Friday, June 15, 2012


When I first came to Korea, I couldn't really speak Korean. After 3 or 4 months, I went to a convenience store on a totally normal day and picked out a few totally normal things. Let me note here that it is extremely difficult to spend more than 10,000 won (about $9) at a Korean convenience store. The kid at the checkout counter rang up my items and said the total in Korean. Yes, I understood what he said because I'd been there a few months, but I didn't say anything and just handed him a 10,000 won note I already had out. Also, the number was on the screen facing me. He said to me in Korean, "wow, your Korean is really good!"

That was the beginning.

I could say, in an accent like computer and a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard, "hello", and every Korean in hearing range would swoon. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But sometimes that's how it feels. I understand that it's still unusual, despite the growing number of foreigners learning Korean and graduating from Korean universities, to speak Korean as a non-Korean person. And I get that they're showing appreciation for my interest in their culture and language.

But here's the thing: it doesn't matter how much my Korean improves, people still say the same things to me about it that they did, to be generous, a year and a half ago. A year and a half ago I did not have the confidence to try reading a news article or watch a Korean movie without subtitles. I did not have the ability to have complicated business issues explained to me in Korean with a few English technical terms here and there and find the perfect way to express it in English. I still knew which of my Korean friends could speak English.

If saying "hello" and sounding like a tourist gets the same "wow, your Korean is really good" as saying "the main reason I left the US was that the economic situation was very stressful for me, as was my daily life, and as I have recently discovered I have bipolar disorder which makes me especially vulnerable to said stress", well, what's the point?

People still just want to be my friend for English or just because I'm white. But now there are other perks. They can have that amazing Korean-speaking white girl next to them at the shopping mall or laughing with them at the coffee shop. And, I get a lot of, "hey Kristin, can you translate this for me?" from people I barely know, and the thing is long and difficult and they don't expect to pay me.

So what's the point in trying to make friends here?

I realized recently that I have almost no close friends in the world. I left most of them behind in the US, and I've failed to make them here because dammit I can't trust anyone. I've been used, asked for sex like a cheap whore, shown off as an accessory in front of friends, propositioned to be a mistress, stalked, rumored about, fired for no good reason, left with unanswered phone calls and broken promises in times of need, and daily used for broken English practice by people of both sexes and all ages. Like I'm a vending machine or a service robot, the American 3000. Push a button, get your exotic service, no charge except feigning friendship.

I finally want to go home, but now there are more things keeping me here than drawing me home.

For one, I can get a job here. While there are almost no jobs here that are not English teaching, they do exist and I happen to have one of them right now. It's similar to English teaching but can become something else, and there are no children involved. I'm terrible with children. They love me. I want to jump off a cliff after 10 minutes with them.

I have a Bachelor of Science in International Studies with a Psychology minor. I can't get a job in the US until I've got years of experience and marketable job skills. Plus connections.

Secondly, of course I happened to meet my current boyfriend just before I got fired from Samsung earlier this year. Losing my job suddenly despite having signed a contract (they found a loophole) and being loved and respected by most of the people I worked with (about 300) plunged me into a deep depression. This boyfriend stayed by my side although he barely knew me. When I asked him recently why he did that, he said that he knew I would pull out of it and do well for myself again and he could wait. Since then, he's put up with some of the strongest bipolar mood swings I've ever had and he still has no intention of leaving my side. After everything I've been through relationship-wise, I did not want a boyfriend. He complicated things. I probably would have gone home to my mother if it weren't for him. Strange how good things happen when we don't want them to. But I guess we wouldn't appreciate how bright the good things are unless we can see them against a dark background. Whether I end up with this one for good or not, he has been integral to my survival over the past half a year and he will continue to be integral to my recovery for some time to come. And he can't leave Korea at this time. He's still in college (Korean men have to serve 2 years in the military, which pushes their graduation dates back; he's actually older than I). So no going home for me.

Thirdly, my doctor is here. I shouldn't go anywhere until I'm stable. On a related note, I don't think I could find a job so understanding of my situation anywhere else. My company is a pharmaceutical company specializing in CNS (including psychological) disorders, so when I call in sick because I can't get out of bed, nobody questions it. They know about the chemical interactions in my brain causing it, and consider it just as valid an excuse as having the flu.

And, the grand finale, the underlying trend in my life I want to break: I don't want to run away again. Yeah, it's hard. It's gonna be hard everywhere. I can avoid everyday stressors, for instance I just moved from a place far from work to one close to work so I don't want to punch people on the subway every day. But I can't run away without a clear path and a goal. I can't do that again. Look what happened last time I did that on a large scale. My life is f*%#ed up. I run from friendships at the first sign of trouble, attributing it to the other person's ulterior motives or less-than-desirable traits (often this can be good, but I could have run away from a few friendships worth keeping over the years). I run from change as quickly as I run toward it. I run and I run and I'm so tired. I never liked physically running, so why am I metaphorically running all the time?

I guess the point of this post is that I'm tired.

After just 24 years of living, I'm tired.

After just 3 years in Korea, I'm tired.

After just 2 months of treatment for bipolar disorder, I'm still tired and it's not going away.

I want................................. something. So much. I don't know what it is. Money? Peace? Answers? Whatever it is, I want it so badly my heart and lungs press against my ribs like they're being pulled by its magnetic force.

When I'm depressed, I tell my boyfriend, "save me" in Korean, which is closer to "please save my life". He says, "Don't you mean 'help me'?" I say, "no. I mean 'save me'." I don't know which I'm more afraid of: living or dying. The reason I've never considered suicide is that I don't want to give this feeling to the people who love me.

Maybe that's where the focus of depression and bipolar counseling should be: trying to prove that living is better than dying, for both the patient and all the people around him/her.

But what do I know? I'm certifiably crazy.


  1. You can do this, Kristin! Don't give up! Whatever your reasons for going to Korea, you did it and you're making it. That takes a LOT of courage and persistence. All the difficulties you've faced, along with your diagnosis of bipolar disorder, would have already sent a weaker person packing. I'm very proud to call you a friend, and even though we're not very close these days, I'm very glad to hear what's going on in your life. Please don't lose contact with your US friends...we're still here rooting for you!

    -Alex A.

  2. Thanks Alex!
    Whenever I think that I don't have any friends, I do think of you guys and it helps. :)

  3. I've been keeping up with your journal since you left, though never commented on it before. Your friends still care about you and how you're doing. Hopefully, your resolve to no longer run will hold and see you through.