This has been a topic that’s long been on my mind, even before I came to Korea, so here I go…
In America, Korean-Americans are a minority. I never feel that I 100% belong there because of the many micro-aggressions and other acts of racism I experience every now and then. But, what about Korea? Do I belong here? Unfortunately, even here the answer is no. If anything, I feel like a complete foreigner here sometimes.
You’d think that because I look like a “typical” Korean everyone would treat me like another Korean citizen. But, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. For one, people can tell that I’m from America, that I’m a Korean-American. It’s just like how when I was in America, I could easily pick out who the Korean-Koreans were. Because of that, everyone here expects me to know all the social rules. But I don’t.
What exactly am I supposed to say to my elders? I know I have to bow 90 degrees, but is that every time to everyone? And then when I don’t know, they criticize me for not knowing. Now, if you were a GET who isn’t Korean and didn’t know the rules, they would be kind and understanding since obviously you don’t know. But since I “look like a Korean” they automatically expect me to know everything they do. But I don’t.
Also, I’ll mention this in another post, but because I look “Korean” many think I don’t speak English well. This is even the case sometimes in America. People in America would always ask me, “Where are you from?” When I replied, “Virginia” they would be like, “No, like, where are you really from?” And I would just be completely flabbergasted. Sometimes people are even surprised that I can speak English in America. Even though, you know, I majored in it? I even have a Master’s in Secondary English Education! Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean I can’t speak English, or that I don’t belong in the US.
And then, in Korea, my principal asks my co-teacher, “Where is the foreigner? Why is the native English teacher a Korean person?” And my heart just drops. I mean, in technicality, I am the foreigner. I came to Korea on a US passport for that very reason. I mean, does my English ability just seem like a zero to everyone? Because I look Korean? Even though I have a BA and M.Ed? Just because I can speak both Korean and English does not mean my abilities are any less for it. Just because I look Korean doesn’t mean my qualifications are invalid because of it. Just because I am a Korean-American doesn’t mean I don’t have a place where I belong.
People assume what I can or can’t do because I’m a Korean-American. And this happens both in the US and in Korea. They assume we don’t belong with them. It breaks my heart that many people just can’t seem to understand or accept others like me. But, we Korean-Americans, and even those of other minorities who feel the same way in their respective countries, we all have a place where we belong. It’s wherever we choose to be, whether it’s in America, or in Korea. We can choose to belong in either one or in both, one foot in America, the other foot in another. We can see the best of both worlds no matter what we look like. And no one can take that away from us.