July 1, 2015
This topic might seem like it came out of left field, but it’s something that we always discuss amongst ourselves. What is our place in Korea? What is our national identity now, after having lived abroad for such a significant portion of our lives? Are we still…Canadian? How has living here changed us? And we’re not just talking in terms of how we look or what we eat. How has living in Korea changed what we think about the world as a whole? What is our place in the world?
Some things on the surface have changed. The importance of holidays for us is vastly different now than before. Christmas is usually such a big deal, and people stress out over whether the turkey is prepared properly, or if the tree is decorated properly, but once you’re in a country that doesn’t offer turkey at a non-bankrupting price, you learn to do with less. And not only do you do with less, but you enjoy that less so much more. The chicken sandwich you have with your friends in Korea over Christmas you appreciate more than the “perfect” typical Christmas back home, because it’s routine back home, and far less precious and challenging. It’s the lack of Christmas that makes you appreciate it more than you would in its abundance.
Otherwise, there are holidays we just don’t care much for anymore. Today is Canada Day! It was a big deal for us before, but now we’re just like “oh. It’s Canada Day. Still gotta get to the studio and make a video, though!” I’m sure it’d be super fun if we were back home, but we’re so used to not celebrating it now that it doesn’t really feel like we need it anymore. Thanksgiving as well. We haven’t celebrated it in…oh man I can’t remember. So on the one hand, when we do try to celebrate holidays that aren’t represented well overseas, we appreciate it more than we otherwise would, because we put more effort into it than we would otherwise, but not celebrating holidays doesn’t affect us as bad as it would if we were in a country that celebrates them, you know?
Our next point, one that has deep ramifications, is nesting. Really! Especially if you’re a married couple, I think, this is a big one. You have an idea of what your ideal home should look like, what kind of rugs and cutlery you should have. You think about things to hang on your wall, what kind of entertainment system you want to set up. What tools should you have in your shed. What rug will you have in your living room. What shoe rack will you have by your front door. If you’re living back home, you can start investing in filling up your apartment or house with stuff. If you’re living overseas, though, you don’t typically get as many things as you normally would. Why? Because you know you’re not going to be there forever. Why buy a couch if you’re not going to have it for 10 years? You settle on a couch you’d find on Craigslist, or even on a couch that you’d find on the streets. You settle for a secondhand TV instead of a new one. You don’t get the nice bed frame you want because bringing that out of the country would be a huge hassle. For us, a big issue we had to come to grips with was the idea of our library: we love books, and back in Canada I’ve got a great collection of books, lots of rare books as well. In Korea, though, I just use a Kindle. Buying and bringing books with me everywhere isn’t an option.
What this all means, then, is that you come to realize that you can live with a lot less than you’d settle for if you were living back home. You’re more streamlined, live with less excess. Sure, you might buy a picture or two to hang up on your walls, and you’ll try to make your place kinda homely if you’re living abroad, but that impending sense of uncertainty as to how long you’ll be living there dictates that you’ll be collecting a lot less.
Even the concept of ownership changes. Sure, I’d love own a house and have a lawn and a lawnmower and a garage and tools to build stuff with, but that’s not really possible in Korea. Without all of that, though, I have a different sense of freedom rather than stability. And I think it’s a great thing to live with. A lack of a feeling of permanence is…existential in a way, isn’t it? I mean, we’re not even citizens in Korea. We don’t have permanent residence. Every year we have to go to immigration, show them our papers, prove that we’re doing everything legally, show them how much money we’re earning. We have to prove to them that we have a right to live here. Most people don’t have to struggle for that. Living where you live is your granted right. You can’t be deported out of the country you were born in. For us, this permanence isn’t for granted. There’s no permanence, no promise for us here. But with that, we always feel like we can, if we ever wanted to or ever needed to, we could easily get up and go, since we don’t own that many things. It’s almost like playing Skyrim: you can move a lot more freely if your bags are lighter, but once your bags are too full moving is almost impossible to move on.
On some even deeper level, we often hear about how we’re “guests” in Korea, which I always find a preposterous metaphor. If I ever have guests over at my house, I cook for them, let them use my stuff, and show them a good time. I don’t make them pay taxes, test them for AIDS, and file paperwork to live in my house for a limited time. But I do agree with the feeling of impermanence in Korea akin to being a guest in a home. Altogether, though, we are – and don’t make fun of me here – guests on Earth as a whole. Whether you’re living in Korea for a decade or living in Canada for 100 years, your time here is limited. Living as an expat gives a stronger sense of impermanence than I originally had before traveling, and I think it’s very valuable and should be applied even to people that never leave their homes. No one’s home will be their home forever, and being comfortable with this instability is, I think, important to life altogether…maaaaaan.
Ok this got weird. If you have any thoughts on the matter, on living abroad and how it changed you, we’d love to hear it. We could just be thinking about this too much and probably just need to go outside and get some sunlight. That could be it…