I have always loved traveling. Since I was seven years old, I have pretty much been brought by my family on their business trips and would extend their stay so that we could be able to go around the city. It always gives me fond memories and me become more open minded about the world and other cultures. I always looked forward to the summer months since it meant that I would be going out of the country again. But two years ago, my outlook on going to a new country suddenly changed. It was the year 2006.
I was having dinner with my parents when they had advised me that they would be going to South Korea for a convention and they want me to come along with them. For the first time, I actually winced at the idea that I was going to another country. Of all the places, I had to go to South Korea for an entire week! Do not get me wrong. I have nothing against South Korea. But, let’s just say I have had my share of encounters with them that I would rather forget and somehow gave me a negative impression of Koreans. Recently, more and more Koreans have been migrating to my country, which has nothing wrong.
But things began to change when a Korean couple transferred right next to our house. Oftentimes, I would be awakened during the wee hours of the morning with their argument so frequently I would either find myself unable to sleep after. At least once a week, police would have to go into my neighborhood in order to intervene. After a few months, the couple moved away. The first night that they left was the first peaceful sleep I had for such a long time. In another instance, I was waiting patiently in line for my turn at a Starbucks, when lo and behold! Two boisterous teenagers cut in line in front of me.
I tapped the shoulder of one of the girls and told them to line up properly. She tattled off a few words I did not understand rather irritated, but did not budge. The man behind me just sneered and muttered “Koreans! ” I just rolled my eyes, remembering the rowdy couple who caused me not to have enough sleep for a very long time. Because of these experiences, I developed a sense of prejudice against Koreans. Every Korean I see around for were the same: loud, rude, boisterous and bossy. Up until I arrived at the airport in Incheon, I carried that prejudice with me.
But when I met my father’s colleagues, I had to swallow everything I thought Koreans were. They bowed as they greeted us, which I have learned in my previous travels is a sign of respect. Strange, I thought to myself. Koreans back home don’t do this to us. I met our translator. A young girl named Nari. It felt very awkward. Nari and I became immediate friends, like long lost kindred spirits who have found each other again. During the travel to the hotel, I found myself very confused. I began to wonder if this is all a show. After all, my encounters with Koreans in my home country have not been the most pleasant.
I was more amazed when we reached the hotel. As I went to the trunk of the car we were riding, one of the men that invited my parents to the convention stopped me and began to motion that he would take care of it. I was shocked! Here he was, a middle aged man, smartly dressed in a coat and tie carrying my luggage, while here I was, dressed in a shirt and jeans and sneakers as well as a jacket of my college. Our translator, Nari, explained to us that in South Korea, if you are the guest, the host takes care of everything. I couldn’t help but find that so funny since back home in my country that was also how we were brought up.
If we invite a guest, especially if the guest is from overseas, you would have to make sure that your guest feels right at home. After dinner and a few hours of chatting with the help of Nari, we headed to our hotel room and slept. For the next few days, Nari and the men who had greeted us in the airport toured my family and me around Seoul and other cities in South Korea. During these few days, Nari and I had also become good friends, partly because we were both college students and we were almost the same age, not to mention that we were taking up the same degree.
She had also done an excellent job in translating everything that my father’s friends were telling us. She would even take our pictures for us. They were completely different from how the Koreans back in my country act, making me wonder why there are so many differences between those I am mingling now with in South Korea and those that I see in my country. Nari invited me to go out so that she could be able to show another side of Korea that people of our generation would appreciate, but our parents would not. We went around two malls.
What surprised me was that underneath the streets that for the past few days I have been walking on, there was another city thriving below. It amazed me! It was a city underneath a city. I asked Nari while we wove through the people why this was constructed like this. She explained to me that the reason for this city was built underneath the streets is just in case the North would wage war against them, they would still be able to continue living life in a relatively normal fashion underneath all the destruction. It struck me. We made our way in this quiet coffee shop where I awkwardly asked Nari about it.
“Everyday we live with the real threat that North Korea would attack us with their nuclear missiles,” she told me rather somberly. “You are lucky you live in a country that does not have to worry about war. That is why many people here try to get away. Those who are able to get out of the country do so. Those who can’t, they send their children away, just like me. ” “What do you mean? ” I asked as I sipped on my coffee. “Mama and Papa have to attend business here. But since they do not want to take a risk that my brother and I are still here when war breaks out, they sent my brother and me to study in America.
Lots of families here would do anything to leave the country. In fact, some are so desperate that they would even try illegal ways to get out of the country. ” She took a sip of her coffee and stared at the cup. “Sometimes, I myself get embarrassed when I tell them that I am a Korean because they consider Koreans loud, unruly and rude. Who can I blame them? I myself feel ashamed on some of my own countrymen when I see them act in school. Because of a certain few, we have all been stereotyped as such. ” I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt. She was right, and I was one of them. My stomach was in knots as she confided in me.
Then it got me thinking. How many of my own countrymen have done acts that have caused other countries to look down at us? For the chance of a better life, some of my own countrymen had also resorted to doing whatever it took, just as her countrymen were doing. The moment they arrived to the “Promised Land,” they feel like they have become the kings and queens of the world such that their actions present them in such a negative manner. As we chatted on that evening, we both realized that we were not so different from each other. We were both members of a nationality other people have created a stereotype outlook towards.
But these stereotype prejudices are nothing more than the result of the actions of a certain few, yet have caused many people to generalize us. Of all my trips abroad, this was one that really taught me a lot. I became more acceptable of the Koreans back in my country. True, they may still be bossy, they may be rude and they may still be cocky. But instead of getting annoyed, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Here I am, living in my own country, free and able to go on with my normal life while here they were, forced to leave their own country in order to give their families a chance for a better life.