After several very happy years here in Seoul, we are returning stateside. As I reflect on our time here and the coming transitions ahead I am feeling a bit anxious, a bit sad, and quite sentimental. I’m digging deep, hoping to find some excitement in there too, but so far no luck.
The day we left Seattle and moved to Asia we showed up at the airport with four large bags, three cats, and one golden retriever. I’m sure adding the 32-week pregnant weepy lady to the mix and the concerned husband trying to keep us all together, we were quite a sight to behold.
This time, we’ll be showing up with some more large bags, three cats, one toddler, and yet again, a weepy pregnant lady, this time 28 weeks pregnant.
Apparently I am destined to only move to the other side of the world while very pregnant.
Like everywhere else in the world, there is a lot to love about Korea as well as a lot of room for improvement, but it will always hold a special spot in my heart as it is where my husband and I first became parents. Being so far away from our families and friends as we made that huge transition was both challenging, and freeing. It was hard, but we had lots of space to make mistakes and figure out who we were, and who we wanted to be in those roles with no outside, though well-meaning, pressure or advice. That was and is priceless.
Seoul is an incredibly comfortable place to live. It’s a massive city with every amenity you could ever imagine and many that you couldn’t. (Cat café, anyone?) There is abundant, affordable, and efficient public transit, the streets are clean and safe, and you could never run out of things to do and see.
The things I will miss most:
Accommodation of and attitudes towards children. Probably partially due to the low birth rate and partially to the deeply emphasized culture of family, children are valued here in a way that I have never witnessed elsewhere. Thoughtful amenities for mothers and small children abound. There are public nursery spaces in department stores, train stations, bus stations, and elsewhere that offer clean and comfortable places to change a diaper, feed a hungry baby, or lay one down for a nap. Beyond this there is a general attitude of celebration and excitement surrounding babies, even if they are cranky and loud. I’ve never gotten anything other than sympathy and supportive offers of help when I’ve been out and about with a crying baby. Children have their own holiday here, Children’s Day, and it is a very big deal. The phrase “it takes a village” to raise a child is one that seems to be taken to heart here.
The greater good is more important than individual. This one can be a double-edged sword, obviously, but it is, in my humble opinion, the secret to the rapid economic growth and progress that Korea has seen in the last 50 years. Koreans take a great deal of pride in their “all for one and one for all” attitude and they have a lot to show for it: a 97% literacy rate; some of the highest test scores in the world in reading, math, and the sciences; a low unemployment rate; and national health insurance. This means Koreans have access to health care, quality education, and work at greater rates than many other developed countries. The value of this cannot be underestimated. Again, there are two sides to every coin, but for someone like me, coming from a country that focuses more on the rights of the individual this has been an interesting thing to observe. It reminds me of how my grandparents used to describe the American spirit during and immediately after WWII.
The food. Oh how I could go on and on about the food. Korean food is just amazing. It is simple, mostly healthful, colorful, and delicious. I will miss it terribly.
The things I’m looking forward to:
Friends and family. While it has been nice to have our space as we became parents, we’ve also deeply missed our loved ones. To have them closer, to be able to visit more frequently, will be a very welcome change. Especially with a new baby on the way! I have no idea what it’s like to have a new baby and have friends and family at the ready to offer help, food, shoulders to cry on, and ears for listening.
The food. Ok, so I love Korean food but I’m also going to love having easy access to all the old familiar and favorite ingredients. I’ve learned to do without in the years we’ve been here, but I’m pretty darn excited about easily getting my hands on pretty much anything I want.
Green, green, green. Speaking of double-edged swords, the rain in the Pacific Northwest may be a particular challenge to my constitution, but the luscious green it brings with it cannot be ignored. I love Seoul and I love big cities in general, but I am looking forward to that crisp mountain air, the beauty and peacefulness of Puget Sound, and all those evergreens.
As we slowly pack our things and make preparations for our departure, I feel so very grateful to have experienced this culture, which is so completely different to the one I was born into. The thing I have learned first and foremost is the abiding truth that humans are all much more alike than they are different.
Korean culture is valuable on it’s own, of course, but seen more generally in contrast to Western culture, it has given me an opportunity to observe a very different way of approaching society and the world in general. The way societies choose to organize themselves offers deep insights into what they value most. As with everything, these values are constantly changing and I look forward to being a keen observer of both Eastern and Western values as I age. Both have much to learn from each other and a balance between the two seems to me to be ideal. I’d like to see a deep and abiding commitment to the family structure without preset ideas of who and what makes a valid family; an emphasis on the common good that also allows for free expression and individuality; a high value placed on education and literacy that does not put undue pressure on students to seek perfection. I could go on but I will end here by saying that I look forward to incorporating the best of both cultures into my life and family, as a start.
I’ll be writing again from our new home in Washington State, once we get settled. In the meantime, be well!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog.
Have you ever lived abroad? What are the things you miss about where you were or home?