Five Weeks in Korea: Best Idea or Worst Idea Ever

Sister popped up on Google Chat:

언니 미국 가서 오빠방이 허전하다…

Since you went to America, [Good Man]’s room feels empty.


“How was Korea?”

Friends, coworkers, parents of former students… It hasn’t mattered who’s asked, my answer has been, “Interesting. Good, but interesting.”


After one week in Korea, Mother and I got into a massive, massive argument. I didn’t blog about it then because I needed distance from it. I also needed time, to see how things would end up.

I’m also not going to blog about the argument in detail now because the details aren’t important. But the long and short of it is that I knowingly, and intentionally, acted American and she continued to act Korean (which isn’t surprising).

Sister (bless her) acted as a go-between the evening before Mother and I hashed everything out. I thanked her later, because I am pretty sure she was able to explain my thinking to Mother before I explained it again the next morning. (Sister doesn’t speak much English, but she and I wrote notes to each other in Korean about it.)

When Mother and I did hash it, I said things to her that I would never have gotten away with if I were a native speaker. (Such as “Don’t talk when I am talking. Korean is hard and I need time.”)

I didn’t apologize, and she didn’t apologize. And in this case, there was no need to. Mother thought she did no wrong, and I thought I did no wrong. And both of us were right. As a Korean, acting Korean, she did no wrong. As an American, acting American, I did no wrong.

Once we worked everything out, things got back to normal fairly quickly. In fact, I think things were even better. I think we understood each other more after the conflict, and I suspect fighting and then working through it together (rather than ignoring it) strengthened our relationship.

Before I came to Korea, Mother told me that if I did what she said, we wouldn’t fight. I told her that if we did fight, she would win, because she speaks Korean. In this case she was right, but I was wrong: we both won.


So. Was my five-week trip to Korea a mistake?

I got to see places I’d never seen in Korea before.

I practiced so much Korean that when I got back, I found it easier to tell Good Man a story in Korean than in English. When I was done he said, “Wow, your Korean…”

I was able to visit Master, and meet with my Jeonju friends. I even met some other people I’d only known through the net (Grace over at Dating in Korea, and Terry, a regular reader who practices taekwondo).

I learned more about Good Man’s life, and I think I came to understand him a bit better, too.

Sister and I traveled to Busan together, went on shopping trips together, built clocks together, went bowling together, baked apple pie and apple crisp together, and just got to know each other better. We built up the private jokes that friends and family members have.

Mother and I went on day trips together, met her friends, cried at sad TV shows, bantered playfully, and went on long walks together. We also built up our own cache of private jokes.

I missed Good Man terribly, especially after the third week. The last time we were separated for more than a few days was before he moved to America. We weren’t married, engaged, or even living together. It was a big shift to be away from him for five weeks, and it was hard.

But I wanted to go to Korea to better understand my in-laws, and to really get to know them. I absolutely did that.

I’m so glad that Good Man supported my decision to go. And I’m grateful that Mother invited me into her home for five weeks. I only regret that Father had to work the entire time. I feel like I can honestly call Mother “Mother,” and Sister “Sister” and I wish that I had strengthened my relationship with Father, too. But we have the future for that.

Before I went to Korea, I’d joke with friends, coworkers, and students’ parents that “this is either my best idea ever, or my worst idea ever.”

With hindsight, I can say it was truly one of my best ideas.