Out of Place Me

I am feeling very, very frustrated right now.

My aunt, one of my father’s sisters, moved to Korea in August because her husband got a job with DOD schools. My aunt and uncle are both art teachers, and they have one son. I’ve never been super-close to Aunt Melanie, but that’s mainly because her family lived in Florida while I grew up in Minnesota, and my father lived in Arizona.

Although we weren’t close when I was young, Aunt Mel and I are, in my opinion, fairly similar. It’s surface things—Grandma and Dad both confuse me with her on the phone, we both love photography and do fiber arts, we’re both teachers—but also that deeper wanderlust sort of spirit.

I got to talk to Aunt Mel Thursday night, and last night Good Man and I got to talk to the whole family (using Skype video, which is cool in a freaky sort of way). It was really nice to get to talk to her, though I’m a bit envious (to use a common Korean phrase) that she’s in Korea. My uncle told me a lot about applying to DODS, and I’m filing that info away for future reference.

Mel lived in Germany for five years and I asked her if she had any problems getting used to America. She said she never felt like she fit in after Germany.

That’s what I was expecting.

I am so frustrated living here.

My job is great (though it’s ridiculous the number of meetings I have to attend), we’re comfortable with money, taekwondo (when I can go!) is fine (not like in Korea by any stretch of the imagination, indeed, but it’s going well enough). Living with Good Man is great, we get along well, he’s fantastic to live with.

But I do not like

that I have to drive everywhere,
that Americans currently seem very angry and distrustful of each other,
that I don’t have floor heat,
that when I go out, the streets are empty,
that I can understand what everyone’s saying,
that we need two different cell phone chargers in this house,
that cell phone plans are so expensive and lock you in for so long,
that cell phones are junk here,

that the holidays here are about buying crap,
that I can’t buy soju at a corner store,
that health care is ridiculous here,
that most Americans don’t know where Korea is on a map,
that everything “Asian” is either Japanese or Chinese or some totally oddball Fauxsian thing,
and so on.

On top of it, Good Man has to keep a B average to keep his visa. Do you remember group projects? Do you remember how one or two people were stuck doing all of the work?

One (lazy!) professor has a group project worth 40% of their final grade (lazy!). (This is bad pedagogy, in my opinion, and I ran my opinion by a bunch of teacher friends who pointed out the same thing before I even brought it up.) Which means, as far as I can tell, that the foreign students are stuck doing the project since they’re the ones at risk of losing their status/stay if they don’t get a good grade. Good Man is often at school the nights he’s supposed to be home, or he’s at school for 11 hours on a Sunday (like today). I miss him.

And if I could go to taekwondo, that would at least give me something to do with myself in the evening, but I’ve been out of commission for three weeks and it’s at least another three!

I am, frankly, bored in this country. It’s not a matter of where I live—this area has tons of stuff to do. It’s that whenever I stepped out of my house in Korea I was immediately surrounded by foreign (to me) words, sights, smells, sounds, experiences. Passively, it was interesting. Here, when I leave my house…nothing is unique.

Taxi drivers used to ask me what I thought of Korea, why I came to Korea. I would answer, “미국에서 생활이 쉬웠으니까 재미 없었어요. 한국에서 생활이 어려우니까 재미 있어요.” In America, life was easy, so it was boring. In Korea, life is difficult, so it is interesting. And it’s just as true now that I’m back.

I also know that the most frustrating things in Korea were often the most rewarding. I know that I got homesick in Korea. I know that people will think “the grass is greener/your rice cake looks bigger than mine.” But this isn’t so much about Korea as it is America.

From a young age, I wanted to live abroad. I wasn’t sure how I would do it since nobody in my family had (other than Aunt Mel), but I knew I had to live in another country. I never felt like America would be my home forever. I always felt a bit out of place (and no, this wasn’t limited to the teenage years, when everyone felt out of place).

The thing is, I’m back here now and I feel even more out of place than I did before I left.

I felt out of place, often, in Korea. But I knew that as much as being a foreigner could be frustrating, it gave me a unique place in the culture that worked in my favor in many ways.

But it’s one thing to be out of place in a foreign country. That’s to be expected. It’s quite another thing to be out of place in what should be your “home” country.

When we lived in Korea, when people found out we were leaving together, they’d ask where we were going to live. I always understood that they expected we’d live in one place forever. That’s what many international couples seem to do. I would answer, “저는 미국에서 살고 싶지 않아요. 하지만 [굿맨] 한국에서 살고 싶지 않아요.” I don’t want to live in America. [Good Man] doesn’t want to live in Korea.

I picked Good Man up from school at 9 tonight. He got in the car and immediately asked if I was OK. I started crying and I said, ” 미국에서 영원히 살고 싶지 않아.” I don’t want to live in America forever.

He nodded and said, “나 때문이야?” Is it about me?

I shook my head and told him I was just unhappy here. He said, “I have only been here three months. I wanted to come to America for 14 years, but even then I knew I would not live here forever. We will not live here forever.”

“I know, and I don’t want to take America away from you, believe me. It’s important that we live here, it’s really important that you get a Masters here. I’m just… going through some wicked reverse culture shock.”