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.”

One thought on “Out of Place Me

  1. Comment from: Jennifer [Visitor] · http://www.jennipal.blogspot.com
    awwww honey my heart aches for you!!! Yet at the same time I am scared for the big move back to Canada. When I was reading your Korean I heard your voice. Korea certainly is not the same without you two and I’m not sure that’ll find someone to ever replace you. So I hold those memories in my heart and hope that we will meet again. Don’t know what to say about boring America, except that maybe by the time I’m back in Canada maybe you can tell me how to keep busy (hopefully by then you’ve figured it out)
    10/20/08 @ 04:14

    Comment from: Shelley [Visitor] · http://shelleythetraveler.blogspot.com
    Amanda, I know exactly what you are going through. After I left Korea and went back to Canada, it felt like I didn’t belong. The things that seemed so exciting to me in Korea, seemed mundane and boring in Canada. I felt like my friends just expected me to go right back to how things were before I left, and it’s impossible because even though things hadn’t changed for them in the year I was away, it changed so much for me, I’d experienced so many things that I just couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen.
    The lucky thing for you, is you have a huge piece of what you love about Korea with you and that’s Good Man, so you are lucky in that regard.
    I also feel, like you, that although I love Canada I doubt I’ll live there for the rest of my life. Some people just have that in them, and it’s ok, it’s not for everyone, but for the few like you and I, we thrive on that kind of adventure, we love the challenge. No one is saying it’s easy, as I am now living in India and I have days where I just hate it here. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
    Everything will fall into place and the sacrifice you’re making for Good Man is amazing, and I’m sure he’d do the same thing for you, if the roles were reversed.
    You’ll find your place at “home,” and knowing it’s not permanent and the next adventure is not so far away will keep you going until then.
    10/20/08 @ 04:30

    Comment from: Anne-Marie Kidd [Visitor] · http://whatisanniedoing.blogspot.com
    Things will get better. It is hard to go back home. I’ve only been back for visits but when I’m back I get so frustrated. I feel that no one understands the new person I’ve become. That’s not the same as you I suppose, no one is the same. But I understand the frustrations. It’s only been a few months. Goodman will get his masters, and then anything can happen.
    10/20/08 @ 08:16

    Comment from: Wanda [Visitor]
    Big cyber hug to you. It will get better. Hang on, Good Man will get his masters and life will change again. Hopefully his schedule will ease up some.
    10/21/08 @ 09:12

    Comment from: Joanne [Visitor] · http://www.joanneseiff.blogspot.com
    Oh, honey. Have patience. Adjusting takes effort, and time. We did email about it a while back, but I think until you experience it? It is all intellectual, you can’t really get what somebody’s trying to say. It’s hard–no matter where in the world you lived, and where you come back to!

    Some things to consider: Washington is a diverse place. Maybe find yourself another crowd to submerge yourself in? (I lived across the street from a big Mexican community in Arlington. Normal for me was blasting marimba music sometimes…) Maybe throw yourself into reading/listening/watching something new and different? You don’t need international/exotic to feel stimulated…but you may have to work harder to keep that intellectual stimulation up on your own.

    I will be in the DC area soon so maybe we can get together and you can vent!
    10/21/08 @ 15:38

    Comment from: Robbin [Member] Email
    Chop wood – carry water.
    10/21/08 @ 15:44

    Comment from: Mom [Visitor] · http://www.roundaboutacres.com
    10/24/08 @ 19:08

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