Don’t worry, I’m not dead yet!
I picked up extra teaching time slots online to help offset my teaching program payments. While five classes in a row might seem small, it feels incredibly long when the students are misbehaving, disappearing off camera, showing me their feet, generally making me grit my teeth through “circle the apple”. I did meet some new sassy preteens which is my favorite category of online students: it is always delightfully baffling when a twelve year old Chinese boy uses sarcasm better than most adults I know.
In addition, this evening I completed my volunteer tutoring for an adult student which was refreshing and surprisingly revived my spirits.
But through the day, something occurred to me.
The way I see myself is at odds with the way I’m seen here. One of my online students’ mothers sent me a message that said: you must take care of yourself well since you are alone in a foreign country.
To be honest, most days I forget.
In my mind, I speak some Korean. I consume a lot of Korean media. I eat Korean food at my apartment. I spend more time with Koreans than with anyone else. I have it on record that I “don’t seem like a foreigner” and am “a Korean” behind my face.
But to the average stranger on the street, I am a foreigner. To them, I likely don’t speak their language, don’t know their customs, spend weekends in Itaewon, can’t eat kimchi.
I’ve been out of my school environment so long that my image is morphing into a true foreigner once again. This was spawned in part by a passing comment Busan Boy made in casual language. You know from back in November that I am very sensitive to casual language. This is in no small part from the overarching assumption of Koreans that English doesn’t have polite language and we won’t know any better.
It stings a little because I’m trying– but my non-Asian face is not going to telegraph that. At least, at first. I wish the bar for foreigners was higher: that we were expected to know some Korean, understand basic history and politics, change our diets a little.
And now that I’m at month nine, my god has it been so few??, it’s like I’ve finally noticed a change. Sure, certain habits have pivoted, like eating rice or twisting my head when I disagree. But there’s a bigger change that comes when you start really living in another culture– and I’ve tried from day one to do that. I couldn’t bear to be any version of myself that only ate fast food or shouted KAMSAHAMNIDA at taxi drivers with terrible pronunciation.
The longer I live outside of my home country, the more I feel in common with people here. There are things about the US that have started to become truly incomprehensible, and there are bridges I’ve crossed that my hometown friends can’t even see.
There are moments I’ve had the honor to observe at the intersection of my foreignness and my assimilation.
I’m beginning to understand what S meant when she whispered to C that I’m not a foreigner. To draw that line in the sand means there are things I would never get to experience: the joy of my neighborhood barista, secrets borne to me by my students, confessions from my coworkers, sisterhood with other women getting their eyelashes permed.
How can anyone float on the surface and say they’ve seen the ocean?