Making friends in Korea (finally!)

I am reading a book called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown about vulnerability, shame, and how to be one’s authentic self (I intend to write a review of it soon, so stay tuned) and I can’t help but think God always puts the right book in my hands at the right time. At work, I’ve become a shrinking violet. In my Master’s work, however, I’m a blossoming rose-bush, full of ideas, confidence, and enthusiasm – excited to discuss what I’m learning. My professors have all been great confidence boosters, and the guidance they give me is invaluable. When I’m reading or writing, I can feel myself filling up with knowledge, brimming with things to share and discover. Everything I encounter has the potential to be my stepping stone, a new branch on my tree of possibilities. I’ve never been able to find my voice more than when I am working on something for grad school or when I am writing my blog.

However, at work, I’ve had to fight to remind myself not to back down when my ideas are under fire. I’m learning still, and that means that sometimes I feel like anything I do can’t measure up to what the other teachers know. The trick, I think, is to stop worrying about measuring up. I need to stick to what I believe and not feel so personally attacked when my idea isn’t chosen. The thing about feelings of inadequacy, though, is that everyone has them at one point or another. I just need to remember that not everyone is perfect, and that I can’t try to be perfect either. All I can do is try to be better at my job than the day before.

Occasionally it is hard to open up and share my shame. It’s hard to write down and publish things when I’m admitting how under pressure I feel or how many mistakes I’ve made. However, when I do post things like that, comments pour in, thanking me for sharing everything – not just the bright and shiny. It’s also the best way to make friends, something I am really trying to make now that I’m making my permanent home in Korea. By sharing my insecurities and shame first, others can reach out to me and tell me they know what I’m going through. I’ve made a lot more friends by opening up than when I’ve tried to make myself look cool.

My fiancé and I went to see the movie The Intern, my treat after finishing my 15 page paper. The day before, my co-worker had gone to see it, and when I asked her what she thought about it, she said, “It was good… the ending sucked.” At first, I thought, “Hmm, maybe we shouldn’t go see it after all…” But lately, I have been working on that thing I do in my head once I’ve heard someone else’s opinion. It’s so hard for me to own my opinion once I’ve heard someone else’s. In my head, I think, “Gosh, I don’t agree but I guess we just have different perspectives…” As time goes on, though, I start to mold my thoughts to match theirs. I won’t disagree out loud, and I might even agree with them in the heat of the moment.

I wish I could just say, “Well, to each his own,” because how silly is it to not go see a movie you want to see because one person (who you barely know) said the ending wasn’t good? Why should I rely so heavily on her opinion before mine has even formed? In that case, I was a little less inclined to believe her, but there have been many other times when I’ve gone along with what someone was saying because I didn’t want to rock the boat.At those times, I felt ashamed for the way I thought, or perhaps I felt shameful for opening up when no one is there to agree with me.

It’s the strangest feeling. I know myself so well, and yet I allow the opinions of others to persuade me. I have very black and white feelings on certain issues, but once someone else has stated their claim, I start to reevaluate mine. In some ways, it’s a good thing. Reevaluation helps me process my emotions and allows me to look at something from a different perspective. I’m not so set in my ways that I never change my mind, but when new information is presented, I sometimes think, “I don’t want to change what I think because that’s hard and uncomfortable.” However, when I think about how stubborn some people can be while being completely wrong, I also don’t want to look as foolish as them, so I try to make sure I lend myself to learning about other perspectives just in case I’m wrong.

Anyway, The Intern was an amazing movie. I loved every minute of it, and so did my fiancé. We both agreed that the ending was great, and him agreeing with me gave me the confidence to own my feelings. However, it’s still hard for me to do so in front of people I’m trying to impress or people I barely know. Instead, I just stop talking, block them out, or worse, seethe the about how they are wrong but never speak up for myself. In the book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown talks a lot about the importance of letting go. Letting go of how others MIGHT think of you or how they MIGHT see you. Before we can love others, we have to love ourselves, which means we have to allow ourselves to be imperfect. I don’t want to judge myself anymore, and I want to grow but not strain myself to get there.

In Korea, I’m still learning about the culture and the language and I’m trying to make new friends. The other night, I went to dinner with a girl from my hometown who is now living in Daejeon, and I told myself to just be myself and not try to impress her or agree with whatever she said. I think I accomplished those goals, and I made a new friend! I think I was just too nervous to go out on my own after work, and I didn’t admit it to myself that I was scared. But now that I’ve done it, next time will be easier. I’ve already had a next time, actually. I went to a Japanese study group (mostly to meet people, but partially to keep up my Japanese while I’m in Korea, since I hardly ever speak it anymore) and I only knew one girl there – a Japanese girl I’d met while visiting Junkyu. I met a lot of expats and some Korean people, and it was a great way to get me out of the comfort of my own home. I was even unwilling to leave when it was time to go.

This weekend is a long weekend, and we are enjoying our time off immensely. At work, I’m being asked to do more but others are also helping me more, so I feel less overwhelmed. I grabbed dinner with one of my co-workers after work one evening, and it was amazing. She is a girl from South Africa who married a Korean man and has gone through (and is still going through) many of the things that I am now. We talked about proposals and weddings and in-laws and Korean culture vs our home culture, and it was a blessing to have made yet another friend. I can also call up my best friend and maid-of-honor anytime I want now that we both live in Korea together. I’ve learned that vulnerability isn’t a bad thing at all, as long as you use it to your advantage, open up to people, and let them do the rest. The results can be surprising.

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5 thoughts to “Making friends in Korea (finally!)”

  1. I love this post! Particularly because I COMPLETELY agree with you about being influenced by other people’s opinions. I really hate conflict so I avoid stepping on people’s toes as much as possible, which often means I end up somewhat involuntarily agreeing with something I normally wouldn’t agree with… I’m trying to stop doing it too haha because actually I have quite strong opinions about certain things, which I definitely WON’T betray just to save conflict, but with the little ones, like opinions about movies, I’m trying to stand up for myself more lately! Because maybe the other person is thinking the same thing about my opinion…
    Glad you’re settling in nicely in your new home 🙂

  2. I’m glad to hear you’re making new friends 🙂 I know what you mean about editing your opinion when someone disagrees with you on something, it’s hard not to do that for me too. But I think the more you let differing opinions not bother you on smaller things, maybe the more you can speak up with your opinion on bigger issues? I hope that’s the case anyway.

    I’ve been AWOL from blogging for a while, so I read back a lot and it sounds like you have such a sweet apartment set-up! Have to say I am jealous xD Also your job sounds interesting schedule wise. I’d love to hear more about how it works. I don’t know anyone who works for solely a kindergarten and doesn’t teach multiple classes. I hope you can keep feeling like you are improving with your job 🙂

    1. So true, I need to stand up for myself over smaller things so that it becomes a habit. The good thing is I have the opportunity to reinvent myself at work since no one really knows me, but it’s hard when everyone else already knows one another and I’m just kind of there. I want to assert myself into conversations more. I’m the type of person who waits for people to ask me things and I don’t completely open up unless I’m one-on-one with someone I really like, so being in group situations all the time at work is kind of taxing, but I’ve found a few people I can talk to, so that’s good.

      Yeah, we love our place! We wish we had more time to enjoy it but on the weekends we never want to leave the house because it’s so comfortable. My job is kind of interesting, so maybe I’ll write about it sometime. Thanks for the support!

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