Mid-week musings

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.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Mid-week musings

  1. hey sarah, i found your blog by way of ji-in’s old blog. . .like many who read it i’m also adopted from korea. . .where were you living in korea? what for? how long? i was there for 4 months in 2001 at inje university in kimhae, near busan.

    anyway, i enjoy reading your blog. seattle sounds great. . .boston is getting warm too, but i’m not really liking it. . .all the snow has melted!

  2. Hi Sarah, I just had to comment.

    I’m a fellow grad student, only I went the other route. I’m in my MSW program, but almost did a dual degree in Public Policy.

    I would disagree with the Korean professor who said that MSW is a clinical degree, altho that is the perception. In my program, we have a Community Practice concentration (community org and advocacy, policy and management), and I have no intention of practicing as a clinical worker. It’s a hard thing to push against the tide of “professionalism” that sways social workers – especially for those of us who feel the ideology is that of social justice, not therapy (for that, I would have been a psych.)

    anyway, I enjoy reading your posts. glad to have you out there, doing the work!

  3. Welcome to new readers!

    KAB–I lived in Korea from August 2004-September 2005. I was teaching English at a hagwon, but my purpose for going was to fully immerse myself in Korean culture. I lived in Sanbon, which is a satellite city of Seoul (I went into Seoul on the weekends to see friends). Initially, I didn’t think much about doing a birth search, but while at the Gathering in 2004, I decided to make an appointment with Holt, and the rest is history. You said that you did Inje in 2001….do you know an American Korean Adoptee named Liz? She’s from Boston, too….I’m not sure whether she did Inje in fall 2001 or spring 2002, however…. (By the way, I lived in Boston for a year, too–2002-2003. It seemed like spring didn’t come there until June!)

    Jae Ran–How are you enjoying your program? The MSW programs I’m considering also offer concentrations that are more on the policy/management side… I wonder, though, how doing an MSW w/ that focus which be significantly different than what I’m doing now? What made you choose an MSW rather than a Master’s in Public Administration/Affairs?

  4. sarah,
    i hear ya on pondering food and if there is some genetic theory behind it. because i swear to god whenever i eat korean food, i can eat a lot of it and i don’t seem to gain any weight. i know that sounds very 8th grade-like of me to say, but its true. i actually feel lighter and happier. maybe it has nothing to do with genetics. i dunno. it probably doesn’t. but its a nice thought anyway. 🙂

  5. Sarah, I think I met you. I was at Koroot in August ’04 for the Gathering. You had just found a job I believe and were looking for housing. I was there with a few others from the mpls/twin cities area.

    as far as why the msw vs. the public policy? I wanted to concentrate on the social work aspect of policy. i wanted to look at policy from the lens of a social worker instead of the other way around. in my internships and work/field experience I have worked in a variety of direct practice, both public and private, mental health and child protection areas. i felt this work would help guide me as an administrator or policy advocate some day. as for why i didn’t do a dual degree, i wasn’t keen on the double time it would take – and second, i was reserving the option of doing a ph.d in social work policy at some point (looks like that is more likely at this point, after a few years of working so i can afford to!)

    come visit my own blog at http://harlowsmonkey.blogspot.com/

    sometimes i write about my social work experience. i would love to dialogue more about the similarities/differences between what you are doing in your work. i have to admit the social work structure often has me endlessly frustrated.

  6. Kat

    Hi there! Talked to your mom this weekend at J’s bridal shower. It was fun to catch up with her. Have fun in Omaha!

  7. yup, i know liz–she was on my program, and i ran into her and her (at the time) fiance at an adoptee book release at tufts. what were you doing in boston when you lived here?

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