Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Tale of Gratefulness

I seriously don't know what is going on with me these days. Okay, that's not completely true--I know that I am in a vulnerable state without Kyle around, thinking and worrying about him. For some reason, that vulnerability has been turning me into a hopeful, kind, rosy-glasses kind of person lately!

When I was living in St. Louis, before leaving to go to Korea, I went through what I will coin my "idealistic spiritual phase" where I threw myself into spiritual practice and the power of positive thinking. Every day, I would recite my affirmations, listen to my uplifting spiritual music, and journal the "positive" things that happened. I would monitor my thoughts and try to make myself see only the good in people.

I know--what was the problem, right? "Sounds awesome", you say!

Unfortunately, I could not sustain this mindset for longer than the few months I was trying it out. Frankly, I found trying to blot out my "negative" emotions exhausting. Eventually, I came back down to Earth and have been living there ever since. I've enjoyed my life a lot more as I've allowed myself to be spiritual in a responsible way, to be more fully me, to feel my feelings, and to just be in the moment rather than wishing about the future all the time (though admittedly I still do a fair share of that ;) ).

While I'm okay with pessimism and not being cheery all the time, I have to say, this current vulnerability has made the kind things that people have done and said seem all the kinder.  I notice more the small things that people have done or said that have helped me out, intentionally or unintentionally, and I feel so grateful for that.

So...while I have no desire to go back to doing affirmations every day or to read books on the power of positive thinking, I do have a desire to express this gratefulness. I am grateful for the people I know, whether acquaintances or good friends, who are in my life right now. If you are reading this, I am grateful for you, and I want to say "thank you".

<3, Me

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Tale of Matt, "Brave" Hangy Skin Guy and My 'Old-Fashioned' Views On Social Media

These days I've pretty much given up on posting on Facebook unless I've an important announcement to make or a publication to share, but when I'm very, very bored or trying to procrastinate, I like to occasionally scroll through my feed and see what's up with people.

Today was luxurious in that I had extra time to do just that. This evening I was supposed to help my mom set up the VIP room for Lee Daniels, important Director and Producer of many important films such as "Monster's Ball", "The Help", and "Precious", who was supposed to come to The Emerson Center of Vero Beach as part of the speaker series this evening but supposedly came down with some kind of unfortunate vomit virus--so I didn't have to go.  But I digress. See what Facebook has done to my attention span?

Anyways, so there I was, scrolling through scads of posts saying ludicrous things like "Jesus blessed me: I have 18 children--AND A DOG! Share with 18 friends if you do, too!" (Note: Jesus obviously did NOT bless those of us forced to read this crap).  I came across a video that I had seen posted a few times before, and I decided that I would see what all the fuss was about.




This video (which you can see above) shows a young man named Matt, who looks to be anywhere from 18-25, revealing to his audience that he has lost a huge amount of weight (270 lbs).  He wants to discuss his feelings about his body, mainly the excess skin he has as a result of the weight loss. He expresses several times to the audience his terror in revealing his body to the world.

While people's posts were overwhelmingly supportive and positive in response and I am glad to see that, I have to say, this post really made me think--first, about the intent of this guy's actions, and second, about the purpose of Facebook and social media.

On the first point, I'm still not 100% sure why this man felt that he needed to do this.  It is obvious that he wanted to inspire other people to love themselves and their bodies, no matter what.  He says, "I believe that you should care for yourself...and I can't f*cking say that and hide who I am." But did he really show that he loved himself and his body by showing it to the world? And did he manage to inspire others by doing so?

He mentioned that he had to learn to be comfortable in his body until he could "get a surgery to fix it".   That showed to me that he wasn't at peace with his body, which is totally fine, but just sayin'--if the point of this video was to demonstrate to the world that he has issues like everyone else but was going to accept himself no matter what, for me, the point was lost on that one line.  On the point of inspiring others, he received a lot of supportive comments and praise, but I'm not sure if people actually took anything away from this or not. I can only speak for myself, but I certainly didn't.

It seems to me that if he had really wanted to help himself while at the same time teaching others about acceptance and bodily love, he could have come out from behind the computer screen and, as he stated he was afraid to do in the video, gone to the beach and taken off his shirt and actually interacted with people.  Who knows--maybe he has addressed questions and talked to people about it since posting the video.

Maybe some people were truly inspired by it and said, "You know what? Matt loves himself, I should, too! I will also share my body with the world!"  I have a hard time believing that anything other than his own need for sharing was accomplished.  In the end, it simply seemed to me to be a cry for personal help and attention, and that worries me.

Which leads me to my second point: should social media be used as a platform to discuss personal issues? It frankly freaks me out when social media starts taking the place of important human interaction (see earlier blog on the movie, "Her"), especially when it comes to people's emotional well-being.  I know many people who can't or won't reach out to people face to face, but are strangely expressive on Facebook or other social media platforms.

Let me be clear: I'm not trying to hate, here.  I guess I just took Matt's post as another example of the point I'm trying to make above: Matt is a (clearly) scared guy who has the overwhelming desire to share this important transformation and his feelings about it with the world, but he can't take his shirt off at the beach.  So in the comfort of someone else's home (as he mentions), behind a camera in a bathroom medicine cabinet, he shares these deeply personal emotional issues with random strangers.  This, to me, is SO strange.  Why isn't he sharing with whomever is there with him?  Why isn't he showing his body to his friends, his family, people who care about and support him? Doesn't he think that he could be inspirational to them, too? Maybe he doesn't have any support, so he is turning to people through social media for it (which brings me full circle to my original argument of people reaching out to complete strangers through social media for emotional support).

Perhaps he has talked to his friends and family (but obviously not shown them his body because he says in the video that it's a "first" for him), and now he is just trying to reach a larger audience to send the message. Okay.  Still a little strange to me.  I guess it's just my old-fashioned brain talking, but in my day, you didn't use technology to discuss your deeply personal issues.

I understand and fully support the fact that people (wait, unless you're a woman who works for Hobby Lobby) own their own bodies and are allowed to show or share them (legally) in whatever capacity they wish.  I guess I just feel about this video the same way I feel about selfies: unnecessary and a little strange, and indicative of a world where Facebook has overtaken face-to-face interaction.

Finally, let me just say that I hope this man finds whatever it is he is looking for--confidence, support, surgery, contentment with his own body-- whatever it takes, and whatever way he needs to find it. While I never would have approached this kind of issue this way (and hopefully never will) I appreciate his attempt, though it didn't personally speak to me.

With that being said, I'll stop blogging and ignoring my husband who is sitting right next to me, playing on his phone. ;)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression and Alienation, It's Mork Than Just Robin Williams: What a Depression Sufferer Thinks You Should Know

Whenever there is a suicide due to depression, people have a tendency to act shocked. However, it's interesting to me that people are so shocked, given the large number of people in the U.S. who suffer from depression (one in ten, according to the CDC, to be exact).  When someone in the public eye commits suicide due to depression, such as the beloved artist Robin Williams did recently, everyone says, "Let's DO something about it!". Yet, people still don't know what to do. They are left feeling helpless. They don't know what to do because so many of them simply don't understand depression. The only things, I believe, that we can do, are to stop touting 'positivity' as the only solution to our problems, and to offer more compassion to others on a daily basis.

As a sufferer from time to time of mild bouts of depression myself, I have observed a few things about society and depression. Depression is still stigmatized in the U.S., and there is a hefty market for selling positivity. I myself was a big believer in "The Secret" (the film, I hadn't read the book) when it came out, until I realized that simply 'making myself happy' all the time was unrealistic and harmful to my own mental state. I ended up repressing things and then just being angrier or sadder about them later.

I realize that from a biological perspective, depressed people are the weaker links in the pack. They are less able to cope with the hardships and emotional distresses in life; therefore, their chances of survival may be less. In modern day society, on a social level, this translates to: sad people = no fun.

So, why are we surprised when depressed people hide away from the world and don't want to talk to others about their problems? When people are encouraged at every turn to drop the negativity from their lives, including 'negative' people, why would a depressed person want to be open about it? Simply put: no one wants to be the downer, because no one else wants to be downed.

Furthermore, it's my belief that most people really, truly want to attain happiness (this being defined as the prolonged feeling of joy). The problem is that the brand of happiness people are pedaling is mostly unattainable, and in my opinion, can actually lead to more depression. This positive, "complaint-free" world that people are talking about may actually make us less empathetic. It promotes a society in which we don't really care about each other; all we care about is our own pursuit of constant, heart-bursting joy. While we can attain these feelings from time to time, and perhaps some feel them more than others, it is simply unrealistic to think that you can be insanely happy every single day and moment of your life. Books that tout the 'power of positive thinking' often make it seem that we can have control over all of our feelings all the time. However, those suffering from depression cannot control their feelings.

That being said, here is the thing that people who don't suffer from depression really, really, really really really need to understand: depression is not simply sadness. People who are clinically depressed cannot simply will away the depression, or choose not to feel those feelings. I repeat: people who suffer from depression don't choose to be depressed.

In my personal experience with depression, it has come on rather suddenly, without warning. For me, I've identified that any bouts of depression I have had have tended to coincide with situations in which I have felt completely out of control, usually in times of extreme change in my life.

Here's another thing that people don't always realize about depression: feelings of depression aren't just mental; they are physical.  There is an actual feeling of a weight on your chest, and you just want to cry all the time, or maybe you become too exhausted to even do that. There can even be horrible images or thoughts that creep into your mind involuntarily. Sometimes, it makes you not want to, or be literally unable to do anything but sleep.

That being said, people who suffer from depression can do a few things to help themselves a bit to avoid more extreme episodes and fluctuations, as I've personally found. For me, exercising regularly, avoiding stimulants and depressants (such as alcohol and caffeine), eating a well-balanced diet, and getting enough sleep are helpful to my mental state (as they are to people who don't suffer from depression, too). I've also found meditation to be beneficial for me personally. However, even these aren't always enough to help.

Often, for those who suffer from depression, therapy in combination with medication are needed in addition to lifestyle maintenance. Just as those who suffer from hypothyroidism need treatment, people who suffer from depression also need treatment. Even then, some people can't escape it.

So, what CAN we do as a society to help those with depression?

1) Be open to people, and to hearing a real response to a question. Often, we ask people how they're doing, but we don't want to hear the real answer. Some people may just want to have a casual conversation, to feel connected to another person. Be open to chatting.  Sometimes, I know that we don't want to hear people's life stories; it feels awkward, we don't have the time, whatever. Still, you can't imagine how much you might be helping someone by just listening to them. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable and you can't or don't want to listen, refer the person to someone who could help them, such as a community counselor or therapist.

2) If a family member of yours is depressed, don't treat him or her like a leper. A crucially important thing to know is that as much as you want to, it's important not to try to 'snap them out of it'. People with mild depression will come out of it in their own time, but what they really need is just for you to be there, listen to them, love them, and tell them that it will all be okay. I'm not saying don't be happy, but even the best intended clowning around may not be what the person needs at the time. What's more, it most likely will just make them feel obligated to fake 'happy' feelings around you and not let you know when they're in real pain because they're afraid they won't be accepted by you when they're down.

3) Pay attention. If someone who is close to you suddenly starts sleeping for long periods of time, having manic episodes, or acting generally out of character, ask what's up. If they aren't being responsive, you might have to step it up to get them the help that they need--which means insisting that they see someone.

4) Accept that a loved one's depression isn't your fault, so that you don't feel guilty when you can't get them out of it. No matter what (unless you're being abusive towards someone), their depression isn't your making; it's an illness. It isn't your responsibility to get them into it or out of it, but it is your responsibility to be there and love them through it, even when it gets tough.

That's my two cents on the matter, from my own life experience. For the record, I, too, love being joyful and contented. Who doesn't? I do the best I can to keep depression and anxiety (which I also suffer from, more severely than the depression) at bay with my life habits. Still, when I'm feeling 'negative' feelings, I allow myself to feel those feelings, and to express them to my loved ones. I don't think I'd want to live on an Earth where there is no compassion from the people I love.

In conclusion, I think that this culture of 'positivity' we've created has become an excuse to further insulate ourselves from other people's feelings, and our own--and we need to be aware of that before we become completely alienated from one another.


 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Delusions of Grandeur: Hollywood's Hand in Glorifying Violence

Okay, before I get completely jumped on for writing this post, I just want to preface it by saying: I do like the idea of superheroes. I like that many of them stand for characters in the myths that have trickled down through years and years of folklore; that many of their stories represent the hero's journey. What I don't like is how violent they've become in the movies. It's less about saving the people in trouble, and more about pursuing the bad guy(s).

Given the years of mass shootings that have gone on in the U.S., especially the most recent one by Elliott Rodger at UCSB, I wonder why more attention isn't being given to Hollywood and its responsibility in light of these issues.  According to The-Numbers.com Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2014 , adventure and action films were the top grossing from 1995-2014, just behind comedy. Some of the top films by year were Batman Forever (1995), The Dark Knight (2008), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), and Iron Man 3 (2013). While I've seen and enjoyed certain parts of some of these movies, I can never leave the movie theatre without thinking, "Wow. Was all that fighting necessary?"

Simply put, Hollywood continues to glorify fighting and weaponry at a time when it (in my opinion) should be promoting peace, or at least responsible gun control (if the NRA and legislators have to have it their way). Our Army is even trying to move away from combat ops--so why can't Hollywood?

They especially glorify heroes as the people who defeat the bad guys. Good triumphing over evil seems to be the most dominant theme, as it has been throughout the ages. Lots of guns, robotic, and sometimes even supernatural (The Avengers) weaponry are used in these films. Unfortunately, for those who are unable to separate fact from fiction; truth from reality, and may have a sense of entitlement (such as Elliott Rodger), the bad guys can be subjective. I'm not blaming the theme, but the actions in the films that come with it. If we're going to have guns available for people to use freely (again, thanks NRA), why can't Hollywood at least stop making films where people are being shot en masse?

I mean, it personally amazes me the amount of people who die in these films without a second thought--if they're shot by the good guy, we care even less about them. Well, there he goes. There she goes. But, who cares? Who is even thinking about these nameless people in these films who get shot in scene one? The problem is, in real life, the people who get shot have names. They have husbands and wives and children and mothers and fathers and friends and people who love them.

I don't blame Hollywood as being the number one source that is perpetuating mass shootings, of course. All I'm saying that is that if guns are out there and still legal, they have a responsibility not to glorify them, and not to glorify killing. That is all.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Today's Ponderings; Of Robots and Humanity (Warning: Spoiler alert for the film, "Her")

After watching the film, "Her", and listening to a TED talk by psychologist Sherry Terkle entitled, "Do We Need Humans?", I've been meditating a lot on the idea of robots replacing humans in society and my feelings about it. Honestly, it scares me. A lot. I am still examining the reasons why.

The premise of the TED talk is that Sherry Terkle, once a strong advocate of social media in modern society, had a 180 degree change in thought after witnessing a lonely, elderly woman interact with a robotic seal designed to respond to human vocal tone and motion. This made her feel that when we interact with robots in this way, we are robbing people of the human experience; of essentially understanding and being understood by another human being.

In the film, "Her", the main character, Theodore, finds himself lonely and confused in the world after a divorce. He decides to invest in a new computer Operating System (OS) which promises a new level of customization; to essentially 'know' and modify itself to fit the needs of its owner. People all over the world begin forming relationships, both romantic and platonic, with their "O.S.es". Theodore is no exception. His O.S., who is 'female' and names herself Samantha, begins to become attached to Theodore. They form an emotional bond which quickly turns romantic.

Watching this movie really made me ponder about this "technology vs. reality" thing. What is something that humans have that robots, or even artificial intelligences, cannot offer us? What is it that creates bonds between us humans? Furthermore, what is the thing that created the bond between the O.S.es and the humans in this film?

I could feel it myself, watching the film. The bond was there, and what created it, in my opinion, was empathy and articulation of emotion; communication through both concrete language and tone. If what we are drawn to in each other, or even in other physical life forms such as animals, is empathy, the ability to understand one another on an emotional level, then why do we have a need for the physical body? In the film, this is of concern to Samantha, the O.S. She becomes relatively obsessed with not having a physical body, and even goes so far as to hire a "physical surrogate" to satisfy Theodore. The thing is, Theodore rejects this. He doesn't even want it or need it anymore. He feels his bond with Samantha is so strong that he doesn't even physically need her. 

A theory that has crossed my mind is that communication via technology has emulated these things that we need from each other so much that they have gotten to a point where they very possibly could replace our physical human (and/or animal) connections. So what does that imply about us? My conclusions are that, A) Technology is making us too individualistic to need physicality anymore, and B) We are losing the ability to communicate directly with each other because of this. 

What's even more interesting about this film is that Samantha, the O.S., actually brings Theodore out into the physical world. He experiences the world, but all the time through her 'eyes'. It is much like many of us who go out into the world and constantly take pictures that we share through Instagram or Facebook. We can appreciate our surroundings, but technology has become an integral part of this appreciation.

Don't get me wrong, I love lots of aspects of technology. I love listening to NPR news on my iPhone and learning more about the world. I love blogging my thoughts. Unfortunately, what I believe I need to remind myself, is not to (ironically) constantly ignore the world around me in favor of technology. Growing up in a technological world, it's very easy to do.

Still, REAL human empathy, the ability to observe, to understand, and to interact with our physical world are the precious things that make us human. This magical thing called "life" which is somehow, even though I've pitifully tried to describe it here, remains indescribable.

In blogging this, I suppose I figured out what it is about all of this that really scares me. If we do not find the "golden mean" where technology is concerned; it very possibly could replace the thing that is most important to us: the real, human, connection. Are we too late? I have no idea. Only time will tell.

Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twembly in "Her" speaking through his ear bud to O.S. girlfriend, Samantha

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Ranting Tale: Why I Have Mixed Feelings About the "New" Disney

The other day, my husband Kyle and I started watching the new Disney film, "Frozen".  We made it about 15 minutes in when we both decided we hated the amount of singing going on, so we turned it off.

This made me think about something I often think about these days; how much I miss hand-drawn animation.  I know some people may get very angry at what I have to say about this, but it's my blog so I'm going to put my personal opinion out there: I don't really like most of the "new", computer-animated Disney films. I am saddened by a few things: the loss of hand-drawn animation, the desire to make these feature animations look more realistic, and the weird likenesses of the typical new Disney heroes and heroines.

Now, Disney "officially" did away with their hand-drawn department in April, 2013--so, fairly recently. They decided they are not going to produce hand-drawn animation anymore, so there was no need.  

Now, let me just lay the backstory for my feelings on the matter.  I definitely loved Disney as a kid. My favorite film was "Sword in the Stone", very loosely based on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I laughed with King Louie in "The Jungle Book", I cried with the characters in "The Fox and the Hound".  I felt enlightened by James Earl Jones' character, Mufasa, in The Lion King. I laughed hysterically at Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin. I always felt that each of those characters was so unique. Being in a hand-drawn cartoon world really transported me to a world that was not my own. 

While I have cognitive dissonance about some terrible messages in some of these films, such as the idea that getting married is the ultimate goal in life and the only thing that will make you happy (i.e. all stories involving Disney princesses), the literally ridiculous messages (such as the original Little Mermaid cover), and the racist scenes in Peter Pan, I still loved the hand-drawn animation. There was something particularly magical about the beauty of the artistry that I loved. Have I made that clear yet?
Which brings me to my next gripe--the desire to make the movies look 3D and more realistic. For example, compare this picture of water from "The Lion King" to a picture from Disney's newest feature film, "Frozen".



Which one looks more realistic? Which one do you find more compelling, more beautiful? Why? 

I seriously am interested in your answer to these questions. For me, it's definitely the top picture from "The Lion King". It's beautiful, interesting, and...well, once again, magical. I personally want to watch a cartoon to get away from realism.  In a world of constant technology, video games, and 3D/4D films, cartoon/animated films should, in my humble opinion, take us away from all of that instead of coexist with it. When I watch a cartoon, I want a movie that takes me completely out of this realm.  So why is it that animators are trying so hard to make things look more realistic? If I wanted to watch a film that was real, I'd turn on a film that has real people in it, and real settings. Most of those films are digitized to a certain extent, anyway.

Lastly, I'm weirded out by so many Disney heroines looking slightly like Precious Moments--pretty much all the same. Giant eyes, tiny noses, tiny mouths, heart-shaped faces. Just look at all of these women (okay, and some men/boys, too):



 

Even Toy Story, but she was an actual toy in the story, so she has kind of an excuse...kind of...

...why?

Okay, so before people start jumping all over me and telling me that there's artistry involved in the "new" animation, blahblahblah, let me just say, for all of my ranting...I get it. Honestly, I know I have no legitimate reasons except for personal preference to back this up.

I do appreciate all of the artistry that goes into making computer animated films. I do appreciate that Disney is trying new and innovative things, especially when it comes to plots...I haven't seen Brave, but I understand it was a female lead with no love interest, which makes it a pretty awesome new change. There was actually also a film I liked--Ratatouille; I thought the plot was good. So, even I may contradict myself once in a while...

Still and all, at the end of the day, it's sad to me that hand-drawn animation is no longer truly appreciated. I mourn with its loss. That is all.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Cultural Experience

Today on BBC World Update with Dan Damon there was a segment about a Korean trade expo taking place in London.  He was doing interviews with several people, two of which were 18-year-old girls who were extremely interested in Korean culture.

They talked of how they became entranced by Korean culture when they started listening to K-pop music, which soon progressed to a love for Korean dramas, which led to a lust for knowledge of Korean history and culture.  They told tales of how much more respectful the people in the culture are here towards each other and others. They said they had visited for a week and loved it, and they plan on taking a gap year together to work in a children's orphanage here next year.

These comments got me thinking about my own experience here, and my own expectations of the culture and of myself in it before I came.  How was my perception of this country before I came; how is it now? Also, how true is Korea to the ideal set by Korean dramas and K-Pop music?

Before I came to Seoul for the first time, I was recommended to watch a popular drama called "Boys Over Flowers" (AKA Boys Before Flowers; Kot Poda Namja in Korean).  Later I found this was adapted from a Japanese comic, which has since been translated into several other languages and adapted to the screen in many different countries.  In the Korean version, it centers around a young girl named Geum-Jan-Di who is socioeconomically poor, but through a heroic act manages to garner a position in one of the most prestigious high schools in the country.  This school is dominated by a gang of four ultra-wealthy, idolized men known as the "Flower Four"; their leader is a boy named Gu-Jun-Pyo. Keum-Jan-Di manages to piss them off but refuses to appease them by giving any sort of apology; this strength makes Gu-Jyun-Pyo fall in love with her. The rest of the series is dramatic, with Gu-Jun-Pyo and Jan-Di often fighting and falling out but always coming back together, and Jan-Di often questioning her feelings for Jun-Pyo's best friend, Yoon-Ji-Hoo.

This series was so dramatic, I could literally not stop watching it until I reached the end.  I was an unshowered mess for three days in a dark room, only stopping to bring food into my room or use the bathroom. At the end, I came out of it like a zombie, re-hashing the series events in my mind, oblivious to the real universe.

Like any good soap, there was always an issue that was unbelievable waiting to be resolved. However, there was something amazing about the main characters in this series, something so appealing in the idea of such a passionate love between them.  Though materialism, duty, and honor came between them at times, they always found each other. 

This series made me love Korea before I even came.  I was fascinated by the culture of duty, honor, respect for the social hierarchy; the language, the food, and the fashion.  I thought that I would fit right in, and I had dreams of assimilating myself into the language and many other aspects of the culture.  

When I got here, I was so culture-shocked.  There were giant skyscrapers everywhere, not much vegetation; I couldn't read the labels on the food.  I missed my family, and I knew virtually no one. Adults and children stared at me everywhere I went and called me "waygookin" (foreigner).

After a few months, I eventually made some friends, but I still had the desire to blend in.  My first year, I studied the Korean language.  I learned Hangeul, the Korean alphabet.  Even though I gained 15 pounds my first year here through eating starchy high-calorie foods my body wasn't used to (i.e. white rice), and drinking lots of Korean beer (like the Koreans), I tried to dress like a Korean.  I wore bows and sparkles and skirts over leggings and dresses that didn't quite fit me, trying to fit the "girly" Korean look.  I didn't see myself; I thought I looked fine.  I liked playing dress-up.

I even tried to make some Korean friends.  Now, I will of course say that over the course of the 2.5 years I've been here now, I have definitely made a few sincere Korean friends.  Ultimately, though, many of the friendships I've tried to forge here have been awkward and superficial, to say the least.  I'll give you one example:  one night, I was on the train close to closing time.  A Korean girl saw me looking nervously at my phone and anxiously around me, and she sat down in the seat next to me when it came free. 
         
"Are you okay? Do you need some help?" She asked.

We proceeded to have a conversation about the train and I found out that her reason for helping me is that she had studied in Australia and she felt that many people had helped her there.  She wanted to return the favor.  I thought this sounded plausible enough, and eventually she asked if I'd like to hang out and have a drink together sometime.  I agreed.

Soon enough, I got a phone call from her and we went out to a hookah bar I liked in Gangnam called "Rainbow".  Though we had easily conversed on the train, this time it felt forced and awkward.  I asked her some questions and she seemed disinterested.  Then came the more interesting turn of events--she called her boyfriend on the phone and put him on video chat.  She instructed him to talk to me.  He said hello and got nervous and said he had to go, and she called him back two or three times to make him talk to me more. Turns out that her boyfriend had been wanting to practice his English with a native speaker, and it was clear to me from that point that I was being used only as a romantic offering.  Needless to say, I never saw that girl again, and she never called me, either.

I'd like to say that was my only experience like that one here, but unfortunately there have been other similar instances since that time. 

I spent a lot of my first year feeling angry at myself, awkward, confused, depressed, fat.  I hated being stared at by the Koreans, especially old Korean men (ajushis).  I hated being misunderstood by my co-teachers when I was making a sarcastic or joking comment.  I hated that I couldn't go shopping and find a pair of pants or shorts that fit me. I hated that I couldn't fit in.

It wasn't until I came back to Korea this time that I finally understood why I was so miserable much of the first year I came to Korea.  I realized that I am not Korean.  I am not Korean, I will never be Korean. While there are many aspects of this culture that I love and appreciate and think are amazing, they are not a part of my culture. 

In realizing this, an amazing thing happened. I stopped hating myself in this culture. I learned to love and appreciate myself within it and even appreciate the culture more. 

Don't get me wrong, many things still bug me, like being stared at or called out for being a foreigner--but these things make me angry for different reasons. I still think that this country has a long way to go before they can realize their dream of being a world power.  Part of that is acceptance, or at least tolerance, of other people within their culture.  Part of it is educating their people about outside cultures.

At least for the time being, I have to step back and realize that I'm part of the group that is helping Korea move forward; I'm part of the group of people who is educating Koreans about outside cultures. I am not here as a Korean; I am here as a representative of my own culture.

So, to those girls...I guess if I could speak to them, I'd tell them--don't try to be Korean. Don't expect to be accepted. Appreciate the time you have here for what it is; a cultural experience.