A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
It would’ve been around this time last year when I was preparing to go to Korea for the first time. I filled out an application, had an interview, received an acceptance e-mail, booked flights and accommodation and wrangled travel paperwork.
This year I’m doing it all again. This time I applied for the TALK program. TALK trains and places successful applicants in rural Korean elementary schools to teach English.
So I filled out an application and had an interview all over again. After a few painful weeks, I finally received my acceptance email.
Things are much different this time round. I had two families and two sets of friends in two countries to tell my news. The paperwork I’m currently wrangling is my F4 visa – a special visa for people born in Korea, or who have Korean parents.
I’ll be living in Korea for a year starting from July.
Umma says I can visit on Chuseok. Hopefully I can meet my aunts, uncles and 35 cousins.
Sister 1 did the responsible oldest sister thing, asking me when I was coming and what I was doing and where I was going and was I alright with a place to stay?
Sister 3 says we’ll have a drink in Seoul.
Quiet Sister 2 and Sister 4 simply said “hooray!”
Life seems surreal right now, not just because I’m living transient-style on a friend’s mattress to save on rent until I leave.
I’ve been thinking a lot about home lately. I was born in Geoje, like my Appa. I was raised by a foster mother in Seoul for the first few months of my life. I grew up in outer Brisbane but like living inner city the most. My adoptive parents and their family are from Sydney. I used to just think Brisbane was my home, but now I’m not so sure.
I’ve lived in Brisbane my whole life. The solid reality of my surroundings in Brisbane now seem temporary and fleeting. It seems strange that I won’t see the lights of the Story Bridge, won’t ride the little red ferries, won’t see hairy white men dancing to grungy bands and drinking goon (boxed wine) straight out of the nozzle – for a year. I won’t be surrounded by the shrill, nasal Australian English accent. I’m going to experience a real Korean winter, when the snow falls and the temperature drops below 0. It’s winter in Brisbane right now and everyone’s still walking around in shorts and singlets.
The thought of life in Korea seems like a different reality. I remember the culture shock from the first time. The dazzling bright neon lights. The food delivery scooters mounting footpaths. Ajummas and ajeoshis wheeling carts full of stuff around the city. The barbed wire of the military base in Itaewon. Televisions everywhere, even on the subway. The beeping song of an electronic door opening and closing. The odd ajumma shopping in the department store in a traditional hanbok. Palace guards with swords, mythical dragons, temples and kings, thinking “this is my ancestry.”
I have a long list of things I want to do. I want to visit Jinju and Suncheon, where Sisters 1 and 4 live. Suncheon has a folk village built entirely for the purposes of filming dramas and movies. Jinju has a zoo! I want to find out how Umma makes kimchi using the recipe passed down through my ancestors – and eat it. I imagine it tastes like the craving I get sometimes for something devilishly spicy and sweetened with garlic that makes my nose run and my breath stink.
I want to explore Geoje, the island where my family lives and my life began, and glimpse the parallel universe where I could have grown up.
I also want to go to cat and dog cafes, sing at the noraebang, go to the robot museum, play arcade video games, see a Korean punk band and a Korean hip hop show, drink cocktails out of a bag in Hongdae, sample Korean versions of Western food, eat Korean food that I can’t get in Australia, find the goats on Geojedo, and outdrink Sister 3.
There’s also a tight community of adoptees from all over the world living in Korea who are the voices of international adoption rights advocacy. Some I’ve met before, some I’m keen to meet after connecting with them online. Sometimes the key to keeping sane as an adoptee is hearing people braver than I am articulating my confusing thoughts and feelings out loud.
And of course, I wouldn’t have signed up to a program teaching English if I wasn’t interested in languages. Learning Korean as an adult is frustrating and slow, but being able to get the gist of a Korean text or conversation is tremendously exciting. I feel like I’m cracking a secret code. So I really like the idea of teaching English to schoolkids and passing on that same excitement. Plus, I get to teach cute little Korean children. I’m going to buy so many Australian animal toys and sing all the silly songs!
Anyway, that was a roundabout way of announcing that this blog is going to get a hell of a lot more active now.
For now, I’m doing the same thing as I was doing last year. Counting down the days and dreaming of the days ahead in Korea.