As I prepare to head home I am struck by the almost daily reporting of a new shooting in the U.S. It almost seems like a second page item. Something U.S. citizens have come to expect and don’t seem surprised by, in spite of how horrific we know it is.
For the last year and a half, I have lived in a country with a very low crime rate. Korea is among the countries with the lowest gun violence. I have not ever felt that my neighborhood was not safe. I walk home alone at night and I travel on the subway never even thinking about my safety. Now, if you ask me about the drivers in Korea, that’s a whole other story. They are the worst drivers I have ever seen and I have traveled to some pretty scary car countries. It’s anarchy on the streets and you can never be sure if a driver will stop at a red light, forget about stop signs. It’s a pedestrian nightmare. But gun violence is almost non-existent.
I grew up as a city person learning to be vigilant about my safety at an early age. As a woman in the United States I was always looking over my shoulder in parking garages, walking down any street that wasn’t busy and well lit. I had my radar up all the time. In the last year and a half, I relaxed my vigilance and, as I said, other than cars, I am safe.
The teenagers here play video games for hours on end. Most of my freshman students tell me they spend so much time playing video games, many of them violent by any standard, and yet this is not translated into buying a gun and replicating these games in the real world. These are students that are under enormous pressure to achieve and unfortunately, while the suicide rate is one of the highest among young people, they are not thinking about shooting their friends and fellow students. There is bullying in the schools and even that does not seem to bring people to the brink of gun violence. This is not a country without its problems but the news is not filled with violent crimes.
The United States is ranked number one for gun ownership, while Korea is 147th, Living as an expat and watching the news from the States every night, albeit a day late, it all seems surreal until this moment when I’m about to get on a plane and head home–home to a place I have missed, home to a place where my family and many of my friends are, home to a place where I will have to reignite my vigilance and keep a watch on the real possibility of violence as a normal occurrence of daily life. I will once again have to ask the question: Am I safe?