Journals from Yonsei University, Korea
2009-11-18 Restless Musings...
Sometimes, its the simple gestures of kindness that can mean the most.
In a bout of restlessness I wrote this, comparing my semester spent in Washington, DC to my time here in Korea
What on earth is it Im looking for? I said I wanted to travel, and here I am thousands of miles away, experiencing all that a new culture has to offer. Theres good and bad, but its not like I didnt expect that. Nothing has been so difficult that it makes me think about booking a ticket home. Not even the food situation, my being terribly taste bud sick, since I am able to improvise well enough on that account.
Something is justmissing.
Maybe its not being able to see friends, but I am able to call and message at any time. Sure, it would be great to be sharing some of these experiences with them, but Ive found people here who I would equally classify as friends.
Thinking back, Im trying to remember if I had the same feelings towards my time in DC. I think some of the same elements of not being natural in city life are there, but with some great differences. I still love the benefits of living near a metro, but since I dont use it quite as often I havent gotten as tired of the monotony of it. The safety issues and ever-present requests by aggressive homeless people are replaced here by the extreme crowding and the aggressive ajumas pushing their way through. The brusque attitudes of wait staff and rude sales people there is interchangeable with the indifference or discrimination here. Both are equally wearing
Thinking about it more, I think what is missing here is the feeling that I will never be able to call Seoul home. Even if I were to become fluent and adjust to all the cultural norms I still wouldnt fit in. Im white and that first visual impression will always be one of a foreigner.
It will always take forever to get a taxi at night (Even when my Asian roommate asked a driver in Korean to take us to campus, he pulled away when I stepped to get into the car). There will always be some who dismiss my mistakes as being acceptable because I just dont know any better, not bothering to correct me. But I want to learn and not get a free ride of immunity for sometimes small and other times glaring transgressions. If I cannot be held accountable for my actions in their eyes, how can I ever be accepted?
I want to feel as if I belong. It isnt as if being the abnormal white blip on the homogenous screen bothers me, I am completely ok with that. The stares of curiosity dont make me feel uneasy, it is only the ones that carry the expectation of sexual promiscuity that I take offense to.
What it all boils down to is thinking that where I am currently doesnt have the potential of being home. Were you to ask me if I would live in DC my response would be an immediate, enthusiastic Of Course! But if you were to ask me (as I was yesterday in an interview by a student doing surveys on tourism) Would you be willing to come visit Seoul again in the future? my hesitant answer would be Maybe after 5 years or so, to see how things have changed. I have spent life as a visitor here for the past 3 months, and after one more I think I will have had my fill for a while.
I miss feeling a part of the community, whether I am in my home community or traveling in the broader American one. There is a lot of negativity that surrounds ideas of nationalism, especially when it comes to someone who carries their overt pride of being an American with them abroad. But here, I have been enlightened on the powerful comfort that comes from being a member of an extended national community.
Here I am always the other, unable to ever understand what it means to be Korean, whether by blood or birth. I miss the ease of identification with Americans, the ability to have common ground of some basic precepts of life. I miss living in a diverse community that still shares some of the same values and cultural expectations. I am not trying to make a value judgment to imply that our way of life is better. I mean only to say that I have been socialized to American norms and values, and I miss being able to live within a community that accepts that.
I am grateful for my time abroad. It has helped me grow in confidence and maturity. But I am only a visitor here. A grateful one at that though, thankful for the kindness of the strangers who have made my time here enlightening and pleasant. (I should note that I write this in one of my favorite cafs in Edae where a piece of warm chocolate cake helps to soothe the blues. And it is accompanied by a free cup of coffee that has a detailed cat etched into the cream.)
But as grateful as I am, I yearn to return to a place where my citizenship and socialization make any place within its borders a potential location for a place of residence in the future. So as much as I am learning here, as much as this will be one of the fondest periods of my life to look back on, as grateful as I am for the Koreans' hospitality in welcoming me to their beautiful country, I eagerly await passing through customs and, as I have been greeted in my previous times by border officials when returning from abroad, hearing Welcome Home."
Yonsei, Fall 2009