In the latter stages of February, I found myself with an incredible, albeit sudden, opportunity to accompany several of our university’s professors on a visit to Sweden. With the trip taking place in the middle of the semester, and the offer made only days before the planned departure date, hasty but deliberate decisions were made, bags were quickly packed and, in my case, I rushed to ensure that the work still to be done at the Herald was left in capable hands. And so off I went, on my first ever trip to Europe, hoping to see and do much that was novel to me.
In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that one significant aspect of my trip never quite registered in my conscious mind until we actually arrived at our destination. In the short build-up to the trip, I found myself eagerly anticipating all the stark contrast that would undoubtedly exist between Korea and Sweden, and on a broader sense, between Asia and Europe. For all that I correctly predicted concerning the enjoyment I’d find in getting to experience that different part of the world, however, I failed to see how the vast differences would also shatter the unrealistic, idealized images I had about the places I had yet to visit.
In walking about the city of Stockholm, I marveled at its beauty, but soon a sense of sameness crept in alongside my appreciation of the architecture and overall ambience. The gradation of colors in the evening sky was picturesque, but it also represented the early closing hours of virtually all stores and services, barring public transportation and pubs. The Swedish people were friendly, polite and highly fluent in English, but something in my interactions felt overly impersonal, too much so for my liking. Suffice to say that for all the blatant flaws apparent in Korean society, it is nonetheless a place I consider home, and were I ever given the chance to swap Korea for a place like Sweden, there would definitely be significant trade-offs. And I’m not sure I believe it to be worth the sacrifice.
In all my previous travels, I believe that I did not have such experiences of coming to terms with reality, but that may be attributable to other factors - for one thing, I was younger and blissfully unaware of the mechanics behind the world, and by not visiting Europe earlier, I had perhaps built up the continent in my mind to be more than I knew I should admit it to be.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that one can always strive to achieve his utmost and work toward his ideals, but that cannot be expected of the world. As cynical and grim as that may sound, human imperfection is an innate aspect of our societies and civilizations and to expect from others what you yourself may not be necessarily capable of achieving is perhaps unfair. The problem extends even further if you consider the negative impacts of holding on too tightly to these ideals; could you ever be truly happy if you held grandiose, impossible dreams in your head that you continuously compare to your life now? There’s always room for improvement, but such improvements are a luxury, not a given.