I’m really loving my life updates, so I hope you’ve been loving them too. As you may know, I recently returned from my first trip to Seoul, South Korea. I’m Korean American and I’ve always wanted to travel to Korea to see where my family originally came from. It’s kind of funny that this was my first trip there and that I was there for a wedding for my sister’s friends.
So I went to the land of Psy and “Gangnam Style,” ate authentic Korean BBQ, visited some beautiful temples and palaces, and really felt a sense of belonging. However, I don’t think I would want to live here. It’s a modern city with a lot of technology, but it’s still a little backwards when it comes to things like women’s right to choose and the pollution is awful. But I can see myself visiting a few times in the future.
Maybe it’s because I’m Korean and living in America, but I’ve always struggled with who I am and metaphorically asking myself where my “loyalties lie.” Am I Korean? Am I American? I’ve been so homogenized by American culture and growing up here that I see myself more as American than as Korean. However, I don’t look it. I don’t look like those Baywatch babes with blonde hair, slender body, and classically beautiful features. But I’m American and in this country it’s ok if you don’t. You’re you, but at the same time I’m not me? I wonder if any other race within this diverse nation feels the same way.
This is getting quite philosophical, so I want to clearly say that while I’m an American and love being a citizen of this country, I still wonder what my heritage is and what I stand for and who were these people that I call “my people.” Being second generation born in America, I find myself asking that all the time. How do I maintain being the American I am while keeping true to the people I come from?
So the opportunity for me to go to Korea came up and I couldn’t turn it down. It wasn’t the best timing to go with me losing my job and moving and getting married and all that, but I couldn’t say no. And you know what I found there?
I found myself detaching. I found myself as an American traveling to another country. I was being scolded for not being Korean enough. People were expecting me to speak fluently even though I came from a country where the dominant language is English. I found myself awkwardly bowing to everyone just to be polite when all was needed was a quick handshake. And even the opposite where I offered my hand only to be greeted with a bow.
I found myself feeling like a person touring the country of her origin, but not feeling original. I felt it when I saw my friend, an expat, speaking better Korean than me. “I’m still working on the dialect and emotion in my voice,” she said to me. But it wasn’t necessary to understand inflection when you can order coffees for everyone without having to switch to English.
And in its own small way, it was disheartening. I found myself wanting to go home and be in the comfort of a language and a people that I was used to. Korea is beautiful and a place where everyone should visit once, but I don’t identify with it as my country. My country is America and I’m proud of that. My country is also Korea and I’m proud of that too. However, Korea is not my home. It is the place that gave me my identity and I will always cherish that. I will always try to return, but as a tourist.
Identity is tough, folks. I don’t think anyone will ever get a good grasp of it. If you’re struggling through identity, not only ethnic identity but also gender identity and religious identity and all the other parts of you that make up who you are, then I can confidently say that you’re not alone. No one ever is. Everyday is a mad grab at finding who you are and doing what needs to be done in order to preserve that journey. It’s hard and it’s easy. But when you explore it and answer some of those questions you have about yourself, I think the one thing you get out of the whole ordeal is comfort.