Important Lesson I Learned in Korea
Dr. Ben Kim
I was in my late 20s, I left a lucrative professional position in the arctic of
Alaska to move to Seoul, South Korea.
had plenty of reasons for wanting to experience life in Korea, but the main one
was that I wanted to be able to speak and write Korean fluently. A part of me
thought that it might be possible to start a fasting clinic somewhere in the countryside
of Korea, where I could live out the rest of my days, helping people fast for
health recovery. But my main reason for wanting to become fluent in Korean was
that I had a lot to say to my parents.
you and your parents dont share the same native language, perhaps you understand
what it feels like to be able to communicate with your parents on basic, everyday
matters, but to feel utterly hopeless about having your parents truly understand
your deepest feelings. Heck, maybe you and your parents share the same native
language and you still feel this way. Point is, I had a lot to communicate to
my parents and I was determined to make it happen.
think its safe to say that up until that point in my life, I felt that my
parents put their expectations of me far ahead of encouraging me to find my own
place in this world. They seemed to view my life as one of their possessions,
a badge that reflected their social standing in the church and among their relatives.
If you arent familiar with this type of atmosphere and are curious about
it, I recommend that you watch The Joy Luck Club. I bet millions of second generation
Asian children have welled up while watching this exquisite movie.
I got to Korea, I found myself a tiny room on the tenth floor of a dormitory.
I spent the next six months going back and forth between this dormitory and a
local library, where I began writing, reading, and speaking Korean.
I improved, I started writing my thoughts in Korean to send to my parents. I wrote
about how disappointed and angry I was with them for having ridiculously high
and unfair expectations of me. I wrote about how hurt I was that what others thought
about our family seemed more important to my parents than the pressures and insecurities
that my sisters and I felt on a daily basis when we were growing up.
was feeling pretty darn good about my progress when, one day, I received my first
phone bill. I remember to this day that it took me a good hour and a half with
a Korean-English dictionary to figure out that phone bill. I know that it doesnt
sound very exciting, but that one event marked the beginning of a whole new way
of thinking about my parents.
to understand that phone bill made me think about what it was like for my parents
when they received their first phone bill from Bell Canada a few decades ago.
That got me to think about what it was like for my mom to have a bunch of English-speaking
doctors and nurses deliver her babies. And what were my parents feeling when a
fast-talking real estate agent and a lawyer were selling and closing their first
an afternoon trying to figure out my phone bill woke me up to just the surface
of some of the struggles that my parents faced as immigrants looking to survive
short while later, I started reading about hyo, a Korean word that means respect
and reverence for ones parents. In reading about hyo and spending time with
native Korean students staying in my dormitory, I began to see a big difference
in the way that eastern and western cultures view parents.
Korea, the concept of hyo can be felt in almost every family. Hyo is a feeling
that your parents are your sky. It doesnt matter if your sky is bright,
cloudy, or downright dangerous looking - your sky is still your sky. And the majority
of Koreans believe that your sky must be respected at all times.
if your sky hasnt earned your respect? This is a question and mindset that
comes from western culture. The feeling of hyo is that your parents dont
need to earn your respect. They deserve your respect, just for being your parents.
captures the feelings that people from all cultures have when their parents pass
on from this world. Regardless of how much anger and bitterness people have towards
their parents, with few exceptions, people experience great loss and sadness when
their parents pass away. These feelings of loss and sadness can easily overpower
feelings of anger that were seemingly impossible to overcome while ones
parents were alive. I see this as almost a form of evidence that it is natural
and right for people to honour their parents at all times, regardless of their
takes into account the reality that our parents have experienced more pain and
suffering than we have, as a natural consequence of having lived longer than us.
With this reality in mind, it makes sense that as much as we need for our parents
to understand our deepest feelings and most hurtful experiences, our parents have
an even greater need for us to understand their deepest feelings and most hurtful
have I written about this? Because I believe that the attitudes and feelings that
we hold towards our parents and those closest to us have far greater impact on
our health and lives than what we eat, how much we sleep, and how much we exercise.
Learning about hyo brought me a lot of peace of mind. I no longer need for my
parents to apologize for their shortcomings and to understand how angry I was
with them. If anything, I feel the need to apologize to them for not recognizing
their place in my life at an earlier age.
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