Sunday, 3 May 2009

Culture Shock

When one visits a country on a tour, you are usually isolated somewhat to the big picture of culture shock. You might be staying in a hotel or other accommodation where things are a little different to what you are familiar with, but you probably have the comfort of a tour guide or friends or family so that you can detach yourself a little from the strangeness of life in the country.

But living in a new country and being alone produces a new set of challenges. I reflect on my journey to China in early 2008, and to south Korea in 2009, and I think about the "shock" that I have over come.

In China I was fortunate in that I had other English Teachers, (and Australians at that, to help me), but even then I commented to several that since I was living alone in my apartment the learning was reduced somewhat. For example, let me explain. If two people that live together/in the same apartment or are CLOSE associates, come to a new country - there are two minds taking in all the new information - the new places, the new rules, the new ways things are done - and they will help one another out. For example, one might notice the post box, where the other doesn't, but in conversation about posting a letter one will say -"Oh, I saw it - it is near......" for example. When one is on one's own - this sort of learning is limited.

Here in Korea - I really am alone. I have met some English teachers here - but I've seen little of them. I work when they are off and vice versa. I've not been to anyone's "house" so I have to learn by "trial and error". My close asociates are Korean. So even when I ask a question there is sometimes need for further explanation and often I don't succeed in getting the right answer.

I have been taken to many places in and around Jeonju and I'm delighted to discover these new places, but as my "tour guide" has always been Korean I often learn little, especially if there are more than one Korean folk in the car as they tend to forget I have no idea what the conversation is about. They mostly speak in Korean.

And I'm at their "mercy" - I generally get little choice about where I am going. Of course I know little about the place, so it would not be easy for me to participate in the decision making process sometimes.

And so it is that I take about two weeks to settle in a little before I venture out myself. I am always "armed" with my cellphone (which I hope not to use as it is always a challenge for me!), and a map, and some papers with addresses on so that I can get a taxi to come home to "my house".

On my days off I always venture out. Each time getting more adventurous. My Korean companions worry about me. They can't believe that this Aussie lady with no Korean can get so far. And get home alone without help!

Last night we went to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in the centre of the city. It is quite a lively city after dark.

I was pleased with myself as I was familiar with the area. I had been there two days ago. During daylight. My Korean friends said it is best to come at night - it is much busier, and much more fun. I agreed with them - but stated that I don't take risks. The idea of walking around Jeonju alone at night does not appeal - though it is not because I wouldn't feel safe. Simply it is not much fun on one's own and I don't like to tempt fate. If something happened at night - I would be right out of my comfort zone. (There were so many foreigners in town so that maybe it is not as uncomfortable as I might think.)

It is the JIFF - Jeonju International Film Festival - so there are lot of out of town people in here for this event.

In any case I am not as overcome by all the differences between the Australian and Korean cultures. I am more comfortable here now. Still a lot to learn. It is hard to beleive in some way that I am halfway through my tenure here.

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