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Glad to be here

Since the national emergency declaration in mid-March, I’ve had friends and family sending more messages than usual. I appreciate the concern, but it feels misplaced.

I’ve been teaching in Korea for nearly seven months now. Considering my last update was in November, it’s fair to say an update is well overdue.

I was discussing my feelings towards Korea with a friend recently, how I feel so welcome and at home despite being an obvious outsider. Coming from the South, a stereotypically ‘hospitable’ place, it was something of a culture shock for me to experience the constant, genuine hospitality that Korea has to offer. My friend remarked that what I’m feeling might have to do with Korean culture and the values of generosity and sharing that are woven into it. My situation may be unique, but I don’t think it is.

Living and working here has been a wildly enriching experience for me. I’m learning how to be a better teacher every day. I’m learning more about myself, too. I feel lucky to be here, in spite and also thanks to COVID-19. Let me explain.

The first detected coronavirus case in the States was detected on the same day as the first case in Korea. Since America’s national emergency declaration in mid-March, I’ve had friends and family back home sending more messages than usual. I appreciate the concern, but it feels misplaced.

In late February, my school shut down for a week because two cases were identified in our region. There were plenty of question marks during this time, but I never worried about:

  • Whether or not necessities like food or toilet paper would be available for purchase. The only panic-buying I witnessed was a brief period of masks being sold out, and a system was soon devised where people can only purchase masks on assigned days to avoid future shortages.
  • What would happen if I thought I might be sick and possibly a danger to others. I knew I had reliable coverage through my job. I also knew that drive-through screenings were free and I could access testing easily if I felt I needed it.
  • Whether or not the outbreak was being addressed seriously. Aside from seeing my school weigh the decision of closing its doors, I understood the government was enacting unified effort to curb the outbreak and keep people safe. Everywhere I did manage to go during the height of infection in Korea (there was no quarantine mandate in my area), there was an energy of cautious calm. Hand sanitizer was installed in every public bus and still remains. It’s also a staple at pretty much every cash point in restaurants and stores.

This isn’t to say I felt no concern whatsoever. I had a lot of questions, and when the outbreak jumped from less than a hundred known cases to 200+ in less than 24 hours, I was definitely worried. However, knowing the above made it easy to conclude that panic would not benefit me in this situation.

As I stated before, I feel very fortunate to be in Korea in general, but especially during this time. It is an unsettling and scary time to be alive, yet I feel like I’m living in one of the safest places on the planet. Frankly speaking, I am terrified for everyday Americans (including loved ones) who need and have every right to basic care, but cannot access to it due to limited supplies and a flawed healthcare system. I could write more on this, but Benjamin Davis’ ‘I’d Rather Be Here’: An Expat Perspective From South Korea sums up my opinion perfectly.

It doesn’t feel entirely right to pivot from such a serious topic to my latest escapades. So instead of segueing with “Global pandemic aside, here’s everything I’ve been doing,” I’m going to end this post here.

If you’d like to know about what I’ve been up to while in Korea, keep your eyes peeled. I’ll be posting another update soon. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and if you can, stay home!

x

By Kathryn

KATIE is a twenty-something held together with iced coffee and her wits. She writes personal confessions and pop culture chronicles.

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