The #1, most important lesson Korea has taught me

There is a huge elementary public school on my street. Every morning, I am awoken with the thunderous sound of a thousand children playing together. At first, I viewed this unceremonious alarm clock to be the bane of my existence.

I have grown so accustomed to their screams and shrills, that it is discernible to me when some of the banshees are playing some school yard game. They are the ones who can be heard screaming in harmony. Maybe it is a coping mechanism, but I somehow have grown to rely upon the regularity of their barbaric sounding play time.

The playground is more than a sacred place of dodgeball happenings- it is their symphony hall, and society’s classroom. Though I cannot claim the following to be an incontrovertible truth- as my *working* knowledge of Korean is strictly limited to: vague directions, Kimbop orders and the various ways of counting to five (there are 3)- the international ballad of a school child is “girls are from Venus and boys are from Mars.”

Spending so much time with little humans (woe is me) who are learning the rules of social etiquette through play, it has become more apparent with each passing day that girls are, indeed, different than boys. Whether you believe it is because our brains are wired differently, or because Eve took an “apple” (pomegranate) from a serpent, or because of chromosomes… girls are actually different than the more fortunate sex.

I am not saying one of the above is true. I love slides. Slides are my favorite but that one looks like it has an awfully slippery slope. What I am saying is that the differences start to form when we are least aware of it…as in, when we are screaming our heads off in symphony halls and are being socialized to believe there is an inherent difference, when compared to the people using a different lavatory.

Growing up as a strong-willed girl my opinions and beliefs were silenced. I couldn’t be louder than my father, and the decisions I made or opinions I voiced were always wrong- because I made them. This inevitably snowballed into quickly learning that my opinions and decisions must be validated not only by the people around me; but especially those holding positions superior to mine. More often than not, that person was a man.

If said approval and subsequent praise was not immediate and steadfast; either I, or my opinions were unworthy…or oftentimes, both.

As one might imagine, a young strong-willed girl growing up learning those things might also develop problems with authority. I can’t even tell you how many times I cried at work because “I made a mistake” or was brought into my boss’ office to talk…there have been a variety of times. Far more than I desire to count.

When I think back on each occasion ending in a tear stained blouse, some of those talks were justified. I fudged stuff up and the resulting talks were warranted, and fair. The sad truth is that more often than not, they were extremely unfair. One moment in particular stands out, and I don’t think I will ever be able to forget it.

I was technically working as an “office assistant.” In actuality, I was a building manager for the man who owned a collection of office buildings.

It was my job it was to oversee all day-to-day operations involved with owning those buildings: rent collecting, fixing the roof, landscaping, snow plowing etc. I was not receiving benefits of any kind, I was working unpaid overtime, running errands for my boss…like driving his wife to a multitude of hospital appointments…in my own car…without reimbursement for gas.

I was just out of college, had no real-world work experience and was given no job training. It was my boss, one other girl and I in our office.

In the end, I was fired because I had made mistakes. This was true, but I was in way over my head, had not received training of any kind and was yelled at for being stupid every time I asked a question. Not to mention that I was grossly underpaid. I sat there, listening to him insult me in the most unprofessional way imaginable.

Sitting there, writhing with anger all I could do was stare blankly into his cold, dead eyes and say “yes.” Yes.

How dare he insult me when I had worked so hard and for so long to please him? I had never felt more taken advantage of in my entire life. I was embarrassed for never speaking up for myself. I was ashamed that I had worked so long for approval that never came; and further ashamed that I had been fired- for mistakes I actually made. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone- not my friends, not even my family. It was embarrassing enough, but it just so happened to coincide when I was moving into my apartment with Kyle.

After that happened, I didn’t feel like I could work in an office again. I had zero confidence in myself, and this only made matters worse. Before I knew it I had been working, full-time in the restaurant business, and it had been 2 years.

What happened next is history…if you would like a refresher course please follow the link to a guest post I wrote for a fellow blogger/friend. It’s really good, so you should just read it already. I digress.

The point I am trying to make is this: I didn’t stick up for myself, because I learned from a young age to stay silent. I was told to accept whatever negativity came my way because I had done something wrong. I was conditioned not to speak up for myself because no one ever taught me how to do it. Yelling at your parents is a lot easier when you are an adolescent scorned, than it is to tell your boss when you think he or she is bullying, and/or taking advantage of you.

But when you yell at your parents at ‘X’ years-old, you are punished. You have just committed a felonious act. A crime of passion. You stuck up for yourself when you perceived someone to be harming you in some way… and now you must pay the price.

***I am not advocating for youths to rally and yell at their parents*** There will be no Katniss. There will be no uprising.


Because yelling at your parents (child/spouse etc) is wrong- everyone deserves to be treated with respect. But that is precisely the thing, isn’t it?

“Boys are from Jupiter, and girls are from Mars.” It all starts in the symphony hall that is a childs’ playground, within society. Boys are socialized to be leaders and to advocate for themselves. Girls are taught to be complacent; to be a “lady” and to always stray from being labeled crass.

How many of you readers know of a woman who does more than her fair share; especially considering what she earns (speculatively of course- because talking about money is taboo).

For far too long I have sat in my Ikea office swivel chair, and let the orchestra of bull manure rain down before my eyes. Too timid to speak up when the numbers in my bank account so plainly don’t match the work I do.

Too often have I complained about the “soft” sexism faced at work, and too often have I received a reply “well, that’s just how it is.” To accept the powerful, yet subliminal message society sends out to girls and women in their respective consortiums is woefully harmful. Whether it be the impromptu symphonies girls sing on the playground, or the mundane and rehearsed lyrics for a woman’s role as an aspiring backup singer; we run the risk of being labeled “abrasive” or “female dog” when an attempt is made to break away from the molds that have been created for us.

I have only just begun to start a new symphony of my own called “I don’t need your reigning bull manure at work.” This has been the most invaluable lesson Korea has taught me.

Gomabseubnida, Korea. Gomabseubnida.

Many other expats are right here in Korea…it’s one of the reasons I love this place! I’m fortunate enough to meet so many interesting people from all walks of life!

Which is why I am very interested to hear your #1 takeaway from any personal experience whilst traveling. Whether it be in Korea or some place else, let me know in the comments! 🙂 As always, “lets be nice.”


3 thoughts on “The #1, most important lesson Korea has taught me

  1. Your writing leans far too heavily on the thesaurus and using what you think are clever asides. Asides within asides. It comes off as inauthentic and “writerly.”


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