Hello from Washington State!
I can hardly believe it’s already been three months since we arrived from Korea. We just unpacked our last boxes of books last week and are finally feeling a bit settled. The transition took much longer coming back than it did going.
Neither my spouse nor I was prepared for the culture shock we would experience returning to the country of our birth. Parenting in the States is a whole other ball game, and we are still getting our bearings.
We also underestimated how difficult it would be for our son, who had only been here once when he was 7 months old. Despite our best intentions and what we thought was good preparation, it was a hard landing for all of us.
Thankfully, things are starting to change and we’re all feeling comfortable and content and present. It’s been three months of feeling in between two places, with daily (and sometimes hourly) utterly heartbreaking questions from our little one about when we will be returning home to Seoul. And of course, now that we’re all settled, our baby is due to arrive any day, throwing all of our new comfortable routines out the window. Such is life, right? Constant change with all of us just trying to keep up with as much dignity and grace as we can muster.
I find myself filled with unanswerable questions about how life will be with a new baby. Will I have enough time with my firstborn? Will our relationship change? Will I ever have time for myself or my spouse or our relationship? Will my body recover? What will it feel like to be the mother of two? Am I ever going to find my parenting tribe here? And on and on and on.
If I’ve learned anything from the times I’ve lived abroad it’s that unknowns eventually become known and in the meantime, you just make it work. Life will be what it will be.
My husband’s paternity leave has already begun so this morning we all walked down to the Farmer’s Market. It’s one of those perfect Pacific Northwest days with sun and breeze and Mt. Rainier looming. As we drank our hibiscus tea and nibbled on some vegan tamales, all the while surrounded by the heady fragrance of freshly cut bouquets of lilacs, I felt completely at peace, perhaps since the first time since we’ve stepped off the plane.
You know what that means, right? Come on baby. We’re ready.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Ms. V. who we are happy to announce at the time of this posting has given birth to her families’ new addition. Both baby and mom are doing great!
Do you sometimes feel like as soon as you become settled in a routine in life, something inevitable changes creating a new variable?
*Photo uploaded from PotoBucket from Jawandapuck
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?
Photo Credit : Mafuyou/Flicker Creative Commons
Last week over 650,000 South Korean students took their college entrance exams. To give you an idea of how important this day is to Korean families, consider the following: banks and government offices open late, air traffic is rerouted, extra metro trains and buses are added to the schedule, and police officers are deployed to ensure that students arrive on time for the exam. In addition to this many of the parents of these students spend the 100 days leading up to the exam fervently praying at temple, performing 3,000 bows for good luck.
What is perhaps most striking about this yearly ritual, as an outsider looking in, is how everyone in the country sees it as their duty to ensure that these students make it on time and do well on their exams. The amount of pressure to succeed academically is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.
South Korea does indeed lead the world in measurable academic success. They have one of the highest rates of literacy in the world, in addition to scoring very high on international standardized tests, especially when compared to Western nations. Unfortunately, South Korea also leads in the world in another unfortunate and surprisingly related area: suicide.
As of 2011, suicide is the leading cause of death among South Koreans under the age of 40. In the age group from 15-24, worry over academic performance is cited as the reason. Every year after the exams there are reports of these “Exam Suicides”.
Suicide affects every culture, not just this one, but it is deeply troubling to observe just how widespread it is here, not only among young people, but within the general population as well. Long seen as a private and personal issue, the government has finally taken steps in recent years to stem the tide. There are call centers and prevention groups receiving government funding, as well as dedicated employees who search the internet and social media for suicide-related posts. Within the last few months a specific type of pesticide was banned, as it had been commonly used in suicides.
Preventing access to means and providing support will be effective up to a point, but perhaps a closer look must be taken at the cultural obsession with academic success. I was thinking of all those kids taking the test last week, wondering how it must feel to know that the entire country is invested in how you do on this test. Such immense pressure! I can’t even imagine.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, South Korea is at a very interesting point culturally. It has rapidly modernized and continues to do so while still having deep roots to the Confucian principles that have guided society for generations.
It is the intersection of new economic realities and globalization with older traditions of filial piety and family honor that seem to be most challenging to navigate.
As long as suicide is seen as an honorable exit because of failure to live up to expectations or, in the case of older people, to unburden the family from the need to provide for aging relatives, the numbers will at the very least remain somewhat steady. As the culture changes, so too will the rates of suicide, I suspect.
But how many people’s children will die in the meantime?
The results of the exams will be announced on November 27th. Until then, we all wait, hope, and pray.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by S. Korean Contributor Ms. V.
Do you think it is possible to have such academic success without all the pressure?
As the world watches and wonders what, if anything, is going to transpire as a result of North Korea’s recent threats against South Korea and the US, we sit here in Seoul going about life as usual. Indeed if it weren’t for the international news coverage, I could have easily remained blissfully unaware of what our neighbor to the north has been up to these past few weeks.
Perhaps because they are used to it, or perhaps because stopping everything is simply not an option, South Koreans continue on with life. I suspect it’s a combination of the two. If there is a great deal of fear about the threats, it is not apparent. There seems to be more of a sense of annoyance that we have to play out this charade once again. It is incredibly frustrating that North Korea can set a whole region of the world on edge with these oft-repeated promises of obliteration. (more…)