An oasis in a desert of ignoranceOne of the hardest things to deal with when returning to the United States after another year of education in Korea is the questions and racial ignorance that are unwittingly thrust in my general direction. While it is understandable that some societies are not always well informed about world affairs, I was quite put out by the ignorance of some of the questions directed at me. When I let on that I am from Korea, there is always one inane fellow who has to ask whether I’m from the North or the South.
But it is a good illustration of the disconnected nature of the two societies in general. Too many children in the United States have no idea of how we in Seoul are living, and too few Koreans can find even an ounce of tolerance in their hearts for foreigners. Even in the epoch of globally connecting technology, we cannot remain informed and happy about each other on a level that is to my satisfaction.
Each year, it is the same thing. I fly to the States, optimistic about having another chance to associate with people I can effectively communicate with, only to have more irrelevant and often uncomfortable questions fired at me. I all but gave up hope of convincing those around me of Korea’s economic and social standing relative to other countries.
Three summers ago, however, I was exposed to a group of educated children who concerned themselves with topics related to politics and religion, controversial subjects that not many of my original friends in the States had an interest in discussing. At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, I found a community of kids not unlike myself in their endeavors and aspirations.
It was at the Center for Talented Youth that I found groups of individuals from across the United States, just bursting with insight and intelligence. Rather than having to face ignorance and unknowing attitudes, I was bombarded by a series of intelligible and germane questions, all pertaining to matters that broke the normal level of global aptitude that I was used to dealing with on my visits to the United States.
I welcomed this surge in collective brain power gladly, taxing though it was. I learned that not everyone on the other side of the planet is as internationally ignorant as you would expect. I found people who were interested in Korea for its historical significance and traditional beauty, and not because it borders a potential nuclear threat to the world. And while they were concerned about nuclear warfare, at least they knew what it is.
by Ian Choe