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“You’ll never leave where you are until you decide where you rather be.”

As of lately, I have been feeling like I am trying to build my dream house without a blueprint or an architect. I have an idea of what I want but as far as having a cohesive plan and knowledge about how to facilitate it all..that I am lacking. As children, aspirations and dreams are constantly changing. Here at the age of 25, it seems they changed again. But to what, I don’t yet know. I was always the type of person who had to have a plan, a next course of action. Now it seems that clear vision of mine is eluding me.

Life as a traveler is difficult for a myriad of reasons. It breaks my heart to be away from my father, mother, sister, all of my friends. I have such an amazing support system back home, people often wonder why I have stayed away from such a good thing. However, these are the people who know me and wait patiently upon my return; understanding all the while why I have stayed away.

I am searching for something, something I can’t quite put eloquently into words. My family and friends understand that at this point in my life, I just need to run wild. “Wild” is used quite flippantly, as I am not engaging in something society deems as “wild”, but wild in my own way. With every new country I visit, I get hungrier and hungrier; I just can’t satisfy that feeling. I want to see things I’ve never seen before, meet people and interact with different cultures instead of hearing secondhand stories. Countless times I have heard “I wish I was doing what you were doing,” yet I know the truth of the matter. Traveling is deep within your soul or it isn’t. I travel because I want to, because I desire it and want it more than anything. Traveling takes guts. It strips you of your comfort zone and forces you to get to know yourself better. I have learned more about myself in the past two years spent abroad then I have in my many years of studying.

I see students here running around the metaphorical hamster wheel. They study fervently from as young as the age of 2, leading their life nose to book for years to come. They are trained to think that finding a good job and spouse is the end goal with little to no deviation. Time is not allocated to stop, travel the world, and marvel. These are things you simply can’t learn just by reading a book and memorizing it, you have to live it. I’d like to think the younger generation’s minds are changing, but this very specific way of thinking still rules majority.

I’m not trying to turn my nose up in disdain to anyone who does not like to travel because it is all a matter of opinion. For me personally, when I see the world, I feel exhilarated, free, and connected. My hunger is not satiated upon returning from one place; on the contrary, I am scoping out the next place to explore.  

Maybe it comes with age and wisdom, but I think my traveling has been an unmistakable factor in getting to know myself better. For the first time in my 25 years, I am in a relationship with myself.

What my future profession will be, my career, all of that is not yet formed. I’m scared out of my mind sometimes that I don’t have those answers, the next course of action is not yet planned. I am teetering at the edge of my comfort zone, yet I trust that’s when the magic will start to happen. You don’t learn a lot when you are content, you learn a lot in difficult or uncomfortable situations. It’s like looking through a window pane on a rainy day…straining to see something in detail yet met with blurred, fleeting images. One of these days, the rain will lift and I will have a clear vision. 

Memories

Memories are something even the poorest man alive can still claim as his. Our brain collects everything, but what to recall or bury deep within, is up to each individual. The unique thing about memories is even if something is no longer a part of your life… that moment can forever be preserved and revisited again in your mind’s eye. For better or worse, your memories are your own personal movie reel, allowing you to experience the most impressionable moments of your life.

Memories have the ability to appear in our life when we least expect it and can be sparked by a sudden smell, song playing, touch, picture, etc. Not all memories are created equal; some are vivid, some are fuzzy, some are painful, others are soothing. It is fair to say that our minds capture the essence and spirit of those who impact us the deepest.

People in our lives come for different seasons or reasons. Not everyone can stay for duration of the journey, but those who can recall upon us should be acknowledged. When someone from our past chooses to reach out, it demonstrates a deep sense of vulnerability and bravery. Don’t we all have someone that we occasionally wonder about? Perhaps it is an acquaintance or old friend that we silently keep tabs on through Facebook? Many people are witnesses from a distance, though many reasons preclude people from coming forth. Reaching out is the hardest part, usually made more difficult when you factor in time, assumption, and pride.

Time passed between two people who have lost contact builds a division that seems irreconcilable. The longer the time that passes, the harder it seems possible or likely to reconnect. What once was second nature is now tainted heavily with indecision. People use the “too much time has passed” excuse for not trying to reconcile.

Assumption is another creator of what is wrong. Thinking FOR someone has to be one of the most dangerous things ever. The only person we should be thinking for is for ourselves. Only we can be sure of our own minds, not the minds of others. People should spend less time assuming and more time asking.

Pride is the last thing that reigns over individuals as a factor in whether or not to reach out. People are afraid to lose face, show weakness, be rejected or worse, admonished for it. A rigid exterior doesn’t necessarily house a strong person. Pride is gambled when you reach out to someone with a highly unpredictable outcome. A daunting void spanning between people can easily come crumbling down if only people were less afraid. All it takes is a hello.

“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we ever meet again, you will know me. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost.” –Frederick Buechner

Silence

“The most profound statements are often said in silence.”-Lynn Johnston

Silence is a quite a paradoxical idea; it’s a word that evokes quiet, yet in certain situations, silence has a stronger delivery than the loudest scream. The art of silence is wonderful if perfectly orchestrated, but it can be a lethal cocktail which poisons those who don’t yet understand it. People will share surface level information with others, but keep the most eminent stories close to their heart. To know in which situation to be silent and in which situation to be heard is the proverbial tightrope that people walk.

Silence is the antithesis of superfluous speech. To be comfortably silent in a situation without feeling a compulsion to talk just to fill empty space, is a hard task. It requires the grace of good company and a certain level of confidence. Perpetually silent people are just as bad as the marathon talkers; therefore, the timing for silence is the most important factor.

I find most things I need to know can be found in silence. When we are quiet, we are able to listen. Listening doesn’t extend to translating speech, it requires our other senses. Listening doesn’t need to happen with our ears. If listening is only done with our ears, we would never get the intended message. What people say isn’t necessarily the answer to what you want to know, it’s sometimes what they don’t say that should be the focus. People give thought to what they say but what they refrain from saying is just as scripted.

Silence gets a bad reputation for being misconstrued as ignorance, disinterest, cowardice, boredom, or sadness. Of course in some situations, blatantly ignoring someone who talks directly to you, is a slight. I don’t think people are scared to state their opinion so much as they are fearful of the reaction it might cause. Everything we say does not have to be profound or monumental but it should have some worth.

A great source of strength is silence. The easiest thing to do in the world is to voice our opinion and interject. It takes but a millisecond to fight, yet years of practice to be clever enough to know when to be quiet. Are people who choose to stay silent cowards? I don’t think so. People might remain silent to prove a point, to give space for thinking, or other reasons. Silence does not mean something else does not exist. Silence is not nothingness. The struggles of silence are often harder than any words we are willing to say aloud.

 

The term “gyopo” is the proper term used to describe the individual who has Korean heritage but isn’t a native Korean. It can be seen when applying for jobs and it’s the quickest way to describe a Korean who has emigrated abroad, or who has Korean blood. I don’t know why but there are tons of forums or blogs and posts about how being a gyopo makes it harder to date in Korea and I am here to negate that fact. For the first mythbusting fact……

 

KOREAN MEN DON’T APPROACH GYOPOS BECAUSE THEY ARE SHY

People have this preconceived notion that Korean men don’t approach strangers because it is not in their culture to talk to unfamiliar people. In comparison to their western counterpart, Koreans are more reserved, but it’s a terrible thing to write off an entire culture as being “too shy”. Korean men are first off men. They will approach girls if they find them attractive. The first problem I heard was that gyopo women weren’t even being approached by Korean men. In matter of personal opinion, this doesn’t have to do with the fact that you are gyopo, so much as your level of attractiveness. We live in a superficial society, with Korea charging full steam ahead (what other country are you required to send a photo of yourself along with your resume?) Every time I was approached by a Korean man; it was unbenounced to him at first that I was really gyopo (it’s not like we were name tags.) He is not shunning you because you are gyopo because chances are, you look just like a native Korean. If you aren’t being approached and want to be, I would stop blaming Korean men for being too shy, and either approach them or re-evaluate the image you project.

 

KOREAN MEN DON’T DATE GYOPOS BECAUSE THEY ARE TOO “WESTERN”

There is this other misconception that Korean men lacked interest in gyopos because they weren’t “Korean” enough, or too “Western”. I think this is false; in fact, I’d even go a step further and say that gyopos can be viewed as an exciting twist on the “traditional” Korean girl. English is the second language in Korea; therefore most people have some sort of foundation in the language. If you are able to speak Korean, then more power to you. If you cannot speak Korean, or cannot speak Korean well, your date will love to exercise his English skills he has been meticulously studying all those years in elementary, middle, and high school. It’s either that, or you two will be gazing into each other’s eyes when you’re not furiously trying to type into your phone translator. He will be interested in your culture, and find you surprisingly refreshing. He will be your new tour guide, language exchange partner, and date all rolled into one fun package. This is your chance to learn more about Korea while teaching him a few things about your native homeland. Cheers to broadening each other’s minds!

 

WESTERNERS LIKE GYOPOS or YOO HAK SENG

Though I am not a Westerner man and cannot speak on behalf of all Westerner men, I have noticed (and it is my personal opinion again) that Western men who date Koreans are a good match with gyopos or Yoo Hak Seng (YHS) for short. YHS are Koreans who have spent a sufficient time studying abroad. Their English is at the level where communication is comfortable and their minds are more open and receptive to new ideas. These two types of women are great matches for the foreigner who is attracted to Korean women. For example, reasons such as language barrier, difference in culture, emphasis on different values, etc. can place too much stress on a foreigner and native Korean match. Gyopos are appealing because they retain physical traits of being Korean, yet their mind, behavior, and language is that of a foreigner. Foreigner men can easily find familiarity and comfort in dating a gyopo because they are a lovely hybrid of Korean culture and foreigner traits.

 

For every statement I made, I realize there is another side to the story. I am not saying gyopos are preferential to every Korean man or every foreigner who has interest in Korean women. It is up to the two individuals to see whether they are a good match for one another. This is a personal excerpt of what I have discovered from living here in Korea. Dating in Korea as a gyopo is not the barren desert it is often portrayed as. In all my experiences, I’ve had successes, nightmares, and lots and lots and lots of laughs in between.  

Returning to my Roots

Nearly one year ago, something transpired that I could never take back, something that would change my life forever. It was a hectic time, braided with feelings of excitement, confusion, sadness, and gratitude. Only those closest to me knew the truth of what ensued, and that was the day that I met my Korean family.

For nearly my entire life, I never cared to search for my birth mother, nor did I have any qualms or reservations about my parents that I have now. It wasn’t until I began shaping my plans for teaching in Korea, did I then begin to consider that piece of my life. The prospect of potentially being in the same country as my birth parents, hypothetically passing them on the street but still never knowing them, haunted me.

The initial search that began from New York was laborious. There was very limited information and I was advised to contact the sister adoption agency in Korea. Upon arriving in Korea, I contacted that agency and from there it took several months of back and forth correspondence. Just before I had given up my seemingly ineffectual search, I received an email requesting that I visit the agency about news regarding my birth mother. That very day, a mere two hours after I received that email, I was on my way to find out the big news.

It turns out my birth mother is still alive (my mind was running amuck with various scenarios) and she is still married to my birth father. I have 2 older sisters and one younger brother. My one older sister is 28 years old, a Kindergarten teacher who lived in the southern region of Korea and my brother is 21 years old, attending University. My second older sister is 26 years old but the astounding part is she was also given up for adoption, living where else but New York (I have been living in New York my entire life). I wasn’t given full disclosure on information because she had never tried to find our birth mother before. To this day, she has no idea she also has an entirely separate family unit living in Korea at the moment. Aside from my 26 year old sister, the rest of my family was eager to meet me and it was up to me to decide the next step. I woke up on a Tuesday and it was just another balmy summer day, going to desk-warm at school. I came home and I had gained a mother, father, two sisters, and brother. I had a blood sister living in the same place as I for my entire life….my mind was simply exploding with this news.

I took exactly one week to decide what to do; so many thoughts were ricocheting and echoing around within the walls of my head. I was the one who initiated the search yet what I had discovered was more than I ever could have imagined. I felt confused and overwhelmed. Making the decision took a lot of time because I knew if I ever met my family, I couldn’t necessarily UN-meet them. I couldn’t ever forget it and I didn’t think I would ever quite be the same again. After hemming and hawing, running every possibility through my head, I agreed to meet them. I couldn’t discount the fact that I was lucky to even have this opportunity, not a lot of people even get to have this chance. This is the kind of stuff people watch on Oprah, teary eyed and sniffling from their couches, it didn’t seem real.

The first meeting took place in a muted toned room with leather couches and a coffee table. There was already a preliminary box of tissues placed in the center and as soon as I opened the door, the very first person I saw was my mother. She came rushing towards me, this very petite Korean woman, overwrought with emotion, her arms outstretched. We hugged and everyone else gathered around us. We sat down on the couch, my mother by my side, holding my hand the entire time. I felt like I was starring in my own movie but no one gave me time to read the manuscript and I didn’t know my lines. There was a translator in the room to help, but where do you even begin? I searched the faces of my family members and I could see traces of my own face reflected back at me. My sister sat to my left and it was unnerving to see how similar we were. There were tears and many pregnant pauses shared during this meeting.

After meeting them, I was left with more questions and thoughts then from when I started. I didn’t feel “complete” or “whole” but instead felt more confused. They were technically my family, but I wasn’t their daughter that they had raised, nor did I feel this great sense of belonging. It was quite the opposite; I felt varying degrees of resentment and abandonment. That was disconcerting because I have always had a very loving upbringing, not left wanting for much at all. That was the first time in my life I can ever remember feeling like I was abandoned and I felt foolish for feeling it. I was angry at the fact that my mother kept my older sister and my younger brother, but gave up me and my sister. I felt angry because I saw how much mothers adored their children in Korea and I would sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I grew up in Korea. I saw the life that I missed out on, and occasionally I felt myself lamenting over it. Then I felt foolish for the second time because I know the life I had in New York was the best thing that could have happened. I did not want to seem unappreciative, it was just a poignant moment in time that I struggled to identify and understand my own feelings.

We met quite a few times after, I spent Korean holidays with them and I was able to meet my extended family members. Right before I went back to New York, I lost my cell phone. Upon arriving in Korea, I re-contacted the agency to track down my family’s number again. I took a lot of time, and to my discredit I disappeared from my Korean family for a while. It took me nearly a whole year after meeting them to decide what kind of relationship I wanted. It was too much, too fast and I hadn’t yet sorted out my own emotions. Thankfully, the respite I had given myself had provided me with ample time to ruminate and reflect upon things.

I can certainly say my life now is more diverse and enriched then it was before. I have my loving parents in New York who have been selflessly raising me for 24 years and I am now developing a relationship with my birth parents that I am comfortable with.

 

Dating can always be a challenge in itself, navigating through the unspoken nuances and participating in the back and forth dance with each other; “Does he like me?” “I like her, but I can’t seem too eager” “I want to text, but I have to wait four hours before I respond” the list goes on. It is a difficult game to maneuver; people don’t lay their cards out on the table too soon, they run their partners through a series of hurdles to see if they can meet their expectations, or create absurd fictitious scenarios in their heads to fill in the blanks of questions left unanswered. This is all considered ‘normal’ dating repertoire, but what happens when you date someone and you are from two completely different worlds?

I’ll tell you what happens. The games you normally play are scaled back and you develop a different kind of attitude for things. Speaking firsthand about my relationship, on written paper, the gap between me and my partner’s world is quite large. We live nearly two hours away from each other, his closest friends are Korean and mine are foreigners, his hometown is Korea, whereas mine is New York. Our childhood environment and life experiences are poles apart, our perspectives and opinions reflect that of our cultural upbringings, and the language we speak is neither English nor Korean, but an eccentric fusion of the two.

I acknowledge our differences, but when we are together, it’s not so transparently perceptible. The focus is not on the fact that you are Korean-Korean, and I am Korean-American. We teach each other new things, enjoy our time, and make each other laugh. When we are together, our differences aren’t perceived as an obstacle, instead they pose as an interesting addition. In the past, I have dated other Korean men and found it to be too arduous. Maybe it was too complex than, or perhaps now I met the right person who I think is worth trying for. As the days pass, I find my patience increasing exponentially. This is good news for me, for I have a tendency to lack in that area. Knowing myself well, I am aware I have the propensity for thriving in a relationship. It’s not that I cannot be single and need someone to validate my worth, but to meet someone with whom you can really be yourself and strive to be a better version of yourself is something extraordinary.

 When it is the right person comes along, previous excuses like “We can’t speak the same language” or “He’s too different” goes right out the window. Anything you need to say, you can find a way to say it. In my case, we both took the step to introduce one another to our own set of friends. It wasn’t seamless, it wasn’t as easy as if we were from the country, but it didn’t matter. It’s exciting to teach and be taught new things, and to see things from a different perspective other than your own. It’s too easy to find a reason why something won’t work but all you need is one reason why.

Withstanding all of our obstacles, it’s genuinely remarkable how comfortable it is. Because of the aforementioned barriers we do have, we must rely on good communication and openness. It sounds like hard work and a lot of effort, but what is most startling about it is it doesn’t feel like it. We are two people seeking to navigate this unchartered path of different cultures, yet despite our diffferences, we fit together well.

Time

“Half of our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.” – Will Rogers

Time is such an integral piece of life; everything is dependent on time. Being from New York, my mentality is if I want something, having it 5 minutes ago would have been too long of a wait. Once I get an idea in my head, I can’t waste any time, I need it as fast as I can manage. If I want to cut my hair, I need to do it that same hour. If I want new shoes and the store is closing in 15 minutes, I rush to the store rather than wait until morning. This instant gratification suits the impulsive tendency I find weaving it’s way in my life, but I would like to slow down some aspects in my life.

Enjoying the moment is something I am mindful of. I used to catch myself running a mental schedule over in my head while company was present, instead of embracing the time I had with that person. My mind would be racing as to what was next, what was coming after. It wasn’t a good thing, having only half a mind present. Whatever task you are doing, you should try to focus solely on that one thing.

People are forever whining there is not enough time in a day. I have defaulted to this phrase multiple times as well, but in reality, we have a great amount. We have the same amount as Beethoven, Bach, Picasso, Michelangelo, Helen Keller, the people who built the Taj Majal or the Great Wall of China. The length of day was not any longer for them then it is for us. Times are different, we are living in a vastly faster paced society as compared to back then, but time is what we make of it.

The main reason for leaving my last job was the odd hours. I found myself staying up until easily 3:30 am to 4 am. I wouldn’t wake up until an hour or two prior to my shift, felt lethargic, went home, ate late, stayed up late, so on and so forth. They say what you do day to day becomes what you do with your life. That is why I have become more mindful of my free time. I want to make the most of things and be present in my own life.

A friend recently told me she saw a woman on a talk show who was asked why she never checked her phone when she was alone. The woman stated she didn’t check her phone constantly because that is being concerned with other’s lives, devoting your time to see how other people are spending theirs. That stayed with me and I have been trying to limit Facebook time. First off, there is nothing wrong with Facebook if you check it a few times. It does become a problem once you’ve been logged on for hours, doing nothing but mindlessly stalking other people. Checking up on people is natural but if you really are that curious, you might as well talk to them and find out firsthand.

Steering back on topic, time is of the essence. There is a reason why things happen at a certain interval in your life. Things fall apart, things come together. People come into your life ….some for seasons, others for life. I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now and lord knows I made a bunch of risky decisions. The key is to just not take time for granted. Time that has passed can never be regained or saved for a rainy day. Once it is gone, it is gone for good, so everyone should make it worth their while.