Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Being the Minority

Korea is considered one of the most homogenous countries in the world.  Foreigners have only begun to infiltrate this small nation.  To see anyone that isn’t Korean or Asian outside of a tourist spot is an oddity.  For the first time in my life, I find that I’m the minority.  It’s not an unpleasant feeling, but it is unfamiliar – to look around and know you look different.

Before I arrived, I was told people would stare at me and my husband.  They do – but most are discreet when they steal glances at us.  It’s okay – I’m examining the faces around me too.  It’s the elderly who seem to be most fascinated – they stare openly.  A couple of men have grabbed my hand or arm, it seems just to touch me and issue a silent greeting.

That attention is nothing compared to what my niece and nephew are experiencing in Korea.  They are 7 and 3 years old and very fair – light hair and bright blue eyes.  Korean people just don’t want to meet them – they want to touch them – to ruffle their hair and grab their hand.  They offer candy, take pictures, and try to coax a conversation with them.  They stare unabashedly.  They’re utterly fascinated and tickled by their presence here.

Some people are curious enough to approach us and ask where we’re from, although most guess America.  They want to know why we’re here in their country.  They’re not surprised to hear the answer that we’re teaching English.  But, I love that curiosity.  They’re happy we’re here and they’re happy to tell us about their country.

Looking different has created a strange sensation – you immediately notice someone else in the crowd who’s white.  Not just because of the color of their skin, but because of what it means.  Here it likely means they speak English – and it’s amazing how wonderful your own language can sound.

Our family having Korean BBQ together.  Yes, we stand out.

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