A Story of Fixed Mindset

Hi! Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing a three-part series about the dangers of resisting change. This is part one!


Living abroad, I would have liked to think of myself as culturally competent and open-minded. It was after returning to the USA and reminiscing/reflecting about my travels, I discovered I may not be as open as I once thought.  When in Rome do as the Romans do was only true to a certain extent.

While living it up in Korean culture I tried all different sorts of new experiences. I had never had kimchi before but checked it off my list before even landing. It was also on that transatlantic flight that I first came across Korean face masks that I would later become obsessed with. If you haven’t tried them yet, I would

Tangent over.

The point being, I was so ready to embrace change. I ate all the red spices and braved swallowing the twisting tentacles of a gourmet traditional food, live octopus! I started wearing more fashionable clothing even at the sake of my health. High heels on an elementary teacher was a common sight and I went for it with all my might, even if it meant losing all my toenails.

It was only after my second toenail mishap my Korean co-teachers informed me I should be buying expensive heels from the department store. I was like, “I paid a lot for these adorable heel booties. They were like $40!” Their shoes, $200 plus. That’s a mindset to overcome if I ever had one. I can’t pay that much for shoes!

I gladly sported a giant, plastic, pink polka-dot bow in my hair; I learned how to read Hangul; I took baths with 100 other women, got wasted with the entire educational faculty (which can be considered normal school bonding time I should mention), and I was interested in learning all about their traditional palaces and holidays.

Looking back, I was open to experiences but not suggestions I change something about myself or the culture I personally identified as important.

It was easy and fun to try out some new fashion but tell me I can’t stay home sick, that I should sleep in the nurse’s office at the school, and WATCH OUT…for angry, stubborn, this is ridiculous, closed off mindset to show herself.  I argued and pleaded; I attempted to listen for the sake of listening but immediately proceeded to explain why my way was probably the better way.  

In the US, we are trained from an unbelievably young age to cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough, not double dip in the salsa, and only go to the doctor when you think it’s bacterial.  In Korea, the public health field hasn’t quite developed yet (see…I’m still not being very open-minded).  Koreans sneeze in a tightly packed subway without a thought. All meals are typically family style, being served in one giant pot to share out of, and you can go get a shot in your bum at the hospital for everything and anything that might ail you.

Did I mention when you are sick, you must stay in the shool nurse’s office with the children? I think it’s worth mentioning again. There was NO WAY I was going to show up in head-to-toe sweat pants with my hair stuck to the side of my face out into public.  So, I put on my teacher outfit, brushed my hair, sat in a doctor’s office for a shot of God knows what and then laid down in a busy, cold, sterile room while my students stuck their heads around the corner to get a giggle at sick teacher.

These changes were so difficult for me to accept not because they were simply cultural, but because they ARE social-cultural mindsets taught during my own schooling by parents and teachers.  In our society, it’s okay to try new fashion or new food as well as to learn about and attempt to understand others, but just like with curriculum implementation, that knowledge doesn’t tend to translate into practice.  

Do we really accept diversity and live comfortably within it, or do we learn about it and merely understand what it is?  As for me, I merely attempted to understand but continually regressed, justifying my own beliefs, strengthening and solidifying them even more in my mind!

What do you think? Have you overcome a fixed mindset, pushing past your comfort zone? Let us know your thoughts or a story of your own in the comment section below.