Found In Translation 2 by Peter
What started out as a weekly lesson on Korean turned into a complete shift and transformation in my goals and ambitions. Rather than being content with where I was at culturally and geographically and as a person, I felt the urge, no, the need, to reach out and past my usual view. I wanted to understand and connect with this part of my heritage and self that I had completely neglected for so long. I had found the joy of connecting to and relating to so much more culture and so many more people that I had always considered as “just kinda there, but not worth my time.” But I was really only just beginning to see how language is a tool to unlocking whole other worlds of knowledge and experience, allowing you to become not only a person of more perspective and wisdom, but also, a person of more influence and compassion.
So after a few months of devouring all the dramas I could (some were delicious, others gave me food poisoning), spending time with fluent Korean-speakers and practicing, and whatever other methods I could think of to increase the practical application of my language-learning and grow, I found my appetite pushed up to a new level – continual experience and total immersion. I wanted more, but I wasn’t quite sure if moving to Korea was something I could do.
Now one of the great things about Costco in America is going at the right time to eat all the sample foods that are on display. No commitments or payments – you just walk around and see what there is being offered and take a bite. If you love it, have more (but walk around a bit before you come back, so you don’t look like a complete pig). But if it’s gross, move along, because there’s nothing left to see or eat. It works at Costco, so I figured it would work for me to take a trip out to Korea and take a few bites. So for the first time since I was a third grader, I made it all the out to the “motherland.”
My trip to Korea lasted about six days, back in the fall of 2009. Meeting friends of friends that were kind and cute enough to show me around, I had my first taste of what eventually became my home for over seven years. I had amazing Korean barbecues and walked around insanely crowded streets, full of bright, neon typography. I watched a musical that I barely understood, but still enjoyed for its freshness to my palate and because I enjoyed the company of the girl I was sitting next to. I visited famous landmarks I had only seen in dramas, and was wondering if I would get to confess my love for a girl at one of those places as well, but I had to have really cool hair and a tough yet soft attitude.
I stood, completely embarrassed and ashamed, when an elderly lady had zero clue as to what I had just said to her due to my horrific pronunciation of “Does this bus go to Gangnam,” making me feel like a complete idiot, and having me think that I should never have come in the first place. I sat and dwelled outside of a coffeeshop in the evening, writing in my journal, contemplating whether this was the next step, drinking in my coffee as well as the nighttime air and intermittent silence, stifled by Hyundais and Kias and Daewoos passing by as the signal lights changed from red to green.
But it all felt right. In the end, after all the thinking and planning…it just FELT right. So I decided: I would move to Korea.
And I did. That following year, in April of 2010, I packed my bags, gave and got a lot of love and food and good will from and to my family and friends, and I left. But what I initially thought would only be a couple of years tops, turned into a long and arduous journey of seven and a half years. A lot of ups and a lot of downs, and a lot of expectations turned upside down.
So why was it long and arduous? Goodness, there are so many things! But one thing that I’ll highlight first is identity.
It’s one thing to learn a language and culture in familiar surroundings. It’s another thing completely to leave behind everything that you’ve known in your life up until that point to experience it firsthand. We are very much a sum of the people and work and lifestyle that we are in relation to. I had been a son, a brother, an uncle, a teacher, a friend, and a number of other things. But when I moved to Korea, I was none of those things to anyone. So I had to re-configure and re-identify who I was. It was almost as if I had returned to my adolescence, asking myself, “Who am I? Why am I here? What am I doing?” I even had a breakout of acne, as if to prove a point.
And for some reason, it never fully ended, and I never fully recovered from that initial loss of identity. I think a part of that had to do with how long it took me to come to the realization that I could never become fully Korean (as in a native Korean). I just wasn’t and wouldn’t be. And of course now in hindsight, I would never dream of wanting to be something that I’m not. But I got lost in my mad pursuit of trying to get as deep as I could with this culture and heritage thing that I had never considered but was a part of my DNA.