Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning to Live in South Korea

North Korean refugees in South Korea when allowed to talk about their problems in the South are often speaking about  difficulties with the culture of the South. One of them who is a college student and has been in the country for 5 years, writes about some of these difficulties in her column in the Catholic Times.

During the five years, she says, much has changed.  Having been born and educated in the  North, she finds many things here in the South strange and difficult to get accustomed to. One of most difficult would be the many different words of greeting:  hello...thank you...I'm  sorry. Why, she asks, is it so difficult for her to utter these words? They are not words she is accustomed to using, and so she has difficulty speaking them. When she hears these words she doesn't know how to reply, and avoids looking at the person.  Even though her head tells her to respond the lips will not  go along.

It is not that they do not have words of greeting in the North, but in the South one expresses their intentions  and thoughts so freely that it is difficult to make a response that is not awkward, she says.

Another problem develops when it comes to choosing. Those in the South also have problems with making selections, but with the writer  her problem is that she is fearful to  choose. In the North the education is the cramming method and she was brought up in a different social  structure than exists here in the South, and the opportunities to choose were not  many.  In a word, she says, they are not  practiced in the ways of choosing. When a friend asks: "What do you want to  eat, where do you want to go?"  Her constant answer is: "whatever you want."

In her first job in a market she uttered her words of greeting like a robot. It was difficult and when she got home she would practice this often to make it a habit. After a period of time this did become easier and more natural. Not only were the words of greeting easier to say but also the ability to express what she felt inside became easier.

Even when it comes to choosing, no longer does she have the problems of the past.  When asked does she want coffee or tea she readily answers: "I will have coffee". Her friends are surprised to see the change in her responses.

She has come a long way from what it was 5 years ago. Time  was necessary, but today  she is able to speak freely about her feelings and make the choices  that come her way. It did take time but today she feels she has made a successful transition  to life in the South.

How much the culture in which we live influences us is readily forgotten and yet the pressures and impact they have on our behavior is not small. What we think is our choice is not infrequently the influence of the culture, either in acquiescence or in opposition, and only rarely is it the act of a free and intelligent human being.

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