I felt a more considered and lengthy post was necessary after a few brief updates with little content. It’s looking like I’ll be landing in Seoul in late August for another foreign sojourn, after only a two week break back in Old Blighty. Its too short a time at home really, but c’est la vie. What should I expect and what can I do to prepare for living in another country?
One of the big problems is shifting expectations. After two years in Japan I’ve fell in love with its language and culture, enjoyed nights out with Japanese friends speaking (predominantly) Japanese only. Yet now I’ll be going to a country where I can’t even read the basic script, and can say no more than “please”, “thank you” and “beer” (a Tim sized foreign language vocabulary). Going back to stage one is going to be frustrating, but I’ve certainly learnt a lot about the living processes in a foreign country from my two years in Japan. Luckily the Korean script is fairly easy to master, and after a month or so I should be able to…yes…read everything! Even if I don’t understand it. Thats more than I can do at the moment in Japanese, thanks to the 2000 kanji or so required to read a newspaper (I know about 400 of these after 2 years). The other problem with living in a second foreign country is an urge to continually compare things with Japan. There’s a huge amount of Japanese culture- restaurants, manga and karaoke to name but a few- available in Seoul, so I’ll definately be able to get my fix of cool-Japanness. But its important to engage with the Korean side of things without judgement, or continual comparisons to Japan. Mind you, that would probably be the case if I was staying in the UK too, although Koreans might take a slightly dimmer view of me championing Japanese culture than Brits.
A second change is going to be moving from Okayama to Seoul. Even though my image of Korea compared to Japan is of a less developed place, Seoul will obviously be bigger, shinier and more metropolitan than Okayama is. In fact, it’ll easily be the biggest place I’ve lived. Only good can come from such shinyness.
Despite differences, the basic Asian mindset means that a move from Japan to Korea won’t be as shocking or challenging as a move from the UK to Korea would be- there are many similarities such as social hierarchy, and public manners/expected behaviour. Stereotypes are similar too- otaku teenages putting in all-nighters at Internet Cafes, wives staying at home and caring for the children while their drunken salaried husbands go out drinking obscene amounts of soju (shochu in Korean) and stealing bicycles, and an over-stuffy, inflexible beaurocracy. How true these stereotypes are I’ll have to find out…