My post today takes on an issue that I haven’t written about much: class. In many ways, this post is a very personal one as it reflects on some of the issues that I’ve been thinking about a lot going into 2012.
As many of you know, I currently live in South Korea, a country whose population is swiftly moving into one of the fastest growing economies. At first I thought Koreans were incredibly class obsessed, but the longer I'm here, and the longer I engage with the world and different cultures, the more I rethink my snap judgements. The ideas of hierarchy, wealth, success, stable job, and designer clothing influence every aspect of the Korean lifestyle, perhaps even more so than in the United States, (at least on the surface). Here, the goal for every young Korean is to work themselves to the bone during their high school education, get into a good university and find a high-paying, incredibly respectable job (such as teaching English), marry a similarly respectable young person, have two children and dress them in Ralph Lauren (literally—I see two year olds wearing Ralph Lauren beanies and two hundred dollar Ugg boots). Maintaining an upper-middle class lifestyle is key.
Where am I going with this, well in the United States we’ve started to see a bit of a shift recently. While we still value monetary success, my recently graduated from college generation seems to be more focused on making enough to get by and doing what they love.
This is great, don’t you think? Many of us take a few years to travel the world. We cheaply backpack around Europe, staying in small, bohemian hostels before we trek off to sight-see and “get off the beaten road.”
But isn’t this still a function of our class? We trek with our iPods and Canon Rebel cameras; we blog about our train rides and purchase “unique” souvenirs from flea markets and bazaars. We partake in and purchase the world's exoticism. Is it not still our upper-middle class, college educated background that has allowed us to do so?
I would say yes.
Now I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. Traveling and seeing the world is NEVER a bad thing in my eyes, but for me, personally, I’ve realized that it’s done something to me.
I’m currently on my fourth, living abroad experience. I’ve loved them all. Despite the amount of student loan debt I racked up to have three of those four experiences, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
However, since these experiences, especially this last one in Korea I realize I don’t want the things I always thought I wanted. Moving into suburbia and staying in one house for the rest of my life literally gives me a panic attack. Literally. Doing the same thing everyday, seeing the same roads, doing the same activities, it feels incredibly confining.
It’s become a ridiculous catch 22 because I realize that I’d like nothing more than to spend my life hopping around from one state to the next, from one country to the next. The more I see of the world, the more I realize that I haven’t seen that much of it.
And then I see the poverty. And it makes me sad that I have so much. And then I read an article about child prostitution in Thailand in the New York Times on my MacBook Pro, with my oh-so-enlightened, English literary eyes and I feel grateful that I was lucky enough to be born in the country I was born in, with the incredible parents I call my own. And then I feel guilty that I have so much and that some beautiful young woman out there doesn't. In my mind, this young girl, she'll never get to go to college because she was forced to marry a man twice her age and she already has three kids. Or perhaps she was sold into sex slavery by her starving parents at the age of eight and so now she'll live out her very short life as a toy for the lust of a sick man and the greed of her owner.
And then I think I should just suck it up and stop whining about wanting to travel the world.
And then I feel sad because I just want to sit on an exotic beach somewhere and read a book and write about the beach and chill with my friends and siblings.
And I realize how silly my fears of the "cage" of suburban life are. That panic attack I'm having right now, just thinking about it, is selfish. Somewhere the innocent young girl in my mind would love to have the choice I was given. How entitled am I, that I should scoff at the background that allowed me to do the things that I have? But then I think about the rampant consumerism that is a tenet of my cultural background in the United States and I'm ashamed all over again.
This is a really depressing post, I know. Sorry.
But how do you do it friends? How do you reconcile all of these things? How do you not have panic attacks about silly things like this? How do you help those that need our help?
No sarcasm here, just a sincere question.
Help. I don't know what to do with any of this.