by Halley Davide
Differences are what make the world interesting. No two people are the same; each person with their own story, their own past and future. But we are each embedded in our families and see ourselves, in part, in other generations. New experiences bring about understanding and perspective, and perspective is what makes people unique. When you travel half way around the world the sights that you see are different than what you are used to. America and South Korea have many similarities, but also have many differences that stand out and are initially experienced as culture shock. There are differences in culture, society, and physical appearances. Each difference is important in making a country unique; bringing together similar people and pushing apart others.
For me this trip was a lot more than just going to Korea. It was more than just an exotic way to spend a few weeks out of the summer, and more than I could have ever hoped for. All my life, I have lived in a predominantly Jewish suburban town, where the biggest difference between families is the temple that you attend. Most of the houses look the same; people dress the same and think the same. When I stepped foot into the airport terminal at the beginning of the trip I knew that this was going to be more than I could have ever expected. I looked different and I knew that I didn't fit in. That may intimidate some people, but I loved it. Before the trip I thought that nobody went to Korea, and that the plane would be empty, but after we got on, every single seat was taken. This was something that I had never known let alone thought of. I had never really experienced being different, but in Korea that is exactly what I was.
While in Korea when I looked around all I saw were Korean people. After a while of seeing just that, I actually didn't think that I looked different, I felt as if I was Asian just like everyone else. While at the same time, everyone was looking at me like I was some sort of alien invading their world. It is an interesting concept how in America everyone is so used to seeing different people that we have just adapted to think nothing of it and in Korea if you see someone different, it is a surprise.
In Korea, everyone is Korean. They all share the same ancestors, and culture. America is commonly referred to as a "melting pot". We tend now to think of it as a "quilt" with the modem emphasis on ethnic roots and preserving ethnicity. It is not made up of entirely one culture and one group of people. Here in America everyone has sub- cultures to which they relate. People hundreds of years ago traveled to America from all over the world and still today people continue to do so.
Traditions and history in Korea are known and shared by all of the people with small differences from place to place. This is an important aspect of life that helps make up who they are. All of the religion is shared; foods are similar everywhere. Koreans find it important to teach culture at different museums and important locations throughout the country. In America everyone's background cultures are different so there is no one culture taught. In some areas people of the same ethnic backgrounds live nearby, but there are always people who are different. We learn our culture by going to schools, like religious schools, and others while Korean culture and traditions are taught through family's telling stories.
There are many Korean adoptees in America, though there are no American adoptees in Korea. This is because culture is reflected through society's guidelines. Its rules are seen through its expectations for people and what is viewed as acceptable and not acceptable. In Korea, having a child before marriage is viewed as immoral, which is the main cause of many children are adopted from there. In America it is not as looked down upon today as it once was and it is more common to have children when not married. Also mixed marriages are more common in America than in Korea. Koreans like the idea of pureblood Koreans.
Most of older Americans tell the story of going to Korea for war in the 1950s, but my experience was different. I am able to tell a story of seeing what few Americans have seen before, traveling from top to bottom, seeing much of what the country has to offer at the age of 16 as a non-Korean born. Through emotions, adventures, and endless possibilities I've seen more than I would have ever expected. I learned about a whole new way of life and I will carry that around with me forever.