Rok 'n Roll Radio

A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?

Fitting in and standing out

It’s like I never left. My brain has clicked back into place where I etched a rough guide on how to move around in Korea and what to expect. There are no surprises, culture shocks or mysteries anymore.

I’m calm. A big deal for a permanently anxious person like me. I realised something about myself that I hadn’t seen the time. 

When I lived in Korea, I wanted it to be a chance to experience what could have been. So I tried to neatly, quietly slot into Korean society. And, gosh darn it, I just wanted to fit in and to be liked because I’m not very chill. Of course, this is impossible and the angst of not fitting in was a constant, painful jab every time I stepped outside and did anything.

But this time it’s just a holiday.

I caught a bus to the markets in Busan and it felt like a grave error, not just because I realised too late that my T money card had no money on it. I wasn’t meant to be on this bus with ajummas going about their day and weaving through outer suburban Busan. I felt better when I caught the subway to Haeundae Beach along with the other tourists. I spent a few hours there just slipping into the cool water and lying on the sand. It was the most relaxed I have felt for a long time. My bare shoulders, tattoo and willingness to bodysurf stood out. Good. I stand out anyway. Might as well have fun with it.

I still have a wave of irrational embarrassment when I poorly attempt to speak Korean or I don’t understand what someone says.  Not because I feel like an imposter who has been caught, and a terrible Korean bringing shame upon the nation, only frustration that I’ve been studying at Korean school all year and I’ve still got a long way to go. But it doesn’t matter that my Korean’s not good enough to trick someone into thinking I’m a native Korean. I was able to clumsily ask the ajumma at my hotel if I could store my bags. My grammar was far from perfect and I stammered a lot, but she understood what I meant and I understood what she meant, and that’s really what matters.

A lot has changed with me since I was here last time. This time round I have a job and a cool inner city Melbourne home to go back to. It doesn’t matter if I fail here. 

Besides, when my Umma picked me up from my motel in Busan, roared “주혜!!”, hugged me tightly and cried, who cares about fitting in?


2 comments on “Fitting in and standing out

  1. Mike m
    September 15, 2016

    Excellent reflections. Learning Korean is so difficult for us adoptees. I look back and it is probably the thing i made the most effort on in my life and came away with really weak results. If it had been my career, I would’ve had to change to something else. Luckily, as you say, it doesn’t matter toooo much in the end. I’m wondering if i could’ve gotten the message abt storing the bags, maybe not! So good job with that!

  2. Mabel Kwong
    September 18, 2016

    Thought-provoking reflections about visiting Korea once again. “it’s just a holiday.” It did sound like a holiday when you mentioned about relaxing on the beach. But at the end when your Umma hugged you, it sounded like you were going home once again 🙂 And sometimes you can’t explain why you feel this way. It just feels right. You might not be able to speak the language fluently, but sounds like you speak it with a lot of heart. And when you, I think people can actually see that 🙂

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This entry was posted on September 15, 2016 by in Birth Family, Korea, Korea the third and tagged , .


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