Can I just say what a breath of fresh air my readings for the Economics of Race & Inequality have been? Finally, I feel like I’m reading some things in graduate school that I would read of my own volition. Well, not to bash the many interesting case scenarios I’ve read . . . but I knew right away when I saw that the readings for this week include a piece from Ronald Takaki that this class would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, all of this extra stuff means that Tobias’ dissertation is sitting next to my bed, marked at the same 1/2-way point it was at on Sunday night.
The weather has been alternately gorgeous and typical Seattle. I think the weather here must be the way it is, because no one would get anything accomplished if Seattle was blessed with sunshine year-round. (This is shoddy reasoning, but I’m looking for any excuse to explain away the gray skies.) The one thing I miss about driving every day in Seattle is that back when I used to drive to my AmeriCorps job, I got to see glimpses of Mt. Rainier almost every day. (Now that I take the bus to cover the short distance between home and campus, my view is obstructed, save for the occasional glance at the Olympics.) Being the Kansas City-girl that I am, I would always gawk like a tourist on clear days. But I think my favorite images of Rainier are when it is one of those typical Seattle days, and yet you can still see the faint outlines of the mountain. The blurriness makes it seem dream-like, unreal . . . as if someone had painted it amongst the clouds.
Speaking of dreams, I went to visit a Korean professor at the School of Social Work yesterday afternoon. (That sentence doesn’t make sense, but just keep reading–I’ll explain.) I’d been referred to her by my Evans advisor (who readily admits to knowing nothing about Asian or APA communities). I went to speak with her about the merits of adding an MSW to my MPA. (**It’s funny how professors of one school will bash another school. Said my Evans (public affairs) advisor: Well, you know an MSW is a clinical degree…[he said “clinical” as though it were equivalent to moldy socks] Said this social work professor: I think the way the Evans School handles diversity issues is just infantile. Burn!) Anyway, this social work professor is very cool and has written such things as “From Ethnic- to Transcultural-Consciousness: Korean-American Identities.” Born and raised in Korea, she received her bachelor’s at Yonsei University in Seoul and then moved to the U.S. when she was 28. She’s in her sixties now, so she has spent over half of her life in the States. However, she described to me that when she returned to Korea last year during a 6-month sabbatical, it was as if her time in the U.S. had suddenly compressed. In over 30 years, she had never stayed longer in Korea than a 2-week visit, but now during her extended stay, it felt as though she had left Korea yesterday and returned today. For her, going to Korea is still going home, while returning to the U.S. requires extra adjustments and mental preparations.
We talked about how that situation is reversed for myself and other adoptees and 교포s. It’s not an exact reversal, however. I look at my sisters, my grandmother, and I see my face in theirs–and yet we are strangers. We must communicate through miming and dictionaries, the way I direct taxi drivers in Seoul to my next destination.
I told this professor that I miss Korean food, and like most Koreans do when I tell them this, she grinned broadly and seemed pleased. She added some interesting philosophizing–she said she’d heard other Korean adoptees make such statements, prompting her to wonder aloud if there is some sort of genetic imprint left upon our palates in spite of our environments, nurturing from adoptive parents, etc.
Some adoptees I know who were adopted later in life say that eating Korean food will sometimes trigger memories of life in Korea pre-adoption. I’ll admit that the first time I had kimchi, however, I curled up my nose in distaste. (I’ve since acquired a love for kimchi . . . although I prefer fresh kimchi over old kimchi any day. 맛있어.) During my first trip to Korea, however, I noticed how light my body felt at eating Korean food every day. It agreed with me . . . no lactose-induced emergencies, no feeling of having a rock in my stomach. I grew up eating in the long tradition of Midwestern families–casseroles, meat, casseroles, potatoes, canned vegetables, casseroles. Korean food was definitely an enlightenment.
I said last year that I felt like my heart was growing more Korean, while my soul was still American. I’m not sure I agree with that anymore . . . . H.–even though I disagreed with you when you said it, I think you’re right in that I’m caught between the U.S. and Korea. Although I’m almost 100% sure that I will never live-live in Korea again, I’m not quite sure where Korea fits into my life.
Living in Korea was sometimes difficult for me–dealing with Korean work culture, the language barrier, sexual politics, the lack of any dialogue about racism or diversity, crappy non-Korean food.
But yet returning to the States last fall was 10 times harder than moving to Korea the previous summer. I was yearning, keening for Korea so badly that spontaneous tears would erupt at the weirdest times (like shopping at Target).
I don’t feel like this anymore, as I suppose I’ve fully-adjusted to being back. Last year, I wondered if once I was back in the States that maybe my year in Korea would seem like a dream–compressed like time was for this professor, blurry like the mountain in the clouds.
Sometimes I feel this way, sometimes I don’t. I think the real test will be returning to Seoul this summer. I will have to make adjustments, mental preparations before leaving . . . and coming back. Both ways.