In defense of rural people and places.

Yesterday, I had a good conversation with one of my students. She speaks English very well (the result of years of learning English at school and going to English academy after school), and has lots of opinions about Korea. She was especially troubled at the bias against students in rural areas.

Paraphrased, this is what she said, “Teachers tell us that students in Seoul are so much better and are under so much more stress than we are. But we take the same tests as they do, and we do the same things as we do. The problem with Korea is that they think that bigger is better. They think Jeju is less because we’re not Seoul.”

I told her that Korea is not alone in its rural bias. It is alive and well in the USA, too.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky – and by small, I mean 200 people (as recorded by the 2000 US Census). We have one general store, 6 churches, and a school building that no longer functions as a school. We have to go to the next county over if we want Wal-Mart or a hospital or a quality Mexican restaurant. Because of the lack of resources, many people are leaving. I believe this is the story of many rural towns, not just mine in Kentucky.

But, perhaps it’s time to stand up for rural America and her people.

Despite the lack of resources and even perceived isolation at the local levels – rural America is good at heart. While there is a lack of modern entertainment, “good” schools, and general bustle, the rural setting is a place of quiet thoughtfulness. The days are longer, the nights a bit darker, and the silence? Well.  sometimes deafening.

But, in my experience, rural America has nurtured a constant sense of pure amazement. Ask me how I feel anytime I get on a subway in Seoul. I can’t stop thinking about how people can dig miles of tunnels underground and stick trains in them. Ask me how I feel when I get on an airplane. Freaking amazing. Ask me what it’s like when I’m in Kentucky and I see a plane flying overhead. I feel like someone’s on a good adventure. Ask me what it’s like to overlook a city skyline and then lament the lack of green space. All too real.

If anything, students in rural areas (whether the USA or Korea), may have a greater appreciation for the world at hand. For it is this “isolation” from the big cities that helps develop a sense of wonder and amazement at the world beyond the fragile city limits. In a big city, there’s everything to see and do. In rural settings, it’s all to the imagination.

So, I say to my students at my (somewhat) rural island school, take your imagination and run with it. The size of a city does not measure one’s intellect or potential. If my fate depended on the fact that I was born near and raised in a 200-person town, I probably would have never went to a top Kentucky college or became a Fulbright scholar.

In the end and in defense of rural people and rural places, I say that we are bigger dreamers, harder workers, and the most creative. Sure, we’ll have to drive a bit to get to a hospital, theater, restaurant, or supermarket, but all of these amenities can never add up to the constant feeling of amazement and wonder.

geon bae!

Sarah

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