Us humans are made of the same ingredients: cells, DNA, organs, blood, bones, etc. We are all the same. But one of the beauties of being human is our gift of individuality. Thanks to our varying genes, we come out of the womb looking a little different from every other person. We are one of a kind.
I grew up in America. The melting pot. Home to a billions of people with different hair color, eye color, height, weight, personalities, religion and more. A population of beings who pride themselves on uniqueness and constantly strive for more of it.
I am a human and an American. I am a full supporter of individuality – of embracing who you are and sharing it with the world.
At least I thought I was.
When I moved to South Korea, I was ready for the unknown. I was prepared for the struggles of adapting to a new environment filled with unfamiliar people, food, and culture. But surprisingly, settling into life here was much easier than expected. It wasn’t until I took a step outside the country when I discovered why.
To put things in perspective, South Korea is smaller than my home state of Arizona. Around 6 million people currently live in AZ, while around 50 million currently live in South Korea. 50 million people who have a whole lot in common…
Matching clothes is not only for couples
Koreans dress well, and they dress the same. Pea coats, fur scarves and dress shoes has been the standard throughout this long winter, but the really frigid days breed a sea of colorful Michelin Men (or Drakes?).
They’ve got the same tastebuds
Food choice is based on popularity. Whatever the celebs are eating on reality TV, the whole country is eating a week later.
Finding friends with the same hobbies is easy
When it comes to my students, the girls do piano and inline skating, and the boys do soccer and taekwondo. On the weekends their parents take them to the biggest and best department stores, to the kids cafes, or to a hotel (if you don’t staycation, you are not Korean). As for the ajumas and ajushis, you’ll find them trudging up the mountains, head to toe in the latest neon hiking gear, drinking makgeolli once they reach the the top.
The buildings are tall and white
It’s not an exaggeration. What you see in this picture goes on for-ev-er.
They know the same shit
I could walk up to any random female (and probably some males), and I guarantee you she could tell me all I need to know about skincare. Wash face, then apply toner, maybe some essence, DO NOT FORGET moisturizer, follow it up with sunscreen, and then apply make up – which requires a whole separate set of products and steps. Their knowledge on food is country-wide as well. I was proud of myself for trying one of the strangest Korean delicacies: chicken feet. I told every Korean I knew that I ate it and hated it, expecting a laugh and a pat on the back. Nope. Every single one of them responded with, and I quote, “But it’s really good for your skin! Because of the collagen!”
Sounds boring, right? Well, surprisingly, it’s not. I got so use to all the sameness in Korea, that I didn’t even realize its intensity until I got away from it.
In February I spent a few days in Tokyo, Japan: a wild, incredible, and unpredictable city. It was exactly what I expected, but I was unexpectedly caught off guard by it. When I saw people with green hair dressed in something other than black pea coats, I was confused. I thought things like, “C’mon, that doesn’t look good. Why?”
Oh no. Who the hell have I become?!
Before Korea, I probably would have thought, “Damn that’s one hell of an outfit. Work it girl/dude.”
But there I was, unsure how to handle all the diversity! I missed the RoK’s predictability! Better yet, how could I not notice that I was seeing the same things every day? Have I turned into a close-minded, dull person who doesn’t salt and pepper her eggs?
Although I’ve grown to find some comfort in Korean monotony, the truth is that my thoughts on uniqueness haven’t changed all that much. I still seek variety, relish in the world’s differences, treasure individuality, and enjoy breaching the comfort zone. I do, however, find less harm in sticking to the same ol’ same ol’. People should not look, act or strive to be a certain way because society says they should, but if it’s what works for them, then so be it! There is nothing wrong with knowing what you like and going for it, even if it’s what everybody else likes. Just be sure to add some salt and pepper every now and then 😉
A few quotes highlighting that the world’s sameness can be just as beautiful as it’s distinctiveness. After this brief period of confusion and self deliberation, these insights helped reestablish my views.
“The important element is the way in which all things are connected. Every thought and action sends shivers of energy into the world around us, which affects all creation. Perceiving the world as a web of connectedness helps us to overcome the feelings of separation that hold us back and cloud our vision. This connection with all life increases our sense of responsibility for every move, every attitude, allowing us to see clearly that each soul does indeed make a difference to the whole.” ― Emma Restall Orr,
“We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct & individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive. I will not blind myself and say that my black brother is not different from me. I will not blind myself and say that my brown sister is not different from me. But my black brother is he as much as I am me. But my brown sister is she as much as I am me.” ― C. JoyBell C.