Friday, October 22, 2010

the 'comfort' of being a waygook.

It's amazing the way we limit ourselves when we are in our comfort zone. This is a pretty obvious statement, and those of you reading may be wondering why I consider this something to ponder... but it's amazing just how limited we really can be without even realizing it.

A few times a week, I go for a run around my neighborhood after school. My favorite place to run is this track at Mur-yong Elementary School; normally, I think tracks are nothing more than a torturing device coaches and teachers use on their students, but this is the perfect place for me to center my thoughts and play with the students as they kick the soccer ball around. Between listening for my breathing, my music, and stray soccer balls to the head, it's a really good way to wind down after a day of teaching.

This sounds great, right?

One thing I've realized after a couple weeks of this routine is that there is basically nobody else running. In fact, aside from a few old Korean men (who admit they can do whatever they want because they've earned their place on the social hierarchy), the only people who I know of that run out in the open are foreigners. I may be making an assumption, but it seems to me that the only place people exercise here is in the gym. Is this because outer image is so important? Because, believe me, I know passerby Koreans judge my unkempt appearance while I'm returning home from a run.

The important question is, "Do you care?"

It's so easy for me to say no. But is this because I know that this is not my culture? Is it because I know that no matter what the circumstances, I know I am outside my comfort zone here? And if that is all true, how many times did I limit myself at home by simply sticking with the social norms of my culture, as opposed to doing the taboo because it made me happy? The scary thing is that most times I never realized it simply because I was comfortable maintaining the standard.

When I am in the role of the foreigner, I am free. Within the realm of cultural sensitivity, I can do what makes me happy an healthy without a concern for what others think. As long as I know I'm not offending anyone, putting myself in a position where everyone feels a little awkward is not the worst thing. In fact, it's inevitable. It's addicting.

I may never know if it is awkward for Koreans to see me walking home drenched in sweat. But even if I do, I'm not going to stop running outside.

Also, thank you Jen Capponi for this amazing quote. It fell perfectly into my week and gave me lots to think about!
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