Today my third graders were in my office during lunch digging through my Korean study materials, as they usually are, when they came across a copy of last year's TOPIK exam. There was a lot of general hubub about when and why and how, as well as a scan through to see whether or not they could answer all of the questions (no, they couldn't, but they did quiz me on the ones they could).
And then I heard a side conversation break off in Korean. One student was explaining to another that Korean people also take the TOPIK exam. I broke in out of sheer curiosity and asked him to explain what he meant. He explained it once in words I couldn't catch, and then broke it down into baby Korean for me: People whose bodies are Korean, but who don't speak Korean.
Ah. You mean 교포.
Yes, they said, 교포.
At this point I just laughed and faltered a little, as they wanted to know what I found amusing about that, but I was having a hard time finding the words to explain it. What I wanted to say was, of course Koreans who didn't grow up in Korea don't always speak Korean, and therefore they would take the TOPIK. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that Koreans also take the TOPIK, is it? The race is not so extremely tied to the language....
But what I managed to get across was this: I think most Americans don't consider Korean-Americans to be Korean -- they consider them to be American.
Now, that's not purely true, obviously. Korean-Americans are Korean, but only an American with a very shallow puddle of a mind would claim that they are not also American. Fully American.
This concept was shocking to the students, and I, frankly, wasn't surprised by that.
But Teacher, why do Americans think 교포 are American? They don't look American. They look Korean.
Kiddos, give this some thought: What does an American look like?
Ahhhh. They got my point.
But a 교포's ancestors are from Korea!
Where are an American's ancestors from?
They mostly got it, I think, but it was obviously still amusing them that Americans think that American-born Koreans are American. Hopefully that's something that will change, as more and more foreign and half-foreign children are born and raised in Korea, and there is more of a home-base frame of reference. It was definitely an interesting exchange, though.