(**Fair warning: The following is a long post. Feel free to skim or come back for repeated viewings at your leisure.)
Being in Seoul often feels like being strapped to a rollercoaster . . . the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, with unexpected turns that flip you upside-down and make your stomach drop. In stark contrast, being in Seattle for me feels much more like taking a carriage ride through a park. It’s slower here, and during the ride I feel safe, calm . . . and a little bit bored. Hmmm, but the leisurely pace of this ride is picking up as classes have started, and I seem to be oblivious to the fact that I’m taking 18 credits during this 10-week quarter.
I’ve especially noticed recently how quiet it is in Seattle, so there is nothing to drown out my thoughts. Even the UW campus has a laid-back feel (I think the massive trees and brick buildings seem to absorb a lot of the buzz and sound). My roommate went to a conference in Yakima (yeah, I have no idea where that is either) this week, so it’s been very quiet in our apartment. It’s a welcome respite, although I do miss hanging out on the 2nd floor of KoRoot, lounging and chatting with people.
During one of my visits with my family this summer, my 외숙모 (uncle’s wife) suddenly turned to me while we were eating lunch and asked, “How would you like to have a new Korean name?”
She said it so nonchalantly, but I was surprised she brought the subject up, because my Korean family generally calls me “Sarah” (although they sometimes refer to me as 현아 [Hyun Ah], but not often). My name had recently been a topic of conversation in our family, however, since it remains a mystery as to whether my Korean mother named me before taking me to Holt. Most likely, my name is from the people at the Holt Mapo Reception Center. I’ve never been especially attached to my Korean name of 현아, mostly because I have difficulty pronouncing it correctly (I usually have to say my name at least twice or three times to native Korean speakers before they understand). The “현” is very breathy (you know, like “Hyundai”). Besides, for the first 21 years of my life, my American family and I pronounced my name as “휸아” (Hyoon Ah), until B. visited and pointed out that “Hyoon” is not a name (or even a word) in Korean.
My sisters’ names are 미선 (Mi Sun) and 미혜 (Mi Hye), so 외숙모 suggested a few “미” names for me. The one I liked the most was 미란 (Mi Ran or Mee Ran). The meaning of Korean names are derived from their 한자 (Chinese) characters. There can be several meanings, but 외숙모 said that “미” = beauty, while “란” = orchid. “란” can also mean “loneliness,” but I’ll stick with “orchid.” I like this name, not only because it is much easier to pronounce, but it gives me some unity with my sisters.
Last year, my Korean language instructor called me 현아, so some of my classmates were confused when I introduced myself on the first day of 2nd-Year/Non-Heritage Korean class as 미란. Our current instructor is actually the head of the Korean language department (a brilliant, very non-traditional Korean woman), and she was puzzled when I said, “제 미국 이름은 Sarah에요. 그러지만 저는 한국 이름은 두 개 있어요…..” (My American name is Sarah. But I have two Korean names…..) I then explained briefly in my awkward Korean about how 현아 is the name my adoption agency gave me, but 미란 is my Korean family name.
It’s been interesting having 김선생님 call me 미란 the past two weeks. The process of adjusting to this name was similar to when my instructor began calling me 현아 regularly last year. At first, I have a delayed reaction, but gradually I’m beginning to feel a sense of ownership and recognition with my name.
I know many of you out there can relate to this. 🙂
I’ve met many adoptees who have let go of their American names in order to reclaim Korean names, and I’ve also met adoptees who go by their Western name in their adoptive country but prefer to be called their Korean name while in Seoul. In my own case, I’ve always strongly identified with “Sarah,” and I still have a hard time imagining myself as anything but.
Although lately …….
I don’t know…..lately when I’ve been seeing my full name written out, even with the “Kim” squeezed in the middle, something seems missing. I’m not sure when I would go about trying to legally change everything, and I don’t know what sort of combination I would like…..
For now, I’m satisfied with the warm feeling that washes over me when 김선생님 turns around and calls, “미란씨?”
Here’s what I’m taking this quarter:
- Policy Analysis (3 credits, Evans core)
- Nonprofit Financial Management (3 credits, Gateway course)
- Mediation & Negotiation (3 credits, Evans elective)
- Education as a Moral Endeavor (3 credits, “Values” elective)
- 2nd-Year Korean (Non-Heritage) (5 credits, undergraduate course, doesn’t count towards my G.P.A.)
- Leading & Managing Groups (1 credit, Skills workshop)
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But I’m not pulling my hair out (yet), because #4 and #6 are just credit/no-credit (meaning that grades aren’t given out), #5 doesn’t affect my G.P.A., and #3 stops meeting after the first week of November. I really love #3, because my instructor is well-prepared and very entertaining. #2 is more like a necessary evil…..I didn’t overcome my fear of Excel spreadsheets in Budgeting last winter, so I decided to try tackling it again. I admitted this during our first class of #2, and the professor immediately began repeatedly using me as an example in class. #1 is a required course of all Evans students, and it is dreadful thus far.
I also have a work study graduate assistant position through the Marc Lindenberg Center, which is a research center at the Evans School focusing on humanitarian action, international development, and global citizenship. I’m glad to have this position, although I admit that this is more for my financial aid needs rather than career track, because int’l development is not my area of interest or expertise. I’m limited to working only 6-8 hours/week, but it should be interesting, because I’ll be helping them with MLC-sponsored events throughout the year, in addition to spending hours welcoming visitors to the MLC office.
My Tuesdays are really heinous, because I have #5 at 8:30 a.m., followed by #1, #2, and #3. I finish the day at 9:00 p.m. But I always seem to have at least one day like that during the week in every quarter at the UW.
Thus far, I’m still easing myself out of vacation-mode. It hasn’t occurred to me yet to stay in on a weekend night, and I’ve been slacking on reading and studying in general. Those of you who knew me back in the day would be amused/horrified. In Korean class, I regularly sit next to a sweet girl who was in my class last year and is a contemporary version of my former self. She’s always ultra-prepared, memorizes everything, and asks anal questions regarding assignments. Sometimes we partner up during class to practice dialogues, etc., and after she corrects me for the 2nd or 3rd time, I have to smile to myself and think, “Ahhh, youth. Where did my ambition go? Ah, yes, it’s probably hanging in the closet along with my white coat.” (med school reference)
Similarly, being a 2nd-year graduate student means I am much less anxious and more realistic about my studies. In our pass/fail, 1-credit leadership course, we were forced–I’m sorry, selected–into groups for a project. The only thing we need to complete is a presentation on a leadership book that we were assigned. I’m in the group with another 2nd-year Evans student, and the rest are 1st-years. The other 2nd-year student suggested that we divide the book into sections, we each read our designated section and report to the rest of the group. I chimed in my support for this fabulous idea. The 1st-years looked aghast, and one of them said, “Well, I think we should all be responsible for reading the entire book…..Even if we do split it up, I think I’ll go ahead and read the whole thing.” While the other 1st-years nodded their heads earnestly in agreement, the 2nd-year student and I just looked each other for a moment before breaking out into gales of laughter. (In reality, it was more like smirking at each other, but you get the drift.)
What am I going to do after graduation in June? Well, I have a busy summer ahead (ahem, IKAA Gathering 2007). And then……..
Since dropping out of med school, I’ve had a loose idea each year of what my next step would be. AmeriCorps……East Coast…..West Coast……Korea……grad school…… Even though I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go and when, I at least had a pretty good idea and some gut instincts.
I feel a bit lost in this respect now.
The way I see it, I have basically two options: continue in school or get a job.
But the “continue in school” part is a bit tricky.
If I had unlimited money and unlimited time, I think I would just collect master degrees like Angelina collects third-world babies. I’ve actually been admitted to the UW Jackson School of International Studies. But I’m not sure a Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) is for me…….of course I’m interested in globalization and the theories behind it…..but do I want that to be a professional track for me?
I’m also drawn to getting a Master of Social Work (MSW) as well as an MA in Asian-American Studies. The UW does not offer the latter, unfortunately. I would have to go to California, most likely UCLA. And yes, UCLA does have that tempting MSW/MA 3-year program. But. It’s. Los. Angeles. Yuck.
(In my fantasies, I would also have time to get a Master in Arts Administration, but that’s completely out of the realm of reality here.)
Every professor I’ve spoken to in regards to my triple-master-degree plan has scoffed and said, “Why don’t you just get a PhD?” Of course, the people saying this to me have PhDs themselves. I just don’t see myself being so solitary and writing a dissertation. But lately I’ve been wondering if this indeed might be the best path for me.
Another thing I’m weighing is how long to stay in Seattle. Even though Seattle can bore me, I don’t think I’ve yet seen everything the city has to offer. I’m not quite ready to abandon the Pacific Northwest for California.
I know my parents are just waiting for me to get a “real” job. And truthfully, I’ve never been in a job that I was going to be at indefinitely……I’ve always had an “end date” looming on the horizon. An escape route.
People keep asking me, “So…..what do you want to do?”
“Marry a rich man/win the lottery and serve on volunteer boards?”
“Hahahaha! No, really, what do you want to do?”
I know that I want to keep working with the Korean adoptee/international adoptee community. In what capacity? Well…..
I will be attending a research conference on transracial adoption in New York City next weekend. I’m hoping that can shed some light on my conundrum. Plus, I get to kick it w/ J.R. and K.P.N. 🙂