Before Korea, after Korea

I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I can do now that I couldn’t do before I came to Korea / when I first arrived here, and also all the habits I’ve formed since coming here.

So without further ado, let’s begin the list.

How has Korea changed me?

I can now…

  • Fly internationally alone (I don’t like it, but I can do it).
  • Understand most basic Korean conversations around me – to the point where one of the P.E./head teachers has befriended me at lunch and taken to conversing with me where he speaks mostly Korean and I answer in English, which is entertaining for everyone. “I’m funny guy,” he laughed confidently the other day, to the amusement of all.
  • Ride the bus without freaking out (much). (To be fair, if you can’t get a seat and have to stand, you’d best secure a death grip on the nearest object within 2 seconds of boarding because it’s gonna be a wild ride.)
  • Eat very spicy foods like a pro – i.e., no more watery eyes, runny nose, or uncontrollable coughing. In fact, I now prefer for most Korean dishes to have a kick to them. In the same vein…
  • Eat all my Korean food groups like a good little expat. My taste buds have totally transformed in the last 2 years, narrowing my “can’t do it” foods to a very small list indeed. I find that Koreans often strongly connect certain foods with certain events or feelings. Hot, nasty, humid day? Mul naengmyeon (cold soup & noodles). Birthday? Seaweed soup. New Year’s Day? Rice cake soup. Feeling sick? Juk (porridge) or samgyetang (chicken & ginseng soup). Rainy, gloomy day, or feeling sad? Samgyeopsal (bbq pork belly) and soju. Stressed out or angry? Super spicy food and soju. Just climbed a mountain? Jeon (savory veggie pancakes) and makgeolli (rice wine). (Is there a pattern here? Koreans love their alcohol, man.) I’ve come to really enjoy this aspect of Korean culture, and have begun craving specific dishes based on particular emotions/circumstances myself. I’ve even conquered my nemesis, fish jjim, in spite of my former assertions that I was giving up on liking it. It, like everything else in Korean cuisine, has its time and place to be eaten. Namely, after a stressful day when you need something mega spicy to get rid of your stress and frustrations. With soju. Speaking of which…
  • Drink half a bottle of soju.

I cannot now…

  • Make small talk (disclaimer: not that I was necessarily great at this to begin with)
  • Greet people without a head bow
  • Speak without pausing every 2-3 words and monitoring my own sentences to make sure they’re not too long or complicated. I’ve heard this called “riding the brake” among foreigners here.
  • Use articles correctly. It deeply perturbs me how many times I’ve caught myself saying “This is dog.” “I will go to supermarket.” A and the are falling out of my vocabulary. Even worse, this week I caught myself failing at subject/verb agreement- “They are zombie.*” “These are apple.” send help. quickly.

*Halloween week, you know.

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