Today I paid a visit to the hospital in Korea. I had to pee. As in, it was necessary that I pee for my foreigner’s medical exam. But, there was one massive issue. I couldn’t pee.
Naturally, I did what anyone would do after a few unsuccessful attempts. Replete with internal singsong mantras of motivation to help break the seal, I chugged 3 bottles of water in a matter of minutes. Eventually my bladder was full enough to evacuate the onslaught of H2O. I proudly walked out of the bathroom, brimming Dixie cup in hand, and presented my citrine bodily fluids to the man in charge. Despite his lack of enthusiasm, I felt a hard day’s work was already accomplished and it was only 10am.
Getting into the Flow
The HR Manager accompanied me to the hospital for my Korean medical check today. It was great to spend time with her and get to know her as a person. Living and working in close proximity to colleagues will be a new experience this year. I’ve already noticed differences in how the staff here interact. There’s a very present familial feeling on campus. I assume part of that comes from our inclination to forge close relationships quickly while away from the mothership. It will be interesting to see how it transforms over the course of the school year.
Continuing on with the excitement of this morning’s Korean hospital experience, I might as well fill you in on that time I almost set fire to our residence a couple days ago. Sidenote: I may be exaggerating juuust a tad, but it’s more fun this way. Anyhow, considering the sizeable life shift I signed up for moving to a new continent, I really didn’t do as much research as one might expect prior to hopping on a plane.
Other expats’ blogs and YouTube channels, such as the Canadian duo EatYourKimchi, were my main source of information and have proven helpful so far in terms of packing (although I threw everything in my luggage despite all that “pack and then take half” nonsense), and a few other noteworthy mentions like the lack of tasty cheese and shoes or pants to buy in my size. However, and maybe this is just me and my aura, but I must have missed the memo when reading about bringing power bars to use here. (For all of my electrical friends – cover your eyes for the next few sentences.) In my limited research I understood that a power bar was a necessary item to bring from home, so I did. On my second night here I decided to use said power bar to charge a camera battery and my laptop. Let’s just say after a loud noise, some black smoke, and a little virgin buzz, I was quite thankful I hadn’t yet plugged in my laptop.
The Foreigners Go to EMart
In addition to blowing up stuff, I also went on a school field trip to EMart on Saturday. EMart is similar to Walmart, with food, clothes, and house items. It was enjoyable to be a minority, something I have not experienced so strongly in my previous travels. Except for our bus of people, we were the only (visible) foreigners at the store. Very few packages had English text which made for interesting guessing games in the aisles.
It was fun to walk through the food section and wonder what all the packaged goods were. I began to imagine the possibility of turning the unknown into a cross-cultural and linguistic game (Nerd Alert!). Produce is expensive since many items are imported to the island, which is why I was thrilled to find a $5 bottle of wine. The best part to this excursion was the sign above the checkout. We all failed to initially notice it. Wine, TP, soju, and random other items in hand, my mission was complete.
Privilege at the Grocery Store
It was interesting to hear some of my peers complain about the lack of available English. One seasoned expat from our school was quite disgruntled about the absence of English food labels. I chuckled silently wondering why they were mad about this on a remote Korean island. In the past, I’ve been fortunate to speak the languages of most of the places I’ve travelled to. English has been a fall-back, as well as charades and poor drawing skills. At some point, as eager as I am to learn Korean this year, I will probably wish for the ease of communicating with locals in my own language too.
I recognize the privilege to state that it’s “enjoyable” to be a minority. Especially as a white North American anglophone, it is an invaluable experience and opportunity to be a visible and linguistic minority. It is humbling and I appreciate the perspective to not be able to communicate or be understood by the general population. Too often, anglophone North Americans expect our mother tongue to be available anywhere in the world. It’s no surprise this unrealistic expectation creates anger and frustration in monolingual individuals. Yes, English is the modern business world’s lingua franca, however it won’t be that way forever and the tides are changing as we speak (pun intended). Unfortunately, due to our luck-of-the-draw at birth, we might initially be less flexible travellers or empathetic hosts to newcomers or travellers in our native countries.
Until next post, ciaociao!
P.S. Have you ever had to visit the hospital in Korea and go through the foreigner’s exam? Let me know below what your experience was!