My “Lack-of-Ownership” of Korea

koreausLiving in a foreign country definitely has it’s ups and downs. Of course every country has its share of frustrations and  difficulties, blessings and good points. But, by being a foreigner in a foreign land, it can often be much easier to complain openly and “blame” that land (in my case Korea) for its differences. We (expats) can easily begin to fall into an “us vs. them” mindset, especially in Korea where everyone who is not Korean is labeled a “Wei-guk-in (foreigner).”

Sometimes, I just want to notice and speak about the differences between Korea and the US, but even in my observation of differences, my words can often begin to manifest themselves as “well, WE wouldn’t do THAT in America.” In that way, my simple observation of differences easily turns into criticism.

However, now that I’ve lived in Korea for so long, how can I truly be sure that “we WOULD never do that in America”? Some of the things I end up complaining about are actually things that are rather universal: excessive drinking by certain members of society, unruly children, wreckless drivers, liars, cheats, thieves, long company hours and meetings, and the list goes on. When I start to complain about the treatment of “foreigners” in Korea, how can I truly say that the US treats foreigners any better? (particularly Mexicans, especially when they don’t speak English -> as most foreigner teachers in Korea don’t speak any better Korean than the Mexicans in the US speak English).

But by being a stranger here in a country that is not “technically” my own, it becomes quite easy to also verbally discard this country as not “literally” my own (I’m literally living here now, right?). As I’m not “technically” a Korean, sometimes I feel I’m not “technically” a part of this country, that I’m just an outsider looking in, and that I don’t “technically” own any part of Korea or the Korean life.

However, this lack-of-ownership mindset that I’m cultivating really does nothing for me. It allows me to blame Korea and Koreans for problems that are not uncommon universally. It allows me to ignore my own country’s faults as I constantly look to find faults and failure in Korea, particularly in dealing with the treatment of foreigners. And worse, the lack-of-ownership I (and others) sometimes feel towards Korea allows me, almost gives me permission, to act in any way I wish, to do anything I wish, and “if people don’t like it, they should just get out of my way.” After all, it’s not my country, they aren’t my customs, and “I’ll be gone soon enough anyway.”

However, this IS my country, at least for the time being. Simply living in this country makes it my country, my home, for however long that may be. Unfortunately, when I refuse to take at least partial ownership of the land in which I live, regardless of it being my birth home or not, I also give up my rights to complain. “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem,” right? I’d also venture to say, “if you don’t accept that you’re part of the country in which you live, then you’re part of the problem too.” As long as I consider myself an outsider looking in, I won’t feel any sense of responsibility for myself or the things around me.

What do you think? Do you “own” the country you live in?

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