As I pack my bags and shop for furniture and jobs back home, I am simultaneously counting all the things I want to take with me from Korea. As the title of this post indicates, I am not referring to souvenirs but intangible little wisdoms that I have picked up along this totally strange, totally unexpected, totally revealing, and ultimately interesting year abroad. These are the things that have helped me through some challenges or simply made my life easier.
Note, I am calling this post “8 Wisdoms I learned in Korea,” not from Korea, because not all of these wisdoms are necessarily from Korean culture.
1. Eat slow.
There are a number of dietary lessons I’ve learned since I’ve been in Korea. The food here is generally healthier than the food available back home, although that depends on whether your body takes better to wheat or rice. I have learned that I take much better to rice than wheat, for example, and this has caused me lose and keep off about 20 pounds. But the most instantly effective diet lesson has also been the easiest one to follow, regardless of what I’m eating: Eat slow.
When you eat fast, you overeat. Bottom line. Your brain does all kinds of wonderful things, but for whatever reason we have not evolved to the point where our brains can send an instant message to our stomachs and vice versa indicating that we have reached our limit. No, the “I’m full” message takes a whopping 10-15 minutes to make its arrival, at which point you have already stuffed yourself well beyond capacity. Slow eating allows your body time to digest. Just by eating slow, you can eat significantly less.
Though some say it’s not healthy to have distractions while you eat, some easy ways to start eating slower are A) read a book or do some writing while you eat or B) see wisdom #2.
This goes for food but also just about anything else. Share generously. Enjoy mutually. You will happier, healthier, and totally wealthier.
3. Stop assuming.
Just stop it.
4. Be useful.
Perhaps this is less existential but living in Korea has made me really impatient towards unhelpful/un-useful people. People go through a lot when they are abroad and a little help from a stranger can be immensely appreciated, even if it’s not accepted. Obviously, we can’t always be useful to everyone and we certainly can’t please everyone, but these are two different issues. Being helpful means simple being available and willing to reach out. It does not mean smothering someone, or assuming (see mantra from wisdom #3) that they are not self-sufficient. But if someone clearly could use some help, and especially if someone has explicitly asked for your help, take it as your privilege to try and help them. If a man drops his groceries down a flight of subway stairs, don’t just keep watching as the apples tumble past your feet. Take your tail out between your legs and help that man pick up his groceries. If you have useful information that you think could help others, share it! So many people spend hours volunteering and that is so above the top awesome, but there are countless opportunities to be helpful everyday. It’s super gratifying. So stop pretending you’re looking the other way as the mom tries to juggle the three gallons of milk and the crying baby and the ringing cell phone and offer a hand.
5. No more coffee.
Admitting that I don’t like coffee is social suicide. Not only will it probably break my boyfriend’s coffee-loving heart, but it will also potentially disqualify me from the plethora of coffee slinging jobs all over midtown when I once again join the ranks of flat broke journalists working side gigs. But alas, it’s not that I don’t like coffee. I love coffee. But coffee is a bad man. He’s got no love for me. Every time I drink coffee I regret it, because it makes me feel like a total crack head with a heart problem. For days afterwards I am in this shaky blood-sugar-cliff-dive state of complete panic and intestinal discomfort. And yet everyone once in a while I still feel the self-destructive urge to drink it now and again and go through the entire crazed cycle all over again. I don’t know why I do this, but continuing with the mantra thing, I’ll be closing my eyes and humming “No coffee, no coffee, no coffee” to myself a lot when I make it back to the land of local coffee houses.
6. Breath is medicine.
You don’t need ten different pain killers and three versions of Sudafed and nine bottles of prescription beta blockers. You need to sit your ass down and take a few good deep breaths. The enormous healing power of breath cannot be exaggerated. The claims on the prescription drug ads, however, can and often are.
7. Smile, god damnit.
It’s hard to walk around as a foreigner in Korea if you aren’t comfortable being in the spotlight constantly. I, for one, am still extremely uncomfortable just walking to the bus stop and being gawked and pointed and stared at. It’s very easy to walk down a main avenue and feel completely exhausted and battered down by the constant staring and judgmental looks. By the end of it all, my face is all angry and twisted. But the reality is this: there are enough frowning faces. If you smile, you can just chose to bounce all that judgmental heaviness back onto the giver. Consider a good, strong smile your barrier against the dark side.
8. Be nice to your teachers.
Otherwise they will hate you forever.