I am working on a speech for a contest later this year and am currently working on a few drafts. For my blog post today, I will share what I have so far here. I think you will find it interesting.
Also – before reading my draft, I want you to read this passage I found today in a book called “Korea’s Place in the Sun” by Bruce Cummings. I have not finished the book, but this one passage has really stood out to me and connected with things I think and ask myself every day while in Seoul.
“Like other children of immigrants, Korean-American college students pose for themselves this question: what part of me is Korean, what part is not? It is a question I also ruminate on, not least because it is a question asked by my sons. The question is most insistently posed, however, by Koreans in Korea, who find it well-nigh nigh impossible to fathom how young people can look Korean but cannot speak the language (and therefore cannot insert themselves into the culture); some determine that they must no longer be Korean, a view that provides emotional hardship for many Korean American students who go to Seoul for travel or study. Many Koreans in the United States do not learn English and live cloistered in small “Koreatowns”; they, too look askance at assimilation and, above all, at their own assimilated children. Thus the timing of one’s immigration causes cleavages within the Korean-American community and deeply affects the majority view of the individual Koreans one may happen to meet.”
Ok, so here is part of a draft I am working on! I wrote a few drafts before this but didn’t end up liking them, so I have been working on this all afternoon. (Still need to proofread, etc., but need to go to bed now) Enjoy!
My name is Alexi Minna Kim, I am from America, and I am an exchange student at 대원외고등학교.
Alexi Minna Kim. Minna is a Korean name, but I have never once used it. My last name, Kim, is the most common name in Korea. And yes, thanks to my mother’s Korean genes, I do look very Korean. But that is only 50% of my background or 50% of my genes.
Alexi, my first name, is one of the most common names in Russia. My father’s side of the family is from Russia and Poland. So I guess I am an American mix of Russian, Polish and Korean, but I sure don’t feel like either. I was born and raised in the U.S. where I never learned any Russian, and I never learned any Korean.
How can someone have a Russian name, but cannot speak Russian?
Or even worse, how can someone look Korean, have two Korean names, and yet cannot fluently speak Korean?
Caught in between multiple cultures, I sometimes feel lost. But without knowing the language of either side of my family, is it possible to insert oneself into that culture? Will I ever feel Korean? What does it even mean to feel Korean? Will I ever understand my lost Korean culture?
Because of my experience as a student in a Seoul high school, I feel that I now have something in common to share with every Korean. I now understand the stress, the fun moments, and the culture of Korean high school. And so, yes, I can confidently and proudly say that “yes, I am Korean”.
I am sure you can all relate…
Running through the subway station in 교복 (school uniform) to the sound of 학생 교통 (school transportation) cards beeping twice *beep beep* as half awake students head to school.
And once on the subway, pretending to be asleep when an ahjumma or ahjussi walks by so to not give up your seat.
Pulling down my skirt when entering the school and 인사 (greeting) ing to the teachers who yell 회이팅 (fighting!).
Or pretending to clean the classroom when the 담임선생님 (homeroom teacher) walks by and then as she leaves to continue joking with classmates.
Fighting sleep, and having your eyes cross and your head bob when you are sitting in grammar class. And then to consequently open the window in the cold of winter, in hopes that the cold air will wake you up. Or sometimes trying to sleep with just one eye closed, which never works.
Willing to run to the 매점 (the school convenience store) to get chips, from which after you share with your friends you only get 한입 (one bite).
Or willing to run to the 급식 (school lunch) line to be the first to fill their silver tray.
But then not wanting to run during the 체육 (P.E.) tests.
Sleeping on top of your desk during the precious 10 minute break times.
But never sleeping during 철학 (philosophy) class because the teacher is scary.
And then the feeling that you are sitting in a study prison during 야자 and 자습 (self study at night).
And studying for so long that your head feels like it might explode.
But then after all of that to still have energy left to enjoy some Kpop music, talk about 1988 or 태양의 후에 or whatever drama is still popular…. and then return to your family to say 다녀왔습니다 (I am home) take off the 교복 (uniform) and get ready for the next day.
As a student here in Korea the days are flying by and I feel as if I just got here yesterday. I guess that means I have fallen into a pattern and have adapted to busy high school life in Korea.
Sure, I have to explain almost daily to people that “no, I am technically not fully Korean, but American-Korean-Russian-Polish”. But do I still feel less lost culturally? Do I feel more Korean?
Through Daewon I have experienced high school and can understand what Koreans go through. When I meet a Korean, and despite have completely different childhoods, we can connect instantly on the struggles of Korean high school. Only a few foreigners in the world can say that.
So thank you to my classmates, Daewon 2-2반, and to my teachers who – by simply living their normal lives – have shared a huge piece of Korean culture with me.
~Your friend, Alexi Minna Kim.