Great Expectations

2 11 2010

We all have them. Tumultuously seeking satisfaction in the form our personal desires, some met, some inevitably lost. How humbling it was than, to expect in relocation abroad, that an ancient society would welcome me in english! How could I have been so blind? How could I have been so blonde? I think I finally understand, in three dimensions, what the word, ‘ethnocentric’ means.

Instead of wishing for empathy, some kind of understanding from the city and it’s people, I’ve tried to remember what it felt like: interacting with a foreigner back home in San Diego. Most of the time they were Hispanic. Unable to speak past the preverbal formality of casual greetings. But knowing enough college spanish to help in a process they may have been dreading, I delighted in such an opportunity. This is not to say that I rolled my r’s or properly conjugated my verbs. But I tried. I remember being embarrassed at how little I knew, about  their language, about a culture that butted up against mine socially, economically, politically. Despite this, the honesty of their smile revealed only appreciation and a self-conscious accent. I remember feeling good, no: really good, knowing that I could help them, make them more comfortable in a situation few people ever find themselves in. And now I realize, it takes a lot to put yourself out there for a stranger, a stranger who by all accounts may not want your help, or empathy. South Korea can be every bit as ethnocentric as the United States, perhaps more so because of it’s history between occupations. They are a proud people. So when I decided to take Korean, it was because I expected to better communicate in their native language; not english. To a Korean, a white girl saying hello, and thank you in Hangul is enough to try -for her sake- to speak english, to smile, to remind her that she is not alone. The universal truth of a smile is breathtaking and awesome; never lost in translation. The effort of two cultures meeting some where between that smile, in the middle, is where I belong.

Learn to say Hello in Korean!

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4 responses

3 11 2010
Suji Bang

Whitney,

You have a talent for writing that I haven’t seen in many people and I’m honored to have you as a colleague and my next door cubicle mate! Your students are truly blessed to have you as their literature teacher. I am so awed by the eloquence of your writing. It already shows in your students’ haikus. May God bless you through this journey of yours in Korea and throughout your life. I am looking forward to seeing your books in Barnes and Nobles one day.

4 11 2010
whitneybutler

You are so sweet Ms. Bang. Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate the comments; feed-back is always welcome. 🙂

4 11 2010
ed jose

just wanted to write and say HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

keep checking your blog, and it seems like you’re enjoying yourself. i’m happy for you. keep on keepin’ on!

15 09 2011
Rachel

The carefree nature you display does nothing to belie the depth of your observation. It still ceases to surprise me. It humbles me to realize how little I think walking these familiar-yet-foreign streets and your writing makes me think. It also makes me want to write.
I write this as I sit at the Caffe Tiamo where you’ve undoubtedly sat many a day in, perhaps, this very spot behind the bookcase and remember the warmth with which you guided my uncertain hand. (And yes, I am systematically reading through your entire blog until I catch up. 🙂 Though, only a little at a time. Expect to see more clusters of comments/notes like these. <3)

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