Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An American in Seoul

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m only about two weeks away from departing for Korea! I know I haven’t really discussed this on the blog in many months. Too many things have been on my mind, but right now I am absolutely focused on my trip. After much debate, I chose to do an adult adoptee tour which will be for ten days. Coming to that decision was incredibly difficult for me and I may have to dedicate a different post to this later. I felt very conflicted for a while which is another reason why I failed to blog anything about it. At this moment, however, I am mostly excited to be going and busying myself trying to prepare.

I’m preparing in some pretty standard ways, like finding travel-sized containers for toiletries and getting a converter plug, but the biggest thing for me has been preparing to adapt to Korea. There is so much I don’t know. I am a foreigner to my birth culture. However, I won’t look like a foreigner in Korea at all. My mentee even told me that I am the average height of a Korean woman. People will expect me to be like them when I’m just not in so many ways. It’s already happened to me multiple times in the US, so in Korea I can only imagine it will happen tenfold. And Korea really does have such a homogenous population. How can I blame them for assuming? To come across an ibyang (Korean word for adoptee) is probably not a typical experience.

So, really, preparation for me has been about learning to be ‘more Korean’. I’m not going to lie: a big part of me wants to fit in. Maybe that is a juvenile thing to say, but it’s honestly how I feel. I do not want to be stumbling through every day in Korea as this glaringly American foreigner having no idea about language or cultural norms, especially when I am Korean myself! I’ve been cramming Korean language lessons into my head, learning about manners and even put my ears on a strict diet of Korean music only. If this sounds a little ridiculous, it probably is. I kind of feel like this is middle school all over again when I had to have gel pens, wear flared jeans and watch South Park just so I could discuss it with other kids at school.

The thing is, TV shows and fashion are just trends that fade away, but Korea will always be a part of me. Maybe all this determination to learn about the culture is a phase. Or maybe it’s something more than that. Maybe it’s a path leading to a better sense of who I am. Some KADs seem so confident and grounded in their sense of self while others seem to be in a perpetual identity crisis. I’m….somewhere in that fray. Learning Korean is getting a little frustrating, but I have always loved learning languages. And k-pop over the past year has slowly made its way into my regular music rotation. There is definitely a pleasure that comes from having these pieces of Korea in my life. I don’t pursue these things solely out of obligation, but because they bring an extra level of joy to my life. They might not necessarily make me ‘more Korean’, though, whatever that even means. And, at the end of the day, what’s wrong with me being American? I am American and that’s not something I can simply erase when I arrive in Seoul. Like Korea, America will always be a part of me, too. It’s always been my dominant culture and, while it’s certainly not perfect, there are things about being American that I love.

I am a Korean American adoptee. It’s only taken me up to this point to really stand back, look at each word and think ‘what the heck does that mean, anyway?’. I have a feeling it’s a question I will spend my whole life answering.


  1. OMG I'm so excited for you!! You'll love it! But just a heads up. They'll know you're not Korean from Korea...American's carry themselves differently than Koreans do. We dress differently too. You'll stand out. I did. But, although you may try to be more Korean, the Korean girls are all trying to be more American, to follow the American trends.

    Don't worry so much about the language, if you stay in Seoul, most everyone (expect taxi drivers) speaks a little English. If not, just point and grunt. But if you can read, that helps :)

    As for Korean height....I'm 5'6'' and I felt I was average. There are some HUGE Koreans!!!! Plus all the girls wear heels, they dress to impress.

    But your trip/culture shock will start as soon as you board the plane. I flew Asiana airlines, and immediately the flight attendants assumed I spoke Korean. But that was the only time people thought I was Korean. But be open minded and have a great time!!! Take tons of pictures!!!! Stop by KoRoot if you get a chance!

  2. Haha, point and grunt. I can do that if need be! And I know that I'll inevitably be different in a lot of ways. The clothing will probably give me away as I am not high fashion at all and don't even plan on bringing heels with me. :)

    Can I really drop by KoRoot just to visit? That sounds great--I might have to do that now! Thanks so much for all of your insight!

  3. Yes, there is always someone at KoRoot. Lots of Korean volunteers who work there, there's always adoptees there too. If you go around noon, you can stay for lunch too! Staying there is awesome, it's like you never have to travel alone, because you'll be staying with friends!

  4. I also did a homeland tour, back in 1999, and I've made my peace now with the reasons that made me go and the problems I faced upon my return. If you ever need anyone to talk to, don't hesitate to get in touch.

    I'm here because your blog was linked on a Korean Adoptee blogroll, and I'm trying to rally the KAs to check out my new website, The Lit Pub, where today I am talking about mother-loss, about adoption, about daughter-loss and stillbirth.

    Our goal is to connect people, to introduce readers to authors, and to discuss all our shared experiences together in an effort to connect.

    I hope you and your readers will come check us out, and I hope you're having a wonderful time in Korea. Safe travels home. . . .


    P.S. Today's post is here: http://thelitpub.com/chapter-one-the-chronology-of-water/

  5. I think the homeland tour is fantastic. You'll be with other people who are experiencing the same things you will probably be feeling. A great way to support yourself on this first venture to Korea.

    We were in Seoul last month and what we were able to see in a week really amazed us. The people are truly the most generous and kind we've ever encountered. I am so proud that our son comes from there, and I hope you will be proud that it's your country too.

    Can't wait to hear your take on it all. Best wishes and I hope you will start to find what you are looking for. Be kind to yourself!