Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Really Depressing Post and A Plea for Help

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.


  1. Great post Rachael and one that is very, very thought provoking. I look back at my almost 57 years here on this earth and I have only been to one foreign country, Costa Rica, and I have no regrets whatsoever.... Maybe one and that is that I have not seen many, many wonders in the good ole USA, but I hope to one day.

    There are many disturbing facts of life that we have no control over, like those you have mentioned, so you have to try to concentrate on those that you do or can have an influence on. I find my greatest joy in family and so thankful, as you are for being raised in this wonderful country of freedom. We are all different and have different goals in life but the most important is that no matter what those goals or desires are, they need to align with our Heavenly Fathers plan. Seek his guidance and remember hope and faith and you will be blessed with understanding of what the next chapter in your book of life will be.

    Miss your smiling face...

    Mark Bailey

  2. I've had similar panicky feelings about these same things. But in the past few years, I've figured a few things out:

    1. I tend to live my life in increments of about 2-5 years. After a certain amount of time, I get antsy and want to start something else. I've accepted that this is OK. No one can make you commit to be one type of person and do one type of thing for the rest of my life. Anyone who tries, you can feel free to leave behind. It's your life.

    2. The world is a huge place and there's always more to learn. If you have the means to learn many things, do it. You can avoid feeling guilty about this privilege by using your skills to be of value to your community and world. No matter what you're doing, chances are you can use it to make the world a better place.

  3. I like what Mark wrote. You are an exceptional human being. The world needs more light. Not the neon lights of the world, but the light of Christ. You have that light. Cultivate it and share it with others. Maybe one day you and your words will make a greater difference in the world and we will all be able to experience the light more deeply.

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  5. I think there are a lot of false dichotomies out there because most people live life one way, a few react against it. The number of people who just live the life they want without conceding to or fighting against the majority are relatively small.

    The idea that the only two options are spending money in America and spending money abroad is a particularly capitalist false dichotomy. I've realized that living in the California Bay Area is more expensive than most parts of the world. I could live much more cheaply in many foreign countries and enjoy learning about other cultures. First off, the cost of living in many places is much less than where I grew up. Second, although a mobile life style may involve spending more travel money, the money saved in cost of living and not buying tons of stuff to haul around can more than make up for it--depending on how you live. I don't believe where you live is nearly as moral an issue as the how you live.

    Also, my experience answering phones at a rape crisis counseling center in Oakland taught me that there's desperately needed service where ever you are. You can live it up at home or abroad, or live a life of service.

    For me, I kind of fear the suburban live not because it's limiting, but because I know it would be easy for me. I was born upper-middle class in the US, and if I just coast, I can stay that way. But I way to make my life richer than just what I was given, richer in personal experience and richer in service.

    I guess, though, when I sit back and think about it, other worlds are always closer than you think. Just try and talk to a homeless person asking for money on the street of a major US city (hopefully not a scary, dangerous one.) I don't want to limit myself to the world I was born in, but there are radically different cultures and histories even within one's home country.