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South Korea and Fairytales

I’m nearing the end of my contract, and I’ve been trying to find a way to describe my experiences to myself so far. The only thing that fits well enough, I think, is that South Korea is like a Fairy Tale.

Think about it. The reasons drawing us here are the same as those which drew Fairy Tale characters into the Forest, or to the Witch’s house. We come because we want adventure, or we want to change our lives somehow, or through simple necessity.

We find a beautiful county, where money is in bountiful supply, gorgeous beings are everywhere and, oddly enough, often seem fascinated with us.  Many of us have few responsibilities, and the harshness of adult life is often at bay. It’s a place where we can live easily, but always aware that in the other, outer world, Things are Happening.  One fear of mine is that, like Rip Van Winkle, I might emerge to find that I have no place in the Realm Outside.

But Korea changes you. For most of us, I assume, it’s the first place largely separate from the influences which defined us growing up. When we come here, we face challenges (and sometimes enemies) that have to be overcome. Like the protagonist in a fairytale, we are forced to grow and mature. We can even fight battles, even if our opponents are only hordes of troublesome students.

This is also a place haunted by its own demons.  Study and Competition are gobbling up little children right and left.  Tragically, this is no fairytale. The atmosphere of concentrated pressure, juxtaposed with the fun and laughter that the students still manage to squeeze out, heightens the sense of unreality. I’m glad- and I suspect many others are too- that I was not born in this Other World.

I know that these words could be applied to almost any country, but Korea is where the fairy tale happened for me. When I look back on my time here, I think I’ll remember a magical interlude, a place Beyond the Fields I Knew.

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