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Becoming Brave Across Cultures: Being More Comfortable in Cultural Discomfort

By Michelle Ami Reyes

Brave Women Series - Michelle's Story

I’ll never forget the first time I tried Korean BBQ.

I went with a group of Korean American friends to a local restaurant that specialized in Korean BBQ, and it was quite the experience! I had never gone before, though, and I didn’t know what to expect.

The first thing I remember when we walked inside was how loud it was. Korean BBQ restaurants often have an open kitchen, so you can see the chefs cooking and chopping in the back. The sounds of sizzling meat cooking echoed throughout the place, and I distinctly remember how the air smelled different. Not bad. Just different.

We sat down at a big rectangular table with a small grill in the middle. The waiter brought out plate after plate of raw meat, beef, shrimp, pork, chicken as well as vegetables, and everyone just instinctively knew what to do…except for me. I watched as my friends grabbed chop sticks (which I didn’t know how to use) and started throwing food on the grill (which I didn’t know how to do).

For whatever reason, I started feeling sick. To this day, I still can’t figure out if it was the smells, the noise, or perhaps the combination in the restaurant. It was just all new for me, and as an introvert it was a bit of a sensory overload as well. My head began to throb. I felt a little nauseous. Everything in my body was screaming to go home. For a moment I contemplated making an excuse to just duck out. But I knew that me leaving would not show love to my friends. They had been so excited to take me out to Korean BBQ and introduce me to their favorite foods. I couldn’t just walk out.

In that moment, I realized I needed to be brave. I needed to bravely sit in this p