermon would be based on.  A member of the laity was chosen each week to read a passage of scripture from the bible in front of the congregation before the preacher would preach his sermon.

Coach Dietzel was one who was chosen regularly to do it.  He was easily the most memorable of readers.  As he did so, an aura of intelligence, strength, and humility was exuded from him.  And that aura always caused me to pay attention when he read.  The only time I ever remembered exactly what scripture was read in that church was when it was read by him, and I attended church there countless times.  I vividly remember him powerfully reading Matthew 6:5-15 on a random Sunday morning.

To me, Coach Dietzel was easily one of the most recognizable members of First United Methodist church, so again, when walking near him, I couldn't help but stare.  After all, he's Coach Dietzel.  He is a National Championship coach at LSU.  He's larger than life.  He's a giant among numerous history makers at LSU.

On one morning as church let out, as I was walking through one of the side lobbies in order to make my way to the car, there was Coach Dietzel standing straight, and he was taller than most people.  I made eye contact with him.  He looked directly at me as I walked by him.  He immediately smiled confidently and humbly as we faced each other.  He continued to smile when he said, "God bless you, young man."  Then he shook my hand.

I never knew Coach Dietzel personally, but that brief interaction alone left a strong and favorable impression on me.  Hopefully, I will get to know him in heaven.

God bless you, coach.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dating in Korea II

Pure attraction, emotional connections, and "love," many times, isn't enough in Korea.  As Americans, we have the mentality that when we want something, we try to get it, no matter how difficult it can be, and many of us apply that principle to dating.  Numerous love stories in American movies are about couples who overcame a series of extremely difficult obstacles in order to be together.  I've never realized how much the notion of 'overcoming obstacles' is ingrained into American society until coming to Korea, a society where that thought process is significantly less prevalent.

For example, the first lady that I dated here in Korea and I had numerous what she called "barriers."  Despite having a strong mutual attraction, we never became "official."  Koreans are normally rather quick to attach that status onto their relationships.  But that wasn't the case with us.  I was an American.  Her English wasn't fluent.  She was buddhist, while I was a christian.  She was so afraid that her parents wouldn't approve of her dating a foreigner that she didn't tell them about me.  She was afraid of how other Koreans would perceive her, especially the people that were close to her.  Because of those things, she never officially became my girlfriend, despite secretly dating for over six months.

Koreans place an extremely high value on their reputations within their communities.  Doing something to cause others to view them less than honorably is one of the worst things that they can do.  This particular motivation cannot be understated in their decision making process, and it is especially true when they choose their potential spouses.  That is a huge reason why Koreans seem to be less likely to allow their infatuation to overcome their logic when selecting potential partners.

At one point, the first lady that I dated, who was fluent in Chinese, casually and jokingly suggested that we both quit our jobs in Korea, and move to China.  She didn't come across as one who would grow a wild hair, but looking back objectively, I believe she saw that as one way it would work.

In Korea, the compatibility of a couple seems to have to be more than emotional and physical.  The connection has to be circumstantially logical.  For example, the parents have to approve of the relationship.  The husband has to have the right job.  The couple must look good and upstanding before other members of society.  Those, and numerous other factors have to be logically acceptable, before two people can start dating.

My current girlfriend and I became a couple rather quickly.  We are a fit, because we are both christians.  Our mutual faith enables us to have a similar world view, and we seem to understand each other's motives in various situations.  I value her advice.  Despite the fact that our tastes are different, our growth as people, and as a couple, comes from the same place, the Bible.  Moreover, her English is fluent, as she lived and went to school in Canada for several years.  Because I am a christian, her mother approves of the fact that we are dating.  Our faith is a strong commonality that we have that makes our relationship a fit.  For many christian Koreans, that can be enough to make a relationship possible.

Many logical factors can come into play in a Korean's decision to not date a person, despite being infatuated, especially with a foreigner, among them being the fact that the westerner will eventually return to their home country, while the Korean is faced with a dilemma of whether or not to go with his/her partner, or even to stay together for that matter.  For example, my former coworker, who is a westerner, and her Korean boyfriend broke up because she told him that she is definitely going home to the States once her contract with her school is finished.

Americans, many times, date simply because there is a strong mutual infatuation.  And as they do so, and get to know each other, the circumstantial logistics are taken into consideration, or even confronted when they have to be.  Many times, those circumstantial logistics are ignored or overlooked if the physical and emotional connection is strong enough.  (It doesn't seem to be a coincidence that most of the divorces in America are because of finances.)

The notion that most Americans believe that "love" is enough is a reason why the courtship/engagement process in America tends to last a lot longer than it does in Korea.  I find that, generally speaking, Americans get married at a younger age, but do so at a later stage in the relationship.  Most of my American friends were married soon after graduating from college, but they dated and were engaged to their wives for three, four, or even five years before getting married.  And many of those that didn't graduate college tend to get married soon after high school.

The inverse seems to be true with Koreans.  Koreans get married at an older age, but do so at an earlier stage in the relationship than most Americans.  Koreans seem to be so career and educationally driven that for many of them, dating seems to be lower in their priorities.

If a Korean couple is of age, and are settled in their careers, they seem get married at an early stage in the relationship, by American standards, because everything is a fit.  So why not, and why wait?  I have heard of Korean couples agreeing to get married after dating for a few months, but I find that most couples here wait around a year, before discussing it.

Some of my friends at home have children around the age that I am teaching, so when coming to Korea, I was expecting to interact with parents who were close to my age, but that isn't the case.  The parents of the children that I teach are a lot older than I am.

Is one culture's mindset superior than the other?  They both have their strengths and weaknesses.  Americans, many times, overlook obvious red flags when dating, because they are together on the sole basis of attraction.  Many times, American divorces are because of the fact that logical circumstancial differences become too difficult.

Many times, Koreans can have a tendency to weigh logical circumstances too heavily in choosing who to go into a relationship with, when love and chemistry should be more of a factor.  Divorce doesn't seem to be as prevalent here as it is in America.  But unfaithfulness is every bit as such, and prostitution is significantly more prevalent and accepted here than it is in America.  That is certainly evidence of weaknesses in the marriage and family culture.

Upon coming to Korea, I thought that men are men, and women are women, so dating worldwide is universal, and as the old saying goes, "love is the universal language."  I find that to not be the case.  Attraction is universal.  Emotional connections and chemistry are universal.  But certain dating customs are not, and different aspects of relationships seem to be emphasized more by different cultures. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My School and the Korean Education System

I feel like I have settled in quite nicely in my new school.  I am currently teaching for what's called an after-school program.  My previous school was a hogwan.  As I may have mentioned before, after Korean kids finish their regular schooling for the day, it isn't common for them to go to baseball practice, or dance class like many American kids do.  Korean parents pay money to send their children to specialized private academies where their kids receive additional schooling.

Korean society is so competitive, and it seems to be extremely important for parents to enable their children to get into the best universities.  There seems to be less top tier universities in Korea than there are in countries like the United States and England.  On top of that, the importance of education in Korean society cannot be understated.  For a combination of these two reasons, Korean parents send their children to these hogwans.  A large number of them pay huge sums of money for their children to attend them.  There are hogwans of all different types.

There are music hogwans, math hogwans, Chinese hogwans, and  computer hogwans, among others.  But English hogwans seem to be the most numerous and prominent.    

My previous school in Gwangju was one of these English hogwans where parents pay a rather large rate for their children to attend, and this school had a total enrollment of around 1,000 students.  The hogwan industry in Korea is enormous, and huge sums of money is made here by successful hogwan owners.

I heard stories of certain parents taking second jobs to enable their children to attend, and it is fairly safe to assume that this is not an uncommon practice throughout Korea.

It is, no doubt, a "keep up with the Joneses" mentality here when it comes to education, and the stakes are extremely high.  If a parent sends his/her child to a hogwan with a great reputation, and that kid is seen to have an advantage in school and in test taking, then other parents feel almost forced to send their children to something similar, so their children will not fall behind in the race to get into a top tiered university.

My previous hogwan's focus in its marketing was that it will enable the children to have higher test scores on these high school and university entrance tests.  In many advertisements, it had a long list of names of students who went through the curriculum, and scored highly on these exams.

Apparently, there are a lot of academies in Korea that are very similar to my former employer, because as my Korean friend explained, scores on these entrance exams are increasing, making it increasingly difficult for these top tiered universities in Korea to select the best students, so now, they have made their entrance exams even more difficult, and thus, applying even more pressure to these students.

Again, in my current teaching job, which is my second in Korea, I work for what is called an after-school program.   My workplace is a public elementary school, and I have an office there, but I am not an employee of that school.  My employer is a private company contracted out by the school board to give access to an effective English curriculum to children of parents who don't want to pay high rates to send their children to a hogwan.

I knew about the job opening for my current employer before leaving my previous school, and I asked my boss about after-school programs such as mine, and although he did recommend me as an employee, he didn't recommend them as an employer.  I now understand why, because my current employer is a direct competitor of my former.  

I teach around 150 students, and my employer has contracts with around thirty public schools like mine in the greater Seoul metropolitan area, so like my previous boss, my current one is doing rather well financially.

I only work around six hours a day, sometimes less, and the atmosphere is really laid back.  My superiors are in a central office somewhere in Seoul, and I rarely come in contact with them.  I am free to do things the way that I feel is best for me and the kids.  So my job is highly desirable among foreign teachers in Korea.

I teach elementary school students ranging in grade levels from the first grade to sixth grade.  They are every bit as awesome as my previous students.  Generally speaking, their level as English speakers is considerably lower than those that I taught at my previous job, but they make up for it with their wonderful attitudes, and their desire to learn.

A story about my first grade class:

For some reason, my students, especially my first and second graders, respond extremely well to role-play exercises, where they act out various scenarios in English.  They love it, and it seems to be really effective in teaching the concepts that the books are introducing.

Each grade level that I teach has two classes, one for the more advanced students of that age, and one for those of a lower level, in terms of speaking.

One particular lesson for my lower-level first graders was to teach my students the following dialogue.  "You can borrow my _____."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

I introduced the text, and taught the children how to properly pronounce it, and as soon as they were able to say it, they were lining up at the front of the classroom.  I didn't even have to prompt them.  They were orderly, and in line with props in hand.  "Teacher, you can borrow my pencil case."

I would act surprised, smile, and respond with, "Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

The next student would be next in line.  "You can borrow my scissors."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

And then the next student, "You can borrow my book bag."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

And as it would go on, they would start handing me whatever they could get their hands on.  "You can borrow my umbrella."

"You can borrow my shoe."

"You can borrow my (sweaty) baseball cap."

I would respond sarcastically, "Really?! Thank you very much."

"You're welcome."

It's kind of funny that this was the most enthusiastic these kids were for a lesson.  It may not be a big deal, but I was really encouraged by that.  Maybe when they are older, they will see a foreigner in need, remember this particular lesson, and be inclined to say, "Hello.  You can borrow my ____."

Although my job is rather laid back, I take my position as a teacher, authority figure, and role model seriously.  I want them to remember me positively when they become older.  I want to lay a foundation for them to possibly become fluent English speakers.  I do not want to them to be at a disadvantage.  And as an authority figure in their lives, I feel it is my responsibility to be a moral example for them.  I want to be a contributor of not only their success as Korean citizens, but I also want to contribute to their development possibly as people of integrity, so I am highly motivated as a teacher.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Getting Settled

I finally feel like I am settled here in Seoul.  I've finally secured an apartment.  It isn't the one that I mentioned in the previous post.  Many people have asked me about it, so I will go ahead and tell you what happened.

My friend who was helping me get settled advised me to wait and see other places, because there are better ones out there.  Most levelheaded people would perceive that as good advice.  I did.

After two days of looking, I saw numerous apartments, and found none that were better, so I decided I wanted to rent that particular place.  Upon informing the real estate agent of my intentions, he informed me that the apartment was already taken.

The old saying, "If you snooze, you lose" never rang truer in my life at that moment.  I've learned that, in the moment, if there is something that you truly want, and if it is available, and if you have the means to attain it, seize the moment without delay.  Sometimes opportunities vanish.

My current apartment isn't quite as nice as that place, but it is better than anything that I could have imagined  before moving here, so I am ecstatic about it.  It is now fully furnished, and has been for the last month.  I had to buy all of it, but it was cheaper than I had previously anticipated, and I am pleased with how it looks.  

The same can be said about my job.  It has been wonderful, and better than I hoped it would be.

Like my previous job, I rarely see my boss, so I am not micromanaged, and I am given the freedom to teach these kids the best way I see fit.

Just like my previous school, the children at my school are amazing.  I look forward everyday to teaching and interacting with them.  They have a lot of joy, and they impart a lot of it on me.  It is a good feeling to be in constant contact with people who are always genuinely happy to see you, and people who greet you with a lot of enthusiasm upon seeing them.   As a whole, they consistently display the same goodness everyday.  I am blessed.

They take pleasure in the simple things.  They love it when I pick them up, and throw them on my shoulders.  They love the drawing contests that we have.  They love the simple youtube videos that I show them.  They ask for this one every single day.  It never gets old for them.

As much as we play, we also work, and my goal is to enable them to speak English, and to help them in developing a strong work ethic.

A drawback of my job is that I am the only foreigner there, so the camaraderie that was so prevalent at my previous workplaces is not nearly as prevalent here.  The kids, and my Korean co-teacher are the only people that I am in close contact with at my current school.

My church, Onnuri English Ministry, has been incredible.  It is a church where the holy spirit obviously moves.  It is a rather large church, and the minister, along with the music is incredible.  There are a lot of people there who are on fire for God, and I always feel so inspired after attending every Sunday afternoon.

A drawback to attending a rather large church, like OEM, is that despite the fact that I leave feeling inspired, despite the fact that the music is so awesome that I feel as if I am truly worshipping God while listening and singing, and despite the fact that the minister consistently preaches incredibly inspiring messages, plugging in and finding friends has been rather difficult.  And that is something that normally isn't difficult for me.

The city of Seoul, in general, has been that way.  In most moments, I am more of an extrovert than an introvert, but for some reason, Seoul has brought out the introvert in me.

I go to the gym.  It is a great facility, but it's as if I am in my own bubble as I work out, finish, and walk back to my apartment without having any real contact with anybody.  I do the same at my church.  I do the same when I stop at a restaurant to eat.  I do the same when I explore the city.  I do the same when I travel to and from work.  I do that in numerous instances in life here in this beautiful city.

I feel as if I had now taken that first step in fulfilling the calling of God in my life.  Everything that I have here, among them being my church, my job, my apartment, and even my gym have been better than I could have imagined, and I find that that is how God works for those who follow the calling that he has for their lives.

My experience so far in Seoul has shown me that God provides, and his provision never disappoints.   But with the exception of my Church, my entire provision has been material things.  But still, after being here for almost two months, I find myself waiting for the provision of that which is most worthwhile, friendships.

At the moment, here in Korea, my closest friends are my lovely girlfriend who lives four hours away in Gwangju, my students, and my Korean colleagues at work.  

Among so many people in such a large city, it is so easy to feel hidden as you walk along the sidewalks that are illuminated by all the bright signs, and lined with restaurants filled with people laughing and pleasantly socializing, as the sound of the buses roar by on the busy streets.  Contrary to popular belief, a large city is a great place to find solitude.

I've recently reread The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and in that book, the main character had to cross the Sahara Desert in order to achieve his dream.  It describes how the desert can be a vicious place for those who foolishly attempt to press through it.  One has to know the ways of the dessert, and one must be familiar with the obstacles before being able to cross it successfully.  One must be able to recognize signs in order to see obstacles before they approach.  Many times, because of those obstacles, there are detours, and many times, there are moments of waiting while journeying.

I feel as if I am currently in one of those moments of waiting.  Rather than awkwardly forcing myself upon a circle of friends who aren't interested in expanding their particular circle, I have chosen to sit back and wait.  And rather than recklessly pressing on, and foolishly forcing myself into what I personally believe is the calling that God has for me here in this city, I have decided to sit and wait for a recognizable opportunity.  I have recognized that this time of solitude is merely a simple detour, and a time to wait and rest.

At the moment, Seoul is an unfamiliar place.  And just like the Sahara Desert, the unfamiliar can be a vicious place for a person who foolishly presses on without being able to recognize open doors that are provided.

Sometimes being alone can be difficult, but God blesses those who are content.  I've never had a problem with taking pleasure in my solitude, and I have thus become content with it.  I've decided to wait, and allow an open door from God to be my guide for attaining friendships, and for moving forward with the calling that he has for my life.

At the moment, everything is okay.

#PrayforNorthKorea  #PrayforaunitedKorea

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world.  It has an unmistakeable energy that is very similar to that of New York city.  I always enjoy riding the subway across the Han River and seeing the sky scrapers that line the banks.  I am always taken aback by that.  I love weaving through the crowds walking through Seoul Station and Myeongdong.  Even the cafes at certain spots also have a certain unmistakeable energy.  Maybe that's why I find that I write better in Seoul.

Previously, during my first two years as a teacher in Korea, I was on what is called an E-2 visa, which is sponsored by the school where the foreign teacher teaches, so many times, his/her status as a resident in Korea is dependent on the school.  I am not going to go very deeply into it, but basically, as far as work is concerned, it can be fairly restrictive.

Currently, I am on what is called an F-4 visa.  My residency is no longer at the mercy of my employer.  My status as a resident here is based on my Korean heritage.  Basically, with an F-4, I have many of the benefits that Korean citizens receive.  My apartment will be in my name, instead of my school's, so if I decide to quit my job, I will still have a place to live, and I can find another one with minimal problems.  I can work more than one job legally, unlike an E-2.    I can start a business, get a credit card (not that I ever would), buy property, and etc.

As beneficial as it is to have an F-4 visa, at the same time, I have had my share of difficulties this week.

The school that recently hired me only hires foreigners on F-type visas, so unlike those that sponsor E-type visas, I have to do everything myself, as far as preparing for my job.  I had to go to the hospital to get my required medical examination on my own.  I had to find an apartment without the help of my school.  I had to pay for my flight.  I had to handle all of my required registration with the immigration office myself.  Under an E-2, the school takes care of all that, so now I find that during my previous two years, I took that for granted, as do numerous other foreigners teaching English in Korea.

On top of that, I speak very little Korean, which can many times throw a "monkey wrench" into my entire set of tasks.  If I didn't know anybody here, and had no friends or connections, I wouldn't be able to do it.  I really need to learn Korean...

Seoul is a city where the people seem to be in their own worlds and totally oblivious to things that my laid back personality would easily notice.  They seem that way because they are so focused on the task at hand.  As a visitor, I never quite understood why the pace of these megacities is so fast, and why there is such an inherent intensity and energy among the populations.  I have come to find that it is because the task at hand takes precedence over stopping to enjoy the sights and sounds.  I.e. "Money makes the world go round."

This week, while working intently to complete all that I was required to do to prepare myself for work the following week, I found myself blending in quite easily.  I was walking through the halls of those subway stations with a focus, and I was rather oblivious to my surroundings.  Just like a lot of those business men, I was texting and talking on my telephone with new colleagues about logistical issues regarding work.  I felt like I was walking, talking, and texting with a new sense of purpose.  

Even my leisurely walks had a purpose.  Today, I viewed a few apartments.  I visited a particular one that was my favorite.  It's on the nineteenth floor of a high rise building.  I would be the first person to live in that particular unit, so everything in it was new and spotless.  The view from the large window was vast and stunning.  And, not to mention, the price was right.  I started picturing myself living there, but the subway station was a little further from the apartment than I would have liked.

After viewing the last apartment of the evening, the real estate agent dropped me off at the subway station, and I had some extra time before the sun set with nothing else to do.  Those who know me know that I am rather laid back and care free, and they know that I am not a detail or a task oriented person.  I would normally never do anything like this, but I decided to walk from the exact position where the steps ended at the subway station to the apartment, so I could time exactly how long that walk would be on a normal day when heading to work.

I walked as if I were walking to work, and I made it a point to stop at every crosswalk, and not jaywalk where there was a light (Hey D.), so I could get an accurate timing.  When I got to the apartment, I found that it was a little faster than I had anticipated.  I was determined to get an even more accurate timing, so I also timed my walk back to the subway station to get an average.  I found that it took an average of seven and a half minutes to walk from my potential apartment to the subway station.

When I got to the subway station, I noticed that I had to walk completely across the entire place to board the train, so another three minutes could be tacked on to that.  I also took a wrong turn, and walked up a gargantuanly large escalator.  I found that four minutes can be lost because of a wrong turn followed by a ride up and down an enormous escalator.

Those who know me well know that I am not the type of person who is concerned with mundane logistical issues.  Maybe Seoul brings that out of me.  This week has been somewhat stressful, and stress causes me to focus, so this week, I made my contribution to the inherent intensity, energy, and fast pace.

The skyscrapers, the bright lights, the roar of the subways, the sound of heavy traffic, and the crowds all motivate and energize me.  They seem to also enable me to focus.  I am looking forward to living here, and experiencing this great city as a resident.  It's tiresome, and sometimes stressful, but nonetheless, it's exciting, and much more so than caffeine, excitement energizes me.

I am looking forward to my time here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Being Home in Louisiana

At the moment, I am home.  I have really enjoyed relaxing with my family.  I've eaten a lot of good food.  I've played a lot of golf, and watched a lot of Sportscenter from my hd tv.  It's been great.

My older brother and my nephew came to visit me the first week I was home.

After graduating from LSU, he immediately accepted a job in Georgia, and moved there days after his graduation ceremony.  He has since settled there, and is living a comfortable life as he and his beautiful wife, a Georgia girl, are living very successfully as they are providing a wonderful quality of live for their child.  I am very proud of all that he has accomplished, and so is the rest of my family.

His home is a six-hour drive away from my parents' house.  And at one point during our visit, we were talking about New Orleans, and he said without batting an eye, "New Orleans is a cesspool."  Although I completely disagreed, I remained silent.

As most of you know, last Sunday was Mother's day.  And apparently, a second line was held in New Orleans.  I am unable to properly explain in words exactly what a second line is in a way that would do it justice, so I posted a few videos that I found while searching through Youtube.

Second lines are one of the many unique things that make New Orleans one of America's greatest cities.  And as many of you have already heard, there was a mass shooting at one being held on Mother's Day.  And as I type this, the suspect is being brought into custody.  

I have no idea what he was thinking in doing this.  He obviously was not considering the children, because a ten-year-old boy was hit.  Luckily, the bullet grazed his head, and he suffered only minor injuries.  Just a year earlier, the same little boy survived a shooting at his birthday party where he watched his younger cousin die from a bullet wound.   

It's sad that a boy has to be exposed to such violence and carnage at such a young age.  He was shown on television via Fox 8 news here in New Orleans, and to say that he was visibly shaken would be an understatement.  It was obvious that his innocence was taken from him.  Even at such a young age, the boy was visibly angry.  

Children are supposed to merely pretend to shoot and be shot as they play army, cops and robbers, or any other game involving good and bad guys.  Or like the children that I teach in Korea, they are supposed to be learning, growing both physically and intellectually, and having fun.  They shouldn't be exposed to real life gun violence, much less be shot by a barbarian who does something that is unfortunately no longer becoming "unthinkable." 

I am going back to Korea to teach children who have no concept of anything such as that, who enjoy merely playing, and wish to not be required to study so much.  The biggest concern of the children of Korea is being mentally overworked, and staying up too late to finish homework, a problem that children in inner-city New Orleans can only dream of having.  The biggest concern of unfortunately too many of them is not watching a relative die violently in front of them, and maybe even surviving a night themselves.

It's been great to return to things like shrimp poboys, crawfish, being out on the boat on Lake Pontchartrain, and driving down St. Charles.  At the same time, it's quite sobering to return home to such a reality as the murder problem in New Orleans.  

I am not going to pretend to have all the answers, but something has to be done.  If local and national governments were able to fix it, it would have been done a long time ago, so they have proven to be worthless.  

It starts with prayer.  Pray for New Orleans.  It is not a cesspool.  It is the most unique and beautiful city in America.  And it is also a city with a major problem that has to be dealt with.  It's not right for children to have their innocence taken from them.  

Please pray for New Orleans.   

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Surreal

Merriam-Webster defines the word, surreal, as "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; also: unbelievable, fantastic."  Last Friday, I flew back to America, and to say that this week has been filled with a whirlwind of emotion would be quite an understatement.  I said my goodbyes to my school, my friends, my church, and the city of Gwangju.  Many of the events have been, no doubt, surreal.

My contract ended on April 25, just in time to fly into Los Angeles on April 26 to make it to the wedding of one of my best friends, Matt.  The wedding was at a small, but gorgeous church on sort of a cliff, overlooking the southern California pacific coast.  The architecture of the church was Spanish.  It was marked by traditional white Spanish stucco, and a red tile roof.  It is my favorite style of architecture, and I hope that maybe my house will one day be built in that manner.

From that spot, we were able to see almost all of Los Angeles, and where the Pacific ocean begins.  And the wedding commenced late in the afternoon as the sun was beginning to set, my favorite part of the day.  The windows of this church were large, and fully displayed the amazing view of the city and the coast.  The weather in Los Angeles, apparently, is always perfect, and this day was no different.  It was surreal

Matt's bride was Indian, and she was given sort of a traditional Indian style wedding, as the dresses of the bridesmaids, and the bride were uniquely Indian, colorful, and stunningly gorgeous.  I am one who admires well-kept traditions.  And at a wedding, regarding bridesmaids, I had never seen a set of dresses that were more beautiful.

The bride's dress was also uniquely and traditionally Indian, and white.  It was refreshingly modest.  She was absolutely stunning, and to say that the ceremony was beautiful wouldn't give it justice.  I was blessed to be a part of it.  It was surreal.

Another great thing that made the wedding special was seeing numerous old friends.  I haven't had a drink in over five years, and I have come to find out that another one of my friends, Adam, stopped drinking also.

The reception was at a place that was further up the hill from the church, so from the porch of the reception hall, you could see even more of the city of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.  And by the time the reception was in full swing the sun had fully set, so the view of the city was an endless field of lights as far as the eye could see.  It was surreal.

Adam and I had a moment, as we talked about the surreality of the view and the weekend.  Many of my friends still drink.  Some of them even still smoke marijuana.  And Adam said something that made me think.  He said, "I don't think that most of our friends in that reception hall who are all either drunk, stoned, or both can fully realize how surreal this moment is."

He continued,  "I've come to appreciate surreal moments such as this.  They make you feel alive.  I'm glad I quit drinking, because you can fully appreciate them in a way that you can't when you are not sober."

This week has been filled and overflowing with surreal moments.  Beginning last Sunday, I broke down, as I got up in front of my church to tell them good bye.  I also broke down when I told some of my favorite classes filled with children that I've grown to truly love that I may never see them again.  Several of my students wrote me letters in broken English explaining that they will miss me, and that they hope I have a good time in America.  My girlfriend and I broke up.  On my last day of work, I broke down as I took off my lab coat, said goodbye to the woman who helps us foreign teachers at my school, Mrs. Ahn, and my principle, Mr. Ryu, and stepped into that elevator leaving work for the last time.  The week was filled with surreality.

I've made it no secret that I am moving to Seoul.  One of my recruiters squeezed in two interviews in the morning before my flights, because it didn't take off until 6:50pm.  One of them was short, and by the book.  The other one was rather in depth, and I could tell that the director of this school was rather thorough.  She asked me a question about my teaching style.  I began to explain my style to her, which is to love my students first and foremost.  I continued by mentioning that I may never see many of my kids from my old school again.  And as I went on to explain how I really hoped that my students will remember me as a good teacher, I broke down yet again.  It was a surreal moment.  Luckily, both the people who were conducting the interview were women around whom I felt comfortable.

Many of you may think that I am this big "softie," and that may be the case, but all these moments were filled such emotion, and that interview happened when all of those surreal moments were so fresh in my mind.  I couldn't help it.  I don't think I've ever cried this much in one week.

I thank God for these surreal moments, and I don't believe I am being selfish in asking for many more.  As Adam explained, these surreal moments make us feel alive.  They enable us to appreciate life.  Luckily, Jesus says in the Bible, "Ask and you will receive.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened."  I believe God wants us to appreciate the life he gives us, and when we recognize that we are alive in these moments, we are able to more clearly see his work in our lives, and in our environments.

These surreal moments are all around us.  They don't have to always be on top of the hill in the sunset on Redondo Beach overlooking the city.  They can be every day moments in life.  The key to seeing them is to live life with a positive mindset, and a thankful heart.  Cynicism and a complaining mentality are two things that truly blind and numb a person to them.

I pray for more of them.  And my prayer is that you would experience them also.  God bless all of you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on PSY's "Gentleman"

I'll be honest with you.  I can't stop listening to PSY's new song, "Gentleman."  This morning while getting ready for work, I must have replayed that youtube video at least ten times in a row, and I found myself imitating him while shaking my hips in the privacy of my apartment.  There is no doubt that his music has a certain hypnotic quality that lots of great songs have.

I heard it for the first time last Sunday, and my immediate reaction was that whatever "it" is, PSY has it.  By "it," I am referring to that certain intangible unidentifiable quality that makes a person beyond great at what they do.  And when a person has "it" everything he/she does seems to "turn to gold."  I've been drawn to this video, more so than "Gangnam Style," ever since my first viewing.

I am one who looks at anything that goes viral with skepticism, and "Gangnam Style" was no different.  I was probably one of the last people in the world to deliberately and actively enter those key words on the search bar of and view the video in it's entirety, and enjoy it.  There's no doubt that it's a cool song, and I was intentionally late in realizing that.

My opinions of PSY were based solely on my cynicism, and my artistic elitist fear of becoming a follower.  It's rather sad that that is what prevented me from simply enjoying something that is worthy of being enjoyed.  So upon my realization of his new release, I immediately went to Youtube, and checked out the song.   

I'm not fluent enough in Korean to know exactly what the words mean, but the video makes an obvious strong statement.  And that being that lots of men hold fast to obvious strong inhibitions when they are around attractive women, and in this video, PSY is rebelling against those very inhibitions.

I've heard accusations of the video being sexist, and I find that to be laughable.  It's so ridiculous that certain Americans try to inject their cancerous political correctness into anything they deem offensive.  Everything on this planet is offensive to somebody.  Americans just need to lighten up, have fun, and stop being little children who get offended over everything they perceive as negative.

Anyway, If the video for "Gentleman" is sexist, than it is just as sexist on the part of certain attractive women to expect a man to fawn over their every desire, and to expect the man to readily submit to their standards and desires without the man knowing who she actually is as a person.  Men are just as much at fault for this as women, and PSY is heroically rebelling and breaking through these inhibitions that women, many times, expect the man who is pursuing them to hold.  

As a man from the south, I am fairly familiar with chivalry.  When walking in a building or room at the same time as a lady, I usually attempt to be the one to open the door, and allow her to enter first.  I usually try to offer my arm while walking down a set of stairs with a lady.  I've offered my coat when l've heard ladies mention that they were cold.  It's a great feeling when a lady actually appreciates it, and it is a totally different feeling when she is unappreciative, and carries an ungrateful demeanor that expects such behavior.

Korea is a place that, no doubt, has an abundance of attractive ladies.  I will take it a step further in saying that there is an abundance of women who put a strong effort into maximizing their personal appearance, and I love that.  I wish more Americans applied the same effort, but unfortunately and obviously, a significantly smaller percentage do.  But nothing makes an attractive woman look more unattractive than arrogance, haughtiness, and a sense of entitlement based solely on her personal appearance, and that is the message that this video is conveying.

I'm not saying that I agree with everything that PSY is doing in this video, because there are things that he does that are downright degrading, but that is what rock n' rollers do.  They push the edge in order to maximize the shock value.  But I do agree with his message, and that is that the inhibitions that a man holds shouldn't be based on the expectations of the attractive woman that he is currently pursuing, because different women expect different things.  A man's inhibitions should be based on his personal values, belief systems, and the convictions he feels deep within his own heart.

I like PSY, and he is showing his true colors as a true artist in this video.  Although he doesn't play the guitar, although his music is electronic, and although he isn't from the west, his music and style is rock n' roll to the core.  Just like Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Guns n' Roses, and Nirvana, he is rebellious.  He is sexual.  He does things on his terms, and he doesn't seem to be a puppet for the record companies like most other artists.  And with the video and song, "Gentleman," he has shown that he is good at what he does, and that he has staying power.  I wasn't a fan when he put out "Gangnam Style," but now I am.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dating in Korea

I realize that many of you who read my blog are people who are one or more of the following:  you are preparing to move to Korea; you are half korean, or want to know more about us halfies; you are somebody who is interested Korean culture; or you may be a friend of mine, or family member.  So the main reason you are reading this blog is for the information.  As a resident of Korea for almost two years now, I feel I can possibly shed some light on a subject that is of interest to everybody:  the dating culture in Korea.  

Please keep in mind that my knowledge is limited to Gwangju, a city roughly the size of Philadelphia.  I've only dated women from there, and the ladies that I have dated all live within the same general area of the city.  Although they were all Korean, there may be differences in how women from different cities may act, and there may be differences in how people from different parts of a particular city may act.  Numerous other factors may have made my experiences unique.  

Gwangju is a large city, and Korea is a highly populated country with numerous cities, many of them being larger than Gwangju, so these are merely observations from my experience, and are not to be taken as facts or universal truths.  

Another thing I would like for you to keep in mind is that I am a one-woman man.  I am not into "hook-ups."  I prefer not to go to bars or clubs.  I met my current girlfriend through a mutual friend that I go to church with, and we agreed to go on a blind date.  These observations are regarding the pursuit of a long-term relationship, and these may not stand when pursuing a "hook-up," as a culture exists where that obviously happens, but I prefer to not be a part of that.  With that in mind, I hope you find this to be informative.    

1.  If a Korean lady is single, chances are she lives with her parents, and they are usually more strict than western parents.  It is quite normal for an upper 20's single young professional Korean lady to be living with her mother and father, and usually she will have a curfew.  From my experience, it is not uncommon for it to be before 12.  How the lady deals with these circumstances depends solely on the individual.  

The first girl I dated, Tae Hee, would wait until her parents fell asleep, and then she would sneak out to meet me, because I worked nights, and I finished late.  Her parents had no idea that she was dating me.  The second girl I dated, had parents who sort of trusted her, so she simply told her mother where she was and who she was with, and she was usually fine with what she was doing.  Her father, on the other hand, did not know about me.  My current girlfriend, will not cross her mother under any circumstances.  I respect that, and we make the most out of the predicament.

My advice is that if you intend to be serious with your Korean girlfriend, respect the wishes of her parents.  It may be difficult, but at the same time, you must be a source of comfort, and not a source of stress.  Korean ladies already have lots to deal with, and it may come from their schooling, or their job, as they usually work such long hours by western standards.  A man who constantly works to undermine authority figures in a lady's life does nothing but bring unnecessary stress on top of that which she already has, and any reasonable woman would not want that.  Women prefer a man who makes their lives easier, and brings them comfort, and not one who complicates things.

2.  It might take you a significant amount of time for you to win a Korean lady's trust.  The first two ladies that I dated, upon initially realizing that there was potential for a relationship, gave me the same talk.  "Chrisu, I know that American man think Korean girl is easy…"  And it's not because of only that.  It's a combination of many things.  

Korean ladies are aware of the fact that westerners sign contracts in one-year increments.  They are also aware of the fact that most of them return to their respective countries once that contract is fulfilled.  If they are mature and of high character, a quality not uncommon among the Korean women that I've come across, long term possibilities will certainly be taken into account, and it will be difficult for them to trust and enter into a relationship with a man who they know will leave.  And if you expect her to move home with you, Korean society has become rather comfortable and advanced, and it is difficult for anybody to leave everything they know and are accustomed to for the unknown.   

Another inhibiting factor is the fact that she will probably be worried to some extent about how other Koreans will perceive her when she is seen in public with a western man.  I've read before that Korea is one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, and in a place where most of the people share the same hair color, eye color, and skin tone, and also in a society where "image is everything," she will be concerned with how others will perceive her when she is seen in public holding the hand of a man who dresses differently, has a different skin tone, different mannerisms, and different eye shape.  And like it or not, westerners do not have the best reputation among Koreans when it comes to dating.  She is well aware of the fact that she will stand out when she is with you, and how you act when you are with her will determine whether or not she stands out in a good or bad way.  

My advice is to be honest with her in all circumstances.  Don't pretend that you have all the answers.  When she brings up the future, sometimes it's ok to say, "I don't know," provided you show her that you have ambition, and that you care about her.  Be patient with her.  Again, a man should be a source of comfort, and not a source of unwanted stress, and if she is uncomfortable with going to a particular place, doing a particular thing with you, or taking the next step in your relationship, don't take it personally.  Be patient and understanding.  I realize that a man should be the one who pushes the boundaries in the relationship, but he should not do it in such a way that it will apply to her unwanted pressure and stress in her already stressful life.  

3.  This one is for all you halfies out there.  Times have changed, and through my experiences, I find that we are perceived differently as Korean society has become more modernized.  With that being said, I've yet to get a negative reaction by a Korean lady when I tell them that my mother is Korean.  Moreover, they love it.  

My advice is to use it to your advantage.  You have an advantage over other western men, for two reasons.  The first is that Korean ladies will sort of see you as one of them.   The second reason is you have more insights into their culture, and how Korean women think.  You've probably spent, at the very least, a significant portion of your childhood with at least one Korean woman (your mom), and who you are is indeed an asset, not a source of discrimination.     

4.  This is sort of a continuation of point #2.  If she is attractive by Korean standards and if she is of high character, and if she is with you, she obviously thinks very highly of you.  The less attractive ones will care a little less about public perception, because they are accustomed to being seen in a less positive light (That applies to people in any society).  They will be more willing to take risks to be with a man than a more attractive woman will be, because obviously the attention they receive from members of the opposite sex is less.  The more attractive ones are definitely more likely to take into account all of the factors in point #2, among others, when dating a western man, for the simple and obvious reason that they can afford to be selective.  

My advice is to have fun regardless.  If she is really attractive to Koreans, enjoy the fact that she is into you, but be patient at the same time.  Everybody knows the more attractive ladies require more work, and nothing worth having comes easily.  Korean women will probably test you more than a western lady will, and make you be the pursuer.  Enjoy the chase.  It's fun.    

You've probably noticed a common theme among all of this, which is to be patient. You may have a completely different experience, but based on mine, I can't stress that enough.  This applies to ladies of any society, but it especially applies with Korean ladies who are considering going into a relationship with a man from a different race and culture.   

5.  In a sociology class back at LSU, the professor said numerous times that Asians are the most likely of all the races to marry outside of their race.  Korean women are, no doubt, attracted to western men, but dating them is kind of frowned upon by some who are more traditional.  The more attractive she is, the more they seem to frown.  Don't let that deter you.  At the same time, you may also be seen sort of as a prize.  I have never experienced anything with so many contradictions.  It is an interesting phenomenon, so it is important to be a source of simplicity, and by that, I mean to simply have fun, and don't worry about what other people think.      

6.  Embrace your Americaness/Britishness/Canadianality/South Africaness/Australianality/New Zealandality.  If she wanted to date a Korean, she would be doing just that.  Take her for a ride, give her new experiences, and show her what it is like to be where you are from.  But at the same time, be aware of her culture, and respect it.  A proper balance must be established if you are serious about her.  

7.  If you can, befriend a western girl who dates Korean men, and converse with her about her experiences.  It could prove to be invaluable.  Her experiences can reveal to you how Korean men treat their ladies, which can give you insights into what Korean women expect.  I'm not telling you to act like a Korean man, because sometimes, they do and say things that I would never do, but you may be able to accomplish the same thing in a different way from your western perspective and methods.  

The most important thing is to have fun.  That's what it is all about, and that is what a woman from any society or culture values.  Korean women are classy, enthusiastic, and extremely feminine, so dating them can be an amazing experience, despite the difficulties and complications.  Good luck…