WASHINGTON, USA: Settled, Just in Time to Feel Unsettled All Over Again

WASHINGTON, USA: Settled, Just in Time to Feel Unsettled All Over Again

Photo uploaded from PotoBucket  from Jawandapuck

Hello from Washington State!

I can hardly believe it’s already been three months since we arrived from Korea. We just unpacked our last boxes of books last week and are finally feeling a bit settled. The transition took much longer coming back than it did going.

Neither my spouse nor I was prepared for the culture shock we would experience returning to the country of our birth. Parenting in the States is a whole other ball game, and we are still getting our bearings.

We also underestimated how difficult it would be for our son, who had only been here once when he was 7 months old.  Despite our best intentions and what we thought was good preparation, it was a hard landing for all of us.

Thankfully, things are starting to change and we’re all feeling comfortable and content and present. It’s been three months of feeling in between two places, with daily (and sometimes hourly) utterly heartbreaking questions from our little one about when we will be returning home to Seoul. And of course, now that we’re all settled, our baby is due to arrive any day, throwing all of our new comfortable routines out the window. Such is life, right? Constant change with all of us just trying to keep up with as much dignity and grace as we can muster.

I find myself filled with unanswerable questions about how life will be with a new baby. Will I have enough time with my firstborn? Will our relationship change? Will I ever have time for myself or my spouse or our relationship? Will my body recover? What will it feel like to be the mother of two? Am I ever going to find my parenting tribe here? And on and on and on.

If I’ve learned anything from the times I’ve lived abroad it’s that unknowns eventually become known and in the meantime, you just make it work. Life will be what it will be.

My husband’s paternity leave has already begun so this morning we all walked down to the Farmer’s Market. It’s one of those perfect Pacific Northwest days with sun and breeze and Mt. Rainier looming. As we drank our hibiscus tea and nibbled on some vegan tamales, all the while surrounded by the heady fragrance of freshly cut bouquets of lilacs, I felt completely at peace, perhaps since the first time since we’ve stepped off the plane.

You know what that means, right? Come on baby. We’re ready.

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Ms. V. who we are happy to announce at the time of this posting has given birth to her families’ new addition. Both baby and mom are doing great! 

Do you sometimes feel like as soon as you become settled in a routine in life, something inevitable changes creating a new variable?

*Photo uploaded from PotoBucket from Jawandapuck

Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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WORLD VOICE: South Korea’s Exam Suicides

WORLD VOICE: South Korea’s Exam Suicides

Photo Credit : Mafuyou/Flicker Creative Commons

Photo Credit : Mafuyou/Flicker Creative Commons

Last week over 650,000 South Korean students took their college entrance exams. To give you an idea of how important this day is to Korean families, consider the following: banks and government offices open late, air traffic is rerouted, extra metro trains and buses are added to the schedule, and police officers are deployed to ensure that students arrive on time for the exam. In addition to this many of the parents of these students spend the 100 days leading up to the exam fervently praying at temple, performing 3,000 bows for good luck.

What is perhaps most striking about this yearly ritual, as an outsider looking in, is how everyone in the country sees it as their duty to ensure that these students make it on time and do well on their exams. The amount of pressure to succeed academically is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

South Korea does indeed lead the world in measurable academic success. They have one of the highest rates of literacy in the world, in addition to scoring very high on international standardized tests, especially when compared to Western nations. Unfortunately, South Korea also leads in the world in another unfortunate and surprisingly related area: suicide.

As of 2011, suicide is the leading cause of death among South Koreans under the age of 40. In the age group from 15-24, worry over academic performance is cited as the reason. Every year after the exams there are reports of these “Exam Suicides”.

Suicide affects every culture, not just this one, but it is deeply troubling to observe just how widespread it is here, not only among young people, but within the general population as well. Long seen as a private and personal issue, the government has finally taken steps in recent years to stem the tide. There are call centers and prevention groups receiving government funding, as well as dedicated employees who search the internet and social media for suicide-related posts. Within the last few months a specific type of pesticide was banned, as it had been commonly used in suicides.

Preventing access to means and providing support will be effective up to a point, but perhaps a closer look must be taken at the cultural obsession with academic success. I was thinking of all those kids taking the test last week, wondering how it must feel to know that the entire country is invested in how you do on this test. Such immense pressure! I can’t even imagine.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, South Korea is at a very interesting point culturally. It has rapidly modernized and continues to do so while still having deep roots to the Confucian principles that have guided society for generations.

It is the intersection of new economic realities and globalization with older traditions of filial piety and family honor that seem to be most challenging to navigate.

As long as suicide is seen as an honorable exit because of failure to live up to expectations or, in the case of older people, to unburden the family from the need to provide for aging relatives, the numbers will at the very least remain somewhat steady. As the culture changes, so too will the rates of suicide, I suspect.

But how many people’s children will die in the meantime?

The results of the exams will be announced on November 27th. Until then, we all wait, hope, and pray.

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by S. Korean Contributor Ms. V.

Do you think it is possible to have such academic success without all the pressure?

Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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WORLD VOICE: Defecting is Only the Beginning

WORLD VOICE: Defecting is Only the Beginning

 

Photo by Ms. V

Photo by Ms. V

 The third week of August here in Seoul brought some extreme heat, some sun after weeks of monsoon rain, and the first ever United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses by North Korea.

The hearings were held at a local university and while the accounts were harrowing – beatings, killings, starvation – they were nothing we haven’t heard before. For some, the fact that the UN was officially holding these hearings was a hopeful sign that the international community is poised to act on behalf of the millions of North Koreans living under that repressive regime. For others, these hearings carry little, if any, weight at all. After all, what will more talking about abuses that have been going on for three generations of the Kim family rule do to stop them?

What I found most surprising about the hearings was the almost complete lack of interest in them here in Seoul. They were very sparsely attended, journalists being the bulk of those in attendance. As an outsider, it is very challenging to understand the complicated relationship that Koreans from the south have with Koreans from the north.

In the period immediately after the war, and for a few decades after, defectors were hailed as heroes and national treasures and were taken care of by the South Korean state.  Somewhere along the road, though, attitudes began to shift. As more and more defectors made their way to South Korea, the government changed its policies for handling these North Koreans and South Korean citizens began to see them, not as heroes, but at best a nuisance and at worst a problem.

One must understand the vast differences that exist between these two countries occupying the same peninsula. North Korean defectors are shorter, less healthy, and far less educated, if at all.

Their language and speech patterns are different and they struggle to assimilate into the very fast-paced and highly technology-dependent life in the South. It is not uncommon for South Koreans to believe that North Koreans are lazy drunks and to feel embarrassed by their very existence.

The framework of Confucianism almost always provides some clarity to the cultural nuances that I don’t understand. In this case, the Confucian preoccupation with the “right way” creates an environment where differences, rather than being celebrated, are focused on and seen as inherently bad. There does not appear to be any room in the South Korean culture for an appreciation of the difference in language or mannerisms of the North Korean escapees.

NK_defectors_1990-2005 copy

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This focus on uniformity and a belief that there is one right way to do everything is apparent throughout Korean culture, and while I have observed it many times and in various situations, its application to the situation with the North Korean defectors is hard for me to wrap my brain around.

As an outsider and a guest in this country – which I must say has been mostly warm and welcoming to me and my family and a very comfortable place for us to live – my perspective is admittedly limited. Bur from where I stand, I see the heartbreaking reality that those who are courageous enough to do what is necessary to flee North Korea and make it to the south have a largely uphill battle.

South Koreans cannot undo what has been done to those in the north. They cannot erase the trauma or the long-term effects of malnutrition and suppression. What they can do is put an end to the discrimination.

Differences are often threatening at first glance, especially when they are a result of something as terrible as war. Yet, all differences are opportunities for enrichment and growth. It is a shame that the current generation of Koreans is paying for the choices of previous generations and the problem of managing the current flow of defectors, not to mention what would happen were the two Koreas to unite, is beyond overwhelming.

This we know – the North Korean regime is guilty of human rights abuses. The North Koreans who make it to the south have suffered enough and defecting is only the beginning of their very hard road in life. Hopefully the South Korean government and people can create policies that help and cultivate attitudes that heal.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog written by our South Korean contributor Ms. V.

Did you follow the news of the hearings this past week?

 

For more information about the challenges faced by North Korean defectors, you may want to read this report compiled by CrisisGroup.org

Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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WORLD VOICE:  The Wandering Swallows of North Korea

WORLD VOICE: The Wandering Swallows of North Korea

Korea

As the world watches and wonders what, if anything, is going to transpire as a result of North Korea’s recent threats against South Korea and the US, we sit here in Seoul going about life as usual. Indeed if it weren’t for the international news coverage, I could have easily remained blissfully unaware of what our neighbor to the north has been up to these past few weeks.

Perhaps because they are used to it, or perhaps because stopping everything is simply not an option, South Koreans continue on with life. I suspect it’s a combination of the two. If there is a great deal of fear about the threats, it is not apparent. There seems to be more of a sense of annoyance that we have to play out this charade once again. It is incredibly frustrating that North Korea can set a whole region of the world on edge with these oft-repeated promises of obliteration. (more…)

Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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Travel Itinerary for Week of August 13th!

Travel Itinerary for Week of August 13th!

On Monday we will be in South Korea, where Ms. V talks about what it’s like to be a single mother there. It’s an interesting insight into the cultural impacts not only to the mother, but to the child and the mother’s entire family.

On Tuesday, we continue the discussion about single parenthood in Nevada, where Roxanne’s son seems to be very accepting of her boyfriend. A little bit too accepting, perhaps? Roxanne contemplates what it would mean if her current relationship were to become “the one”.

Later that day, we head to Canada where Travel Lady with Baby, who formerly worked for the Canadian Foreign Service on an UN file, gives us insight into the United Nations and human rights in our World Voice column.  World Voice is a new column, which combines our posts on social good and human rights!

On Wednesday, we are off to New Zealand, where you are bound to be near water, no matter where you are. Karyn van der Zwet regards swimming as an essential life skill, one that she wants her children to have as second nature.

On Thursday, we have a guest post! Holly Pavlika of MOMentum in New York describes her daughter’s experiences with being bullied, and how she, as a parent, has handled it. She also offers some great safety tips that we can use for the benefit of our own kids.

On Friday, we head to Massachusetts, where Kyla P’an talks about a question of identity. What is it like for this generation of moms to find out who they are, or who they’ve become, after raising children?

On Saturday, check out the Saturday Sidebar with Eva Fannon, where the World Moms give their thoughts on an important topic, and chime in with your answers to this week’s question!

Starting today we have a new giveaway!!  Comment on our site this week from August 12-August 19th to receive a beautiful pair of baby booties from Canada!  They are just perfect for a mother planning to deliver this fall or winter!  Booties were donated by our Canadian contributor, Travel Lady with Baby!

— World Moms Blog

Our World Moms Blog logo was designed by the creative Erica Joyner Designs in Virginia, USA.

This World Moms Blog Travel Itinerary is written by Kirsten Doyle @ Running For Autism

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children. World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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