The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Friday, September 14, 2012

“I Wish Things Were Like This At Home…”

By:  Brittany S

While I was sitting there looking at her that’s when it hit me; things are different because of me.  How could I have been so naïve to that fact?

I just moved to a new city three weeks ago and I have a new “best friend”.  Now of course we aren’t true best friends—the type that go in each other’s fridges, know each other’s parents’ phone numbers, been each other’s wingman then shoulder to cry on after the breakup.  We’re not even the besties that use the bathroom and talk to each other while the other is in the shower (Too far?).

"You and me must ne-vah part...ma-tee-da-da."
But, if anyone knows what is going on with me and/or where I am, she does.

But how is this possible in such a short time?  Two words:  FOREIGNER FRIENDLY.  These words mean more to me than just that that locals welcome/embrace foreigners or that there is an English translation available.  It means when foreigner meets foreigner, we (generally) become really friendly!  Initially knowing our only commonalities to be English speaker and non-Korean, we are more willing to do a lot of things within the first 24-48 hours of “knowing” each other:

·         Exchange phone numbers
·         Add each other on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
·         Tell each other where we work and live (and sometimes even give each other the key codes to get into each other’s apartment buildings/rooms) as well as how/why we are in Korea and where we are from
·         Go to each other’s apartments
·         Go to dinners, bowling parties, etc and not know a single person in attendance
·         Hug or have some other form of familial physical contact
·         Ask for and/or offer career advice
·         Give or loan goods and services

I don't even know them.  I invited them to sing w/us & they were HILARIOUS.  I don't think I would be so "friendly" in the middle of the night if we were stateside.

All of this is possible without even knowing each other’s last name!  It may seem as though these newly-formed relationships are superficial (and in some cases, they are), but we sincerely develop somewhat intimate relationships with each other in an astoundingly short time.  It’s human nature to seek out those who are similar to us.  Whether our similarities be along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, beliefs, etc, we feel most comfortable among our own.  Do you remember where you sat in the high school cafeteria?  The need to belong and be accepted is great among the human race and we thrive off of some kind of interaction with others.

Yea, I think it is a little like "Mean Girls"...even where you SIT determines sooo much about you smh.

In a country where English is not the native tongue, I’ve come to realize how important verbal communication is and isn’t at the same time.  It amazes me how my eyes would light up when I saw another foreigner walking the streets, as something as basic as being able to talk to them excited me.  If we ever had the chance to formally meet, we would have started to see a place in each other’s lives.  And yet, there are moments where all we share is a laugh and that's enough of a language to know what the other person wants to say.  But why can’t things be like this at home (in America)?

How many people in this picture do you think speak English?  I'll give you a hint, only the ones that look like me do.  We communicate with more than just vocabulary.

While I was sitting there looking at her that’s when it hit me; things are different because of me.

At the risk of making us sound like participants in a salivating dog experiment, we are conditioned to think and behave in a certain way from birth.  The socialization in America is phenomenal.  I’m sure we can all think of people who vote Republican because their father does and that’s just “the way things are.”  Or the girl who won’t tell anyone she likes Winnie the Pooh because her friends said liking cartoon characters is for babies.  There is a suppressed personality inside of all of us; putting yourself in unfamiliar surroundings allows for it to come out.

When you get off the plane, you are filled with a spectrum of emotions and questions.  As time goes on, you start to balance out, but your personality and character exponentially develops.  Just in my brief stint abroad, I have seen/done/learned so much. (Click here to see a little more of my travel story!)  Some things are forever changed in me.

·         I love to travel.  Someone once said the adult sticker book is a passport.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Every time I get a new stamp I feel the same exhilaration as getting a new Lisa Frank sticker book (remember those?).


Can you believe we are at a BOWLING ALLEY?! Yea, we got hard in the paint for some karaoke!
·         I am unique.  That is a stronger, more positive word than “different.”  I embrace it.  If people don’t understand my fashion choices for instance, it is because the pants I wear are Thai pants and my jewelry is from Jamaica and Malaysia.  I can’t expect them to be accepting, or even understanding of me.  They haven’t been unplugged as I have.  It’s ok.  They don’t know any better. ;-)

·         Food is delicious almost EVERYWHERE.  You just have to be willing to try it (and at times, get over the presentation or ingredients of it)!
This food looked a little like vomit haha but as you can see, we devoured it.
·         Most importantly, I’ve learned that it is ok to be yourself.  It is almost required.  Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”  No matter whom you choose to be, make sure that is who you really are.  Even when we say someone dances to the beat of their own drummer, that still means it is them and the drummer!  Don’t hide who you are in fear of isolation.  If we are our true selves, we will attract the correct circle around us.

I pretty much met them all the same night.  We ended up having dinner & spending HOURS thinking we are Whitney/Mariah/Toni/Janet haha.  Now we hang out regularly & I've even had a sleepover with one of them!

Traveling has allowed me to come to my own resolutions about these and many other things at warp speed.  I think this is perhaps why things are so different here than back home, especially in terms of relationships.  All the highs and lows we would experience with people back home is fast-forwarded here.  In our familial surroundings, we listen to family, friends, media, politics, religion, etc.  When you move to a place where no one knows your face, name, or even language, an enormous socialization burden is lifted.  A lot of societal voices are silenced.  When our own voice is the most clear, so is our sense of direction and purpose; so are we.

Thanks Abbie! (My new hair stylist haha you like?)

As bizarre as it may sound, I came to all these conclusions one day when I was out with my new bestie and chuckling at how we already have inside jokes and each other’s back stories.  My guard is completely down with her and many others I encounter here.  I pray I never feel the need to throw up a wall again when I move on from this place.  So here’s to Abbie, who unknowingly helped me to realize that it isn’t necessarily Korea specifically that changed my behavior, but my own maturity when I allowed my voice to be the only one to speak for me.  Silence is more than golden; it's eye-opening.

**If you can’t afford to travel internationally, I highly recommend domestic travel to place totally unfamiliar to you.  The silence is there for everyone, you just have to find it.


  1. Great post! As many of us who have lived in the RoK, we have learned far more and gained more wisdom in comparison to being home stateside. I can truly say that my RoK experience changed me for the better and I have been home for 3 years. That eye-opener was necessary to allow me to find out what I believe, what I stand for and who I am. I am not just an American but the American who was brought into this world alone without knowledge of anything but the fact that it was something new. I was conditioned to act or talk a certain way but my freedom was gained as I ventured to other countries not allowing others to decide for me or inform me of the news. My eyes are wide open and will NEVER be closed unless I decide to close them.

  2. I don't know who replied to the post above, but let the choir say, "AMEN!"

  3. Thank you both for the love! I'm glad you can relate! :-)

  4. How dare u call Dak Galbi vomit!

  5. Great Post ... ( not nearly strong enough )Keep em coming !