People ask me constantly why I left a steady job in my hometown to travel around the world and change careers. It’s a difficult question to answer, especially when talking to a relative stranger. If you are too specific, people get bored. If you aren’t specific enough, people assume you’re hiding something.
Thanks to heavily biased media portrayals of foreigners, strong nationalism and even ethnocentrism among the older generations, many Koreans believe that all (non-military) foreigners living in Korea fit into one of three categories:
1) Running from debt.
2) Running from legal trouble.
3) Here only to find a husband/wife.
I try to answer honestly when people ask why I moved here. I want to do my part to dispel the myth that foreigners in Korea are here for the wrong reasons.
Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to answer honestly. I don’t hate my home town or my country. I loved my old job. I wasn’t broke or in trouble. But I was ready to leave for many reasons – most of them due to lack of opportunities and social life.
Today, I stumbled across an article that may help me explain my reasons. The article, based on a Gallup study called the “Well-Being Index”, ranks the ten most content and most miserable cities in the USA. Here’s what they had to say about my home town:
5. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, N.C.
> Well-being index score: 62.7
> Obesity: 32.1%
> Median household income: $38,923
> Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 79.0%
Nowhere else in the nation did people have as negative an evaluation of their lives as in the Hickory metro area. A major reason was that survey respondents living there were less optimistic about their life in five years than respondents in almost all other parts of the country. Hickory residents also were rated poorly for emotional health, with survey respondents telling Gallup they felt sad or depressed more often than in almost all other metro areas. As of January, the Hickory metro area had an 11.5% unemployment rate, among the higher rates in the country. Many residents lacked the formal education necessary to work in higher paying jobs. Just 79% of residents had at least a high school diploma, and 18.2% at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 85.9% and 28.5%, nationwide.
But that isn’t the whole story. Hickory may be lacking opportunity at the moment, but it’s still home. Having spent 26 happy years there, it will always be a place that I love.
Maybe I’ll return one day when times are better. Until then, I’ll continue to see the world and experience what other countries and cultures have to offer.
Until next time.