Worried Parents Seek Your Advice…

CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE

first day of school

I’m a parent, and while it’s not in my nature to worry (I seem to be lacking that gene) I think about my kids’ safety regularly.

They are both still elementary-school aged, so my most pressing concerns are currently: Is it safe to let them ride their bikes unsupervised around the neighborhood? To walk to school without me accompanying them? To use a public restroom if I don’t go inside with them?

For parents in a more advanced stage of life than I am, the worries can extend more globally: Will my child be safe when living abroad in a foreign country without me?

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While our main focus here at Okinawa Hai is to help military families make the move here easier, and to find great things to do during their tour, we also have an audience of concerned parents on behalf of their adult children, who just want to learn more about the country where their offspring will be living for awhile.

Earlier this year the managers of our sister site, Korea Ye, were contacted by one such parent who wanted to know our thoughts about sending his young adult daughter to study abroad. With his permission {and some redacting of personal information} we’ve decided to bring his questions – and our answers – to a larger audience. Though our answers are tailored to the experience of living in South Korea, our thoughts about sending young adults to live abroad for awhile are global. (Embedded links are to links on Okinawa Hai; some words may have been changed for our readers living in Okinawa.)

The reason I am contacting you concerns my 20 year old daughter. She attends {a stateside university} and just got accepted into its Semester Abroad for studies in Seoul this fall. {This} program will have her attending {a university in South Korea}, taking classes and earning college credits toward her major.

As a dad, I always have a huge safety concern, which has been heightened by the recent attack on the US Ambassador. I am asking for your honest feedback concerning a lone young American female living in Seoul for a semester.

There appears to be conflicting viewpoints here back home, so I thought I would contact some people who are there right now.

I would very much appreciate comments that both myself and my wife could digest regarding:

(a)    Living in Seoul these days- -my daughter speaks intermediate Korean.

(b)   Young people’s attitudes towards young American females. I heard it was male chauvinist negative.

(c)    Would you have your own daughter live there right now with you back here in the states?

(d)   She could go to {Europe} as an alternative semester.  Would you?

 

JumpFrom Christine:

Coming to Seoul from the US, we knew very little about the area, language, or customs. I researched a lot online, using Korea Ye to get us set.

Once we got here and got settled in our off-post apartment, we dove into exploring and learning more. The people have been very friendly, there are signs in English everywhere, and we feel that this is the safest place we have ever lived in (even with the recent and unfortunate attack on the ambassador; my Korean friends were very upset and embarrassed by that incident). With that said, we are still careful and watchful – never good to be lulled into a sense of perfect safety.

I taught myself to read Kanji and that helped a bit further with understanding, so if your daughter knows intermediate Korean, she will have little problem communicating and finding her way. She will actually get a certain amount of additional respect for that, as a foreigner who has tried to learn Japanese ways/culture.

Seoul is an amazing place – the food, the cultural events, the history, the markets, the nature parks/mountains – all make it a thriving and exciting place to live. We are going to miss it when we PCS this year and have been frantically trying to do as much as possible from our “Korea bucket list”. The transportation system is amazing – I use the subways to go everywhere with my young son – and there are plenty of busses and taxis. We are not “party” people, so the side of Seoul that involves a lot of drinking and clubbing has not been on our radar too much – but it does exist and I am sure students would be more involved with that. That’s where she would need to be careful.

As I am not young by Korean standards and I have a child with me most of the time, I have not had any firsthand experience with {discrimination against young women}. I will say, however, that there is a certain amount of male chauvinist attitude here in general, even with a female president. Change takes time, and there is progress being made, but the patriarch-centered traditions/culture create a certain amount of “natural” chauvinism.

The thought of my child being that far away from me makes me very nervous, no matter where it would be. Add an Asian country to the mix, which can seem even more foreign at times, and I understand your concerns. That being said, having lived here and experienced firsthand the lifestyle, community atmosphere (you share in Korea – food, time, events and celebrations), cultural events, etc., I am so very glad we came. I would want my child to have that experience and adventure.


 

Namdaemun Market marketAnd from Joelle:

I have been traveling alone since I was about 17 years old and have lived long-term in the UK, PR China and Japan. I second everything that Christine said, but I’d love to add a contrast with Europe to the discussion.

The thing about Europe is that is FEELS more familiar to us. The words on the signs appear to be things we might be able to sound out, the food looks vaguely familiar, and people look more like what we are used to.

In Asia, everything is foreign. EVERYTHING. However, it is my opinion that the Asian attitude towards life is safer and more respectful towards all people.

An example: A friend of mine in Okinawa had lunch at a local cafe and then walked home with her daughter. She was a 4-minute walk from the cafe when the waitress came running up behind her with her wallet in hand; she’d left it at the restaurant and they’d raced after her to deliver it.

Another example: A friend left their snorkeling stuff at the beach one day and went back hours later to see if it was there. Not only was it there, but it had been rinsed off and moved into a nice pile on the seawall.

Another example: A friend had a new baby and was out to eat for the first time with her husband. She was trying to hold the baby and cut her steak at the same time (a difficult task). A waitress came over and asked if she could cut her steak so that it would be easier to eat while holding the baby.

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These are just some of my favorite examples of the wonderful nature of the Asian mindset in general. This doesn’t mean there aren’t bad apples, but my experience throughout Asia has been that honor and respect for others is highly prized. This is not as true in Europe (as is also the case in the US).

I lived in China for a year when I was 19 years old. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Unfortunately, this was in 1990 which means that my parents heard from me once a week or so on our Sunday morning phone call. When I would travel they had NO IDEA where I was. I still don’t know how they did it, but they trusted that they had raised me to be able to handle myself and that trust went a long way towards making sure I did.

I hope this is encouraging to you. My eldest is a freshman in college, and I have my fingers double and triple crossed that she too will decide to spend at least a year overseas. It is absolutely life-changing.


 

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To sum it up: If a young adult has the opportunity to go abroad for a period of time – whether to travel, study or work – the experience will be eye-opening and perspective-altering. Allowing a young adult to broaden their horizons widens their world in ways that staying within the boundaries of their home country will never afford them.

Safety should always be a concern; if your child is serving in the US military be assured they will receive plentiful training and be under the watchful eyes of their unit’s leadership. Though we all know this doesn’t mean these young servicemembers and/or spouses will always make good decisions, they are not released into a foreign country without the tools for understanding what is and is not acceptable behavior while abroad.

They will, however, return to the US with experiences, memories and a sense that the world is a wonderful place to explore; they leave with a bit of that country taking up permanent residence in their hearts.


Please note that all opinions here are those of individuals, not Okinawa Hai, Overseas Yes or any associated agency thereof.


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