Monday, June 1, 2009

An emotional portrait of my current life

I'm starting to think in Korean. Even though I still can't speak or understand well, I'm trying so hard to assimilate here that my thoughts are more and more expressed in this unfamiliar language.

I decided a couple of weeks ago to take classes at a Korean language academy, so I signed up for the second half of May and was placed in the intermediate class. It was a little above my level in terms of vocabulary, but I was mostly able to keep up. But, at the same time as I started that class (Tuesday through Friday 9:30am-12:20pm), I also started an online psychology class through MSU, and I was suddenly inundated with potential students and new regular plans with language exchange partners. So, I was suddenly exhausted and started experiencing the all-too familiar insomnia, which causes depression, which causes worse insomnia. I was feeling lost and confused and so completely alone. Even though I have friends and a lot to do, I felt like I was walking in deep mud and going nowhere but deeper down. Life was swallowing me again, and I was hungry for a way out by my own devices. If I can be depressed in my new life, then what was the purpose of leaving the old one? If I could feel that same urge to scream until my heart burst only to open my mouth and release silence until my face turned red, what had I accomplished? I will not let myself be the reason that I'm unhappy. I must find a solution.

I'm not depressed when I'm with other people. So, I've been seeking out social interaction more than ever these days. I've made about 7 or 8 acquaintances in my 고시원 (goshiweon) who mostly don't speak English, and I've been stuffing my weekday schedule with plans. I now have five students, so that keeps me pretty busy. I study for psychology on the subway. I have two language exchange partners. I watch lectures once per week, which takes a couple of hours. I talk to Koreans on MSN late at night to practice Korean, build friendships, and stave off loneliness and boredom in my insomnia.

I've realized that I have no idea what to do with my life. I was going to be an interpreter, but not only is that daunting, but it's so much easier to just teach English and I love teaching. So maybe I'll teach for a few years and then open an English Academy here. I'll do something unique, something nobody has ever tried before. Maybe I'll teach music and English at the same time. Maybe it will be an academy that uses absolutely no textbooks; just conversation, discussion, and debate. Maybe I'll open a cafe/academy along the conversation lines. Free beverages and snacks for students; and, customers who come to the cafe will be intrigued by the English conversations around them, so advertising will be a "see it and believe it" type thing. Maybe I could combine art with English and have an acting school so people can act in English plays and write their own scripts. Whatever it is, my academy could be so creative and tap into the natural intuition everyone has when it comes to expressing themselves.

When you ask children what they want to do when they grow up, they give you ten different answers and they believe that they can do all of those things. I fee like that now. What do I want to do when I grow up? I want to be an interpreter speaking English, French, Japanese, Korean, and maybe some other language or two; I want to open my own language academy that is completely revolutionary; I want to write poetry in different languages and publish it; I want to write a book about my life; I want to study the way Korean people think about Japan; I want to compose music; I want to open a restaurant or a cafe; and, most of all, I want to make a positive impact on others' lives. Somehow I honestly believe that I can do all of these things. The problem is, right now, I feel so useless because I still have trouble with even daily things and I still forget to do the important things. Life is overwhelming as it is. How could I possible be so naive to think that I could accomplish so much when I feel like I'm standing still? Why can't I just light a fire under my ass and chase a dream or two?? I guess you could say coming to Korea was chasing a dream, but I feel like I came here to figure out what my dreams are, who I am, and how I'm supposed to chase my dreams. I still don't know. I really don't know.

I feel simultaneously overly self-conscious and pretentious. I hate that I can't speak Korean; I feel so stupid because I can't understand when people talk to me. But, most Americans here don't bother to learn Korean, and they think that Koreans are stupid for not knowing English. Many Koreans themselves feel stupid for not perfecting English, which is completely ludicrous because this is Korea. The Korean standard of beauty is even thinner than the American standard of beauty, so although I've lost a noticeable amount of weight, I'm as self-conscious as I was in middle school or high school because I'm bigger than most of the girls here. I already stick out like a sore thumb because I'm a foreigner. Do I have to be a fat one, too? I know this is unfounded, because I am a healthy weight and it's a just a difference in genetics and the lifestyle I'm used to (greasier food, using cars instead of walking and standing on subways and buses). As I said, living in Korea is making me thinner. I got new jeans just before leaving America that were too tight. Now I can't wear them without a belt. Anyway, the pretentious attitude I'm slowly adopting is the direct effect of my "fame". I'm not famous, but people treat me like I am because foreigners are rare here, especially young foreign girls. Every day I'm told that I'm beautiful, which has never happened before in my life. When I speak my clumsy Korean, people look at me like I'm the most amazing person they've ever met. They call me a genius. When they hear my story, they say I'm the bravest person they know, and they're jealous that I'm so strong. One of the first question men in their 20's ask me is, "do you have a boyfriend?" Even men with girlfriends they love flirt with me. It's difficult not to become egocentric. Women express their envy of my small face, big eyes, high nose, light skin, English fluency, and my overall American-ness. I have to consciously suppress the "yeah, you either want me or you wanna be me" attitude when I walk around 서현 (Seohyeon, my home) or crowded areas of Seoul. I love the attention, and I hate myself for loving it. That's not the reason I came here, and it's not the reason I want to stay here. For the most part, the general public has become invisible to me at this point. It's just a mass of curious or indifferent people. I stare at other foreigners just like Koreans do. I'm sure Koreans stare at me in surprise when I stare at other foreigners in surprise. I can see the people next to me reading my text messages on the subway when I write in Korean sometimes. I'm an anomaly, but to me this whole country is an anomaly. I can't begin to describe the social atmosphere of Korea. Maybe I'll try another time.

In any case, my life feels aimless now; I'm taking a sebatical from reality to absorb my new surroundings. I'm just beginning to wake up and face reality, submerging myself in the unfamiliar waters as much as I can bear. I don't miss America, but I don't feel like I belong here yet. I'm caught in between and overwhelmed by the unique sensation of belonging nowhere. By belonging nowhere, I intrinsically belong everywhere. It's completely pardoxical, oxymoronic, absurd. If I have no roots, the world is mine to explore and make my own. I predict that one year from now, I will have reached financial freedom. From now on, barring some major catastrophe, I will not have any need to borrow money. I have already started saving money this week. I will pay off my student loans and I'll return all of the money my mother has given me both in America and in Korea to support me when I couldn't cut it by myself. One year. When I graduate college, I will have no debt. I will have no home. I will have no concrete plan. I will be comfortable living on two completely opposite countries. Can you think of anything I won't be able to do? By being nothing, the door will be open for me to be anything. I am almost there. It's frightening and thrilling. In my entire life, I never thought I would come to a crossroad like that. I could have never imagined, even two years ago, that I would be in Korea shaking my wings open now. Nobody who knew me in high school would ever picture me being on such an adventure.

The very core of my personality is the same as it has always been: I can't hurt a fly without feeling immensely guilty; I can't say 'no' easily; I value other people greatly, and am loyal, protective, and generous, as long as I have respect for a friend; I am extremely forgetful when it comes to obligations, numbers, and names, and along those lines I'm terrible at keeping in touch; I am always hungry for people to like me and feel dejected when alone, but at the same time I value my solitude immensely; I love plants and animals, but not bugs; I have massive ambitions but very little drive or self-motivation to work toward those ambitions; I have a lot of inertia in that I'm reluctant to start anything but once I do I will not stop until it's finished and perfect (as seen in my infrequent but really long blog entires); I am addicted to music and self-expression; I overthink some things but neglect to notice others, often resulting in a mix of memories different from those of the people I shared that time with; I crave admiration and recognition that I'm unique and amazing, which drives me to pursue interests that make me more unique without being strange; the world never ceases to fascinate me; I love anything that can be thought of as a puzzle, including people, languages, cultures, music, sudoku, Legos, physiology, and psychology; and, I have a tendency to describe things completely, which often results in long lists and the excessive use of parentheses and tangents. Correct me if I'm wrong. I know I missed some things, but I try to suppress my habit of over-describing. How many people know themselves that well when they are only 21 years old? It's refreshing and helps me identify what I need to counteract to live more happily.

I have a homework assignment for all of you:
Think about your entire life, as much of it as you can remember. Think about how much you've changed. Was it positive or negative change? Was it gradual or sudden? I'm sure you've thought of these things before. Now, think about what hasn't changed. Often we notice the differences, but we never notice the constants. It's that simple to know who you are. It's comparable to physical growth. When you are born, your eyes are done growing. As an adult, you look completely different than you did as a baby, but your eyes are still the same (with the exception of cases where pigmentation occurs after birth, resulting in a blue-eyed baby and a darker-eyed adult). Sorry if my facts aren't right on here, but you get the idea. People always think about the fact that they have grown taller and their skin has wrinkles and their hair goes gray, but how many times do you realize that your eyeballs themselves have never changed? If you want to know who you are, just compare all the different people you have been and find the ways they are the same. That is who you are, and that is what will never change, good or bad. I hate being desperate for attention and lazy, but that's who I am. I can only find ways to counteract those tendencies. I love that I'm creative and imaginative, and I'm glad to have the security that I will never lose those traits. What about you?


  1. Two months and you still haven't found what you're looking for. It seems like leaving the familiar has only created a void, some feeling of emptiness. Belonging nowhere is not belonging everywhere, belonging nowhere is having nowhere to go...I think you like that freedom but detest that insecurity.

    Keep looking, ki-chan, I'm sure what you want to find is there somewhere.

  2. I understand how you feel. Sometimes it's hard to find who you are & where you belong. To know what you want & how to get there. While I'm not in another country, since I've left Michigan I've thought a lot about who I really am & what I really want. A couple of things have happened to me here that have really got me thinking.

    I just wanted to let you that I have an idea of what you're thinking. Keep me posted on how things go & I'll do the same.