3.20.2011

A long way to go.

Sometime during the course of the day, while I was sleeping, my mother left a message on my Facebook wall. She said it made her sad that she now has to google my status updates to have any idea what I'm saying. Last week on my birthday, the S.O. casually mentioned making a trip to Busan to introduce me to his mother. I was somewhat horrified at the suggestion, not just because we're only coming up on three months here, and even for me (an American), it's a bit early for that, but also because that will mean a confrontation with a collision of worlds that we're only beginning to really dig into. Once his mother sees my face, hears my broken Korean.... I can't help but feel like something is going to become more real to us than it has been so far.

Now, he's asleep in the next room. But I've spent the day recovering from a "birthday party" in Gangnam with Grace, which consisted of me completely failing to be my new head teacher's idea of a typical foreigner, and having to bow out after only one round of soju cocktail, and drag her to a coffee shop at 1 am to sit and wait for the bus lines to reopen. I slept all day, and now there's no hope of getting back to sleep. 4 am is coming up on me, and it's the hour of thinking too hard about a lot of things. I turn on my laptop thinking maybe I can find something to distract me from settling in to complete the Korean studying I've put off all day long. And I find this beautiful post by The Korean.

It's too easy, and too soon for me to start claiming alternate identities. But this week, these last couple of months have made something start tickling at the back of my mind. Head Teacher and her constant inappropriate reactions to me -- to my ability to handle the students in the classroom ("They respect you!" "They can understand you!"), the relationships I've already formed with my other coworkers, English-speaking or not, which exist completely without her assistance. The way she fails to realize that if I look up from my computer and tune into a conversation she's having with my co-teacher in Korean, it means that I'm already understanding what's being said, not that I'm waiting for her to translate -- these things have made me realize how far I've come, and how far I still need to go.

Need to go? Is that what I'm doing? I never planned to stay in Korea so long. Not that I planned to leave. I was in my early 20s, and wasn't very interested in (or capable of) planning much of anything at all. But here I am. And at the beginning of this contract, I thought, it'll be time to go after this. It'll be time to move on to the next place, the next culture, the next language. I put pressure on myself not to somehow "get stuck". I'm young. Korea will always be here. When I want to settle down, if Korea is the place I'm meant to do it, I can always come back. While I'm still young and somewhat capable of adapting, I need to get out there and see what else there is.

But even then, I somehow knew that six months later I would be in this spot. Knowing damn well that I'm not leaving at the end of the year. And that I probably won't be leaving at the end of the next one, either. I spent six months researching work visas in Vietnam, refusing to study Korean with any seriousness because, after this year, I wouldn't need it. But I never once really even took myself seriously. I knew what was coming already. I always do, no matter how hard I try to deny it.

I don't know what life has in store. I'm not too young to realize that. I thought I would stay in New York forever, and then one day, it was like the fucking wind blew and I knew I would leave and probably never come back. I've already learned my lessons about saying words like "never" and "forever". But I do know that something has changed. And I'm starting to accept that Korea is going to become something bigger for me than a few years in my early twenties spent experiencing another culture. This isn't a fling. And I think I might have already known that the second I stepped off the plane. I'm not saying I'm ready to say, "I do." But something is creeping up on me, and I don't think I'm too afraid to find out what it is anymore.

Earlier this week, the S.O. and I hit on our first more serious misunderstanding. It was far from a fight-- fighting isn't really in either one of our natures. Just a small thing that caused a little hurt feelings for no real reason. But the important thing was that no one got angry or frustrated. And I went against my nature, and put it out there so that we could talk through it. Because that's something that I'm going to have to get used to. And something that the last couple of years surrounded by things I don't fucking understand have prepared me well for. Asking for help. Admitting that I don't know. Being willing to be told that my understanding of things was wrong. He said, "And I assure you that we will go through this kind of things. I don't want to say but You are American, I'm korean. There'd be lots of misunderstanding waiting for us. As Culture, or Language. sometimes we would disappoint each other even if the word that we are not intend to."

Now it's time to get to the Korean homework. I thought I was doing so well, and was so proud of myself when I pulled it out tonight to show the S.O. how much progress I've made in the last couple of days. Then he started to read the sentences out loud to me in a "natural" voice and completely deflated my ego. I don't think I can completely blame his 사투리, either. The truth is, I still have a very long way to go.

2 comments:

Diana E.S. said...

Wow... maybe I haven't been following as consistently as I should have (out of a mad jealousy of your still-in-Korea status--haha), but is this the first real mention of S.O. you've made? If so... congrats.

Thanks for this post. It is so honest--and it takes me back a little. The three month mark was so weird. At that point, I was like "Wow... I'm really starting to fall for this guy as more than just my in-Korea-fling." And then all those inter-cultural fears and worries began a-brewing. It really could have gone either way for Min Gi and I around that point... all our misunderstandings were resolved with greater understanding, but they easily could have flared up if we had been less patient or unable to communicate as well.

But what an amazing journey. Whatever happens, you will learn from this and be a better person for it, as I'm sure the S.O. involved will be. That's because you're awesomely introspective and have such a great approach to everything. Don't be too afraid of how overwhelming it all seems now. It's not as bad as a lot of the miserable people who lie to themselves and rush in blind make it out to be. Keep dipping your toes in, a little at a time, and go at your own pace. You'll get where you're meant to be eventually.

Best of luck.

Renee Summers said...

'Never Forever' -- a great little film about an American woman in NYC, married to a Korean-American, hoping to get impregnated by a Korean-Korean. Good flick, if you're interested.

And I know how you feel-- was in NYC myself before Korea, and one day the wind blew a different way and I was in the suburbs of Seoul. Happened again in Korea and now I'm back stateside, awaiting the next wayward drift.

Sounds like you're on fairly solid ground though. I wish you the best.