Whilst in Korea at SeoulTech for a 2 week summer school I met many people from many countries including: Japan, Taiwan, China, Russia, USA and more. It was a fascinating experience and I have made some true life long friends both in the UK and overseas. However, there was one incident that left me totally speechless, which for anyone who knows me is a complete rarity.
Now before I go into detail about this situation I want to say this as a kind of disclaimer. If the person I am talking about in this post ever happens to read this, do not take what I say too personally. We clearly just have very contrasting opinions and I simply want to explore that difference.
So, let’s get into it. It was the first Friday night of the summer school and most of us decided that we would go clubbing for the night in Itaewon – an area of Seoul popular with foreigners. Clubbing is not something I usually indulge in, simply because people in clubs generally drive nuts, but I went along for the experience and the company.
Before heading to the club we went to a sports bar for a few drinks. We joked around and talked about little things, mostly small talk like what do you study? Where are you from? What languages do you speak? (given that to Asians my French is fluent I may have played that card a little stronger than I should have while I had the chance) etc.
At some point we ended up talking about where people look like they are from and I passed a comment that the person opposite me – a Russian – did not look like they were from Russia. She looked pretty stunned by my remark and maybe even disgusted, so I waited for her to reply and that’s where it gets interesting.
She went on to explain that one of her parents was Ukrainian and the other from Belarus and thus concluded that she was fully Russian and was surprised to hear that I thought she did not look it.
Speechless. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. I thought maybe she was joking but she was very direct and looked totally serious. So I poked the bear a little more to see how deep the rabbit hole went.
“You know Ukraine is its own country, right?” I asked.
This reply honestly shook me despite how trivial it may seem to some (though more likely most) people.