Lessons from the Produce Section

Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.

Monsoon season began the day after I arrived at Jeongok, a small town where the rushed lifestyle found in most Korean cities was in abundance. My grandmother, who owned a grocery store in the town, asked me to take over during a particularly rainy morning. Mrs. Baek, a long-time customer, was the first to arrive at the store, and she had difficulties stuffing her umbrella into her handbag. I opened the door for her and invited her in with a welcoming gesture. Expecting her to give a warm smile and return the greeting, I was instead met with a confused face as she cautiously slid past. Every customer I opened the doors for maintained the same uneasy gratefulness as Mrs. Baek that day, as if meaning to ask, “You’re doing this for me? Why?”

People I knew back home appreciated extra efforts to show friendliness, unlike the suspicion or indifference these customers had shown. But I began to learn later on that what I had done was appreciated, albeit unheard-of in Korean society. My efforts at extending a hand of kindness helped me recognize a key value of my own, and helped me—at least within the store—begin to break a tradition of social silence.

Taking a walk around the main street after that morning, I discovered that this rushed...

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