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!

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.”

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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3 thoughts on “Hesitant Hanguk

  1. I somehow came across your blog and I cannot stop reading! I’ve grown up most of my life in Korea, and even I have trouble with this type of communication. I especially hate the force-feeding by “loving” elders, who were just asking if I’ve gained weight a minute ago, which a lot of my friends easily interpret as “정” and laugh while I’m annoyed to the core. Like you, I have a love-hate relationship with Korea and trust issues with fellow Koreans. I’m not an adoptee—I lived four years in Canada when I was younger and felt accepted and at home there. My subsequent years in Korea was a struggle of enduring bullying, never ending criticism from those around me, never feeling “Korean” enough. I harbored a fantasy of returning to my “western home” to cope through those difficult years, and now I live not in Canada, but in the U.S. Now as an adult I again struggle with identity realizing I am “too Korean” and the culture I was once familiar with is often lost on me. I anticipate the experience my son will have as a Korean American and the difficulties he will have to navigate as he grow older. At the end of the day, I decided that I’ve got the best of both worlds, and that is what matters. Thank you for sharing your stories! Even though I’m not a KAD, I could relate on various points and also put some feelings I didn’t know I had into words.


  2. Thank you so much for reading. The more time we spend with second generation Koreans and gyopos, the more we see how much we have in common as adoptees. Certainly some challenges are different, but there is more in common than we ever realized. Thanks again for spending time on our site!


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