Seoul, South Korea – Do you often find yourself too sad to tie your shoelaces? Do you ever slave over your hair to flip exactly the right way to hide your sorrow-stricken eyes? Have you ever written a tear stained break-up song, somehow sounding a lot like My Chemical Romance?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be stranded in Emoland, U.S.A.
Teens such as yourself make this place a home and are often reluctant to leave. But before you drown yourself in tears, there is a road to your salvation, if you have about $1,500 and a month or more to spare.
What you need to do is fly to a country called Korea, preferably the one south of the place where Kim Jung Ill lives. The Korean society will be more effective than any pills, cuts, or even pot, for if you ever define yourself as “emo,” you will get strange stares for calling yourself “aunt,” which is what “emo” means in Korean.
The first step to your recovery is the airport.
All airports support your cause to escape because they will automatically take away your razors or any other sharp objects. It’s an international effort that not only stops careless terrorism, but also stops the rapid growth of the emo culture.
When you arrive at the Incheon international airport, have your host family pick you up from the airport. When you first meet them, don’t be alarmed if they marvel at the fact that your black hair seems darker than theirs.
You will blend in easily, thus unintentionally conforming to what you tried to resist in the first place.
The fastest way to your cure happens to be the Korean education system. Your cloak of hair will be ordered to be cut by the school administration, exposing your eyes to the world outside of your inner emo-ness.
In accordance to the same standards, your hair cannot be dyed. Furthermore, expressing your sorrow through your clothing is not an option, for you will have to wear a standard school uniform.
Instead of reaching for any mind altering chemicals or crying about your razors being taken away by the airport officials, eat like a Korean and express yourself by crying through kimchee and fresh green chili peppers dipped in spicy hot chili sauce. It’s more affordable than a new razor blade or a relationship.
The most important change will be in your health life.
Does driving or riding the bus to school, eating fatty and processed food, and living a largely sedentary life sound familiar? It’s a typical suburban American teenage life. And your girl-jean-perfect body shape is crying out for some vitamins.
To successfully get out of Emoland, you need a sound mind and a healthy lifestyle. Korean people generally walk a lot more than suburban Americans. Driving around, especially in the cities, can be a hassle and traffic jams are quite common. So instead of dealing with that, well-established bus and subway systems can aid your transportation.
Since everything is pretty condensed in this small country, people walk to the bus and subway stations near them and then walk again to wherever they need to go.
Food is also healthier in Korea.
Everywhere you go, you can eat Korean food, including 떡복이 (dduck-bok-yee), a popular snack food that consists of chewy rice patties that are about the size of small sausages along with hot sauce, fish patties, onions, and other vegetables. The most authentic way to eat it is to purchase it from a street vendor.
You will also find noodles, 김밥 (it sort of resembles sushi), tons of vegetables, 짜장면 (black bean sauce with noodles that are sold in all Chinese food places in Korea), and other Korean foods.
Or, you can try one of many pizza places in Korea, including Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Domino’s, Mr. Pizza (A Korean pizza franchise), and other local pizza places. Don’t think that you will get the same kind of pizza from these places like you would in the U.S.
Korean pizzas seem to be more creative. At Pizza Hut in Korea, it is nothing new for pizza crusts to have sweet potato and cheese.
The best part is knowing that you are eating much better quality food in Korea for less than what you would pay in the U.S. Food can make people happy and just by looking at the wealth and variety of food offered in Korea, it seems obvious that people will never go emo about food.
The most critical lesson you have to learn is finding the will to live. This is often obtained by learning to appreciate what you already have. The Korean society and the education system will definitely help you.
By the time Korean students are in high school, they get about two weeks of real vacation, without any classes.
During the pseudo-vacation period, about a month for summer and two months for winter, students are technically off, but all students report to school for non-mandatory classes. Intense social pressure dictates that these students study like they always do, except for a week in the summer and another in the winter that are truly a break
If that isn’t enough to like American schools more, all Korean high school students almost always need to attend classes until around 10 p.m. for what they call 야자 (ya-ja), which means night study. If your high school is somehow lucky enough to not have such a long ya-ja, you will most likely have to head to 학원 (haak-won), roughly translated as a private academy, where you will study any subject that you need extra help in. This usually includes math, English, science and other areas of interests such as art and music.
These educational practices are perfectly accepted by the Korean society and you will be too sleepy to complain. After about a month of living such a life, I am sure that you will appreciate your American school a lot more and your symptoms of emo-ness will quickly disappear.
Who has time to write sad love songs and think about death when your teachers will throw chalk sticks at you to keep you awake to study?
During the precious time when you are not in school or in haak-won, you will learn the lesson of confidence through singing. Karaoke bars are everywhere and in Korea, karaoke places are called 노래방 (noe-rae-baang), literarily translated as the “singing room.” Noe-rae-baangs are common places for any Korean to have fun.
You can’t say that you have truly been to Korea if you have not been to a noe-rae-baang and sang. Being a foreigner at your Korean high school will make you quite popular and I am pretty sure that you will have no trouble finding some friends who will take you to a local noe-rae-baang.
Don’t fret if you do not know any Korean songs, for there’s tons of American/English songs to choose from, featuring artists such as Britney Spears, Maroon Five, 50-cent, Greenday, and much more. There are always Korean songs, American/English songs, and Japanese songs at every noe-rae-baang, and sometimes it features songs in other languages if they are popular, such as “Dragostea Din Tei” by O-Zone.
If your Korean friends are real friends, they will make you sing and make you drink some soju, which tastes like fermented vodka, and some rice alcohol. Such friendly practices will help you finally gain some confidence in other categories besides break-up song writing.
After you live in Korea for at least a month as a high school student, you will learn that there is honestly nothing to be emo about regarding the American education system when you compare it to the Korean system.
Long vacations, an earlier dismissal time, and no clothing restrictions all seem too good to be true after you get used to Korean schools.
Not only that, but the Korean way of life seems to offer no time for emo-ness.
After a month of living a Korean teen’s lifestyle, your inner emo-ness will quickly disappear.
Come back for recovery sessions if needed, and if your pockets are not yet scorched by the price of the rising plane tickets.
Minha Lee is a Correspondent for Youth Journalism International.