Hesitant Hanguk

Recently, some friends informed us of a Korean class that happens on Saturdays not too far from our home. Whitney was immediately intrigued and wanted to know everything she could learn about it. Lee – well, not as much!

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Six years of on/off Korean study has only partially paid off!

A few days later, our family called us from Korea. We were chatting and catching up and in the course of the conversation, I (Whitney) mentioned that I might possibly be enrolling in this Korean class here in Nashville. I expected them to be very pleased that I would be focusing my efforts on learning more about my homeland’s language and culture. Instead, the conversation came to a full stop.

I looked at them, really confused, feeling awkward in the silence while Omma and Appa exchanged glances. Finally, they said, “Why would you take Korean class? You already have good language skills. You don’t need that. Have Lee take it instead – he needs to learn.”

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Namsan “love lock”

My immediate response was, “What?!” This from the same woman who berated me for my Hangul skills last year after our trip to Namsan? (See original linked post for story.) In the end, I guess it was a back-handed compliment, but it left me confused. I wanted to scream, “Make up your mind! Is my Korean terrible or too good to require classes?!” *proceeds to pull out hair*

This has been my experience with Korea. This kind of stuff happens again and again. In Korea, I’m always being told I’m too fat and then in the next breath, Omma is telling me that I need to eat more – what’s wrong? Am I not hungry? Feeling sick?

So am I too fat or do I need to eat more?! Make up your mind!

Perhaps this adds to my distrust of Koreans, as I have written about before. It certainly does not help with my Type A personality and my desire to always know what is expected of me. I guess the problem is that I don’t know how to manage expectations when I don’t even know what the expectations are.

I don’t know how to manage expectations when I don’t even know what the expectations are.

Similarly, nothing is ever set in stone in Korea. During my 2010 Korean year, I lived in constant frustration, feeling like a dog being dragged around by a chain. My headteacher would say, “The teacher dinner is next Wednesday after work. You must be there.” When I’d show up next Wednesday after work, she’d look at me like a deer in headlights, wondering what I wanted. “Dinner…?,” I’d question. “Oh,” she’d reply, “That’s going to be next Thursday now.” *insert deep, calming breaths*

I certainly have a love/hate relationship with my birth country, for a number of reasons. But you know what? As much as I wanted to scream by the end of our phone call about Korean class with our family, my heart ached all the more to be near them and visit Korea again. This is just the nature of my relationship with my birth country, my birth family, my birth culture. And even when I am ready to pull my hair out, I have to smile and rest in the fact that this second chance we have been given as a family is the greatest gift we’ve ever received.


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