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