A friend of mine recently wondered if I was having a “true” expat experience here in Korea. And I’ve been wondering the same after she mentioned it to me.
I was born here in Korea but I was raised in the States. Physically when I’m in a crowd here, you can’t find me unless you’re really looking. However, I dress nothing like the fashion-conscience Korean women here. And I don’t wear make-up. I’m loud and opinonated, I will speak up when I feel it’s important, which is most of the time.
I’m here back in my homeland, but it’s not my homeland anymore in many ways. My parents have been dead for over a quarter of a century. I haven’t actually lived here since I was a child. I am a stranger here. But when I came back, I felt a definite sense of homecoming, a strange sense of belonging that I don’t always feel in the States. When I walk around and just live here, I belong, I’m not a stranger. I walk, talk, eat, drink, think, dress, and even listen to completely different music than the rest of the Korean society here in Korea.
My Korean is wierd, any native speaker can hear the difference between the Korean I learned as a child and the Korean that I learned as an adult. I understand at a far higher level than I read or speak. I’ve translated Korean movies into English for Koreans, pretty accurate. But unless I concentrate, my accent is all funny, and not in a good way. And every shopkeeper makes interesting comments about I look Korean, but I sound funny, some of the words I say sound like I’m from the country (which I am) and some of the words I say sound like I’m waigukin and they’re so confused.
There are times when I think that I’m definitely going to go crazy because of the discrimination here against kyopos. I have been lonely here, because I’m here by myself, my family’s dead, and I have no other relatives. There are time when I want to disown my Korean heritage, just like Korean society tends to do with me, especially when someone makes a comment about how lucky I am that my parents died when I was young so I could go to America, etc. And there are other times when I’m so happy that I’m Korean, that I was born in Korea, and that I’m in Korea right now. I have an opportunity to (re)learn Korean culture, made good friends and I have a great job.
And I don’t think I’ll ever really know if I’m having a true expat experience. And I still don’t know what label I should use, Korean, kyopo, waigukin, American.