The Worst Habit I Picked Up in Korea

Living in a new environment will inevitably bring some personal changes. I spent a few weeks living in New York City when I took a course at Parson’s School of Design at age 16 and I mysteriously picked up a temporary New York accent. I lost my Pittsburgh accent (thank god) when I moved to Chicago at age 18 and started adjusting to the fast-paced life the city presented. Now that I’ve been in Korea for a little over two years, I have difficulty smiling in photos without holding up the incredibly stereotypical peace sign and find myself pushing people on public transportation without muttering an apology.

I’ve picked up a few interesting habits living in Korea. Some of them will be broken over time and others may stick with me forever. There’s one habit that I’m incredibly freaked out about, though. It’s by far the worst habit I’ve ever picked up in my entire life. I have a habit of leaving my personal belongings unattended.  

Growing up in America, I wouldn’t dream of leaving my laptop unattended in a cafe while I took a bathroom break. I wouldn’t sit on public transportation with a book in my hand and my brand new iPhone in my lap. I would have never left my purse wrapped around my chair while I went outside an establishment to greet a friend.

But it’s different here.

the worst habit i picked up in korea

At the end of the day, there aren’t many places in the world where people can have this mindset. While I can’t say I agree with a lot of aspects of modern Korean culture, my favorite characteristic by far is the fact that many Koreans have a unique sense of respect for other people’s belongings. Unfortunately, I find myself lackadaisically leaving my items unattended without much thought on a pretty regular basis. It’s not because I’m constantly drunk; quite the contrary, actually. I’ve just grown accustomed to the fact that people here are generally* not interested in stealing from others. Truth be told, I am leaving Korea at the beginning of March – exactly 816 days after I stepped off my first plane here – and I’m incredibly nervous.

*I’m sure there have been incidents of theft in Korea. I just haven’t encountered any sinister behavior in my time here. When it comes to this type of thing, I’ve only experienced nothing but kindness in Korea.

Living in a culture that makes it so easy to trust others is liberating but a bit overwhelming. While I don’t think anyone on the planet is inherently bad, I do know that this sort of trust isn’t the norm across the world. Given that I’ll be traveling throughout South East Asia extensively, I need to break this habit as soon as possible and start thinking like a thief again.

Some psychologists have suggested that it takes about 21 days to form as well as break a habit. While there’s no proven way to determine whether or not this is completely accurate, it’s worth taking into consideration. After a short stint in the states, I’ll be on my way through South East Asia for several months en route to New Zealand. Basically what I’m saying is I have a little under 30 days to break this habit otherwise I’m going to be royally screwed in my travels.

I think the best way I can manage this is by being present in every moment that I’m traveling. I’ve recently written about how to be a mindful traveler, and this certainly falls into that category. So, I’m writing this post mainly as a mental note to self to keep myself in check. I’m open to any and all advice for breaking bad habits.

The worst habit I picked up in Korea isn't what you'd expect.

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Have you ever developed a bad habit when you adapted to a new culture?

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10 Comments

  1. February 26, 2016 / 2:11 am

    Honestly, this freaks me out so much! I’m planning to go to Central America after Korea- I really don’t think it would be wise to leaving my smartphone lying on restaurant tables while I go to the toilet. Sometimes I even sit in a coffee shop for over an hour without checking to see if my bag is where I left it. Need to get my guard up a bit! Can’t believe you’re leaving Korea so soon! Will miss all your posts about life here- I find it so refreshing to come across blogs like yours that are so honest and relatable. It’s always comforting to see that someone is having similar thoughts and struggles to what you are going through 🙂 Looking forward to hear about all your adventures in the future! Take care Laura! x

  2. February 26, 2016 / 4:47 am

    I’ve picked up that habit as well, living in Singers..! Crazy how I would have never contemplated doing that in NYC or London!

  3. February 26, 2016 / 5:46 am

    When I think back to all the times that my friends and I left all of our purses in a booth to the bar and the hung out on the dancefloor/at the bar/on the roof for the next few hours, I am amazed nothing ever got stolen. I live in Singapore now, and there is a similar feeling – although there are also PSAs warning you “Low crime, doesn’t mean no crime”.

  4. February 26, 2016 / 2:32 pm

    I could write this same article: The Worst Habit I Picked up in Mexico… Sounds weird, but I’ve found the same cultural norm, which I genuinely appreciate… until I come home to the States and leave my backpack at the cafe table and it’s gone… 21+ days back in the States and I still leave my pack…

  5. February 27, 2016 / 2:11 am

    I wish that was a habit we could have everywhere. 🙁

  6. February 28, 2016 / 6:38 am

    Wait a minute, you’re from Pittsburgh?! I’m going to Pittsburgh in two weeks and I’ve been researching things to do! Could you recommend some things for a solo traveler?

    & oh man, that’s what I love about Asia, how disinterested and trusting people can be. In Taiwan, my friend lost her wallet that had her money, cards, and passport, and she got it back within a week, everything in tact. But I totally agree, that’s not a habit that work will work well in the US and especially not in South Asia.

  7. February 28, 2016 / 7:16 pm

    Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that everywhere?
    And so, how did it go? Any luck breaking the habit?

  8. February 29, 2016 / 12:57 am

    Oh my gosh, I have definitely picked up this habit too, girl. It was only yesterday that I realised how ridiculously trusting I’d gotten when I left my bike outside a 7/11 unlocked and with a bag hanging from the bags. I wouldn’t dream of doing that back in Wales. I think that’s also why I struggled at first when I went to India last month – I went from a place where you can trust everyone and there’s so little crime to suddenly being suspicious of everyone!

  9. February 29, 2016 / 1:54 am

    I’ve also been concerned about this for when I return to the UK. It’s really nice that we can feel people are so trusting here in Korea. I wish it was like that everywhere!

  10. March 12, 2016 / 5:19 am

    Oh my gosh! This is so true! I’m currently living in South Korea and it has become second nature to just leave valuable items unattended, because I know it will still be there when I return. Once I forgot my iphone in my bicycle basket for about 20 minutes, right outside a store. When I realized it I ran back out, just knowing that it would be gone. But, nope! Still there! I couldn’t believe it! That is definitely one thing I can appreciate about Korea.

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