The Circles of Life – My brother, Antonio, graduated from OPSU last week.  I missed that family gathering just as I’ve missed the birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  To keep from feeling so isolated from them I call all the time.  It’s much cheaper than it was 14 years ago when a call to America was a dollar a minute.  Today, chatting and email are free and, with my phone card, a call home is just four cents a minute.

 Tom and I stay busy with our own family and social gatherings here.  Most meetings are for the same reasons as those in the U.S. but with a few twists. In America usually the bride’s side pays for most of the wedding.  In Mexican culture the groom’s side pays for most of the wedding. The bride and groom might also ask a (usually) married couple to be co-parents (sponsors) of a particular expenditure (band, hall, cake, wine, etc.). In Korea the guests pay for most of the wedding expenses. The guests give a money gift in an envelope with the giver’s name on it and put it in the “donation” box.  The amount depends on how close the relationship is.  The money gifts average from thirty to two-hundred dollars. At the end of the day, the gift box will usually contain about ten thousand dollars. The same goes for funerals

That reminds me of a joke (Tangent alert!): The bride broom said to the groom broom, “I’m going to have a baby whisk.”

“That’s impossible!” said the groom broom, “We haven’t even swept together yet!”

The most frequent types of social gatherings are the “circle” get-togethers. Stemming from the philosophy of Confucius,  people are to be forever close and generous with groups that take part in our lives.  Family is first, with the elders receiving the highest honor.  School friends, club members and co-workers are the next most common “circles”.  My 72-year old mother-in-law keeps busy meeting her circles throughout the year.  They include elementary through college friends (different people in each group, about ten members per group).  My husband also meets his school friends. There’s even a UTA (Arlington) alumni club here. Last weekend we went to a reunion of his undergraduate college club (children of decorated heroes of Korean wars).  I’ve only known them for two years and I’ve already seen them four times.  They treat me like family just like they treat each other.  There’s a lot of eating, laughter and sharing of children’s pictures.  Of course there’s karaoke to end the night (the individual private karaoke rooms are big enough for dancing, which we do).

I seem to write about the negativity of Korea, but that may be because I’m pointing out the differences.  There’s got to be something here that entices many foreigners to extend that visa and renew that contract.  Many who go back home end up coming back for more of that something that they found missing in their homeland.  That something is the “circles” social life. Foreigners will find that people are warm and willing to invite them to join in their circles. If a Korean comes to America to work hardly anybody will bother to go out of their way to invite him to take him to the beach or skiing with their friends and pay the way, but if a foreigner comes here we usually get the royal treatment from co-workers, students, church members etc.  Billy Parker, of Boise City, came upon my invitation in 1997.  I had forever invited my brother, Fidel, but he was always too busy married to his job (it’s a good marriage), so Billy took me up on the offer.  I felt guilty for leaving him halfway through his five-month stay (he got a job) but I needn’t have feared, he was warmly welcomed into circles of friendships.  They took him out to see the sights and sounds of Korea. 

I’m quite the boring foreigner to my new friends in Korea.  They can’t take me to any new place because I’ve been there, done that, with my old friends. I’ve seen more beaches, islands, mountains and historic palaces than my husband has. When I returned to Texas in 1997 I often cried from loneliness at first. My co-workers didn’t socialize together after work, my students were second graders instead of engineers, my new church wasn’t as social and my neighbors were on drugs. 

Overall, Americans tend to live individual isolated lives. This is something we can learn from Koreans, the ever-meeting circles of friendship.