It is unfortunate that you’ve decided to leave – I know you put a great deal of effort for the program and I appreciate it a lot. Call me when you can, I would like to buy you a lunch.
After receiving my Christmas card, Dr. Park, the program director of EC Program (which I manage) and also a professor, sent the e-mail. I like Dr. Park – he is one of the few people who can speak a good level of English with his US degree (trust me, there are a ton of people who got all this prestigious degree from States yet speak bollocks of English). Even better, he is good to work with. He leaves me to handle the job, easy-going, yet does his part when needed.
So we went out for a lunch. He is talkative, which is good – I am not that talkative. Moreover, it is even more difficult for me to be talkative in front of Korean senior. In Korea, if you talk too much in front of someone who is older than you are, you probably would be regarded as an impolite person. So most of the time I listen, nod or say “yeah, I know, right” and he gets even more excited to talk. Good combination. Or maybe he felt the need to talk more because I don’t talk much. Anyway, he talked about this and that – and many of them are pretty useful advices for me. I will compile them separately. Yet some of them are wacky. He said “accounting isn’t all that bad, it’s not about math; it’s more about logics and creativity. Business is more about math.” According to my sneak peek at accounting textbook, it was a ton of math and I suck ass at math. Sorry, I’ll filter that one out.
Then after a while, the topic started to move to my upbringing and background – that I grew up in States for 8 years and spent another year in Japan. Park mumbles and blur the point a lot, so I often have to ask “sorry?” Then he said: “You know, doing that – asking me to repeat – is just like me and my nephew talking. He’s Korean-American, speaks pretty good Korean, but always ask me what I mean and I have to repeat.”
“Well…that’s because you mumble and blur a point a lot but I’ll keep shush.”
“I think it’s because you grew up in western culture, you know? It’s not your language ability. Western culture is a very low context society while Korea is one of the highest. Like you have to just infer it and left things unsaid, which does not work in US. So yes, you speak good Korean, but you don’t really speak Korean-Korean.”
I still think it’s mostly because of his mumbling, but he has a point here. So I just decided to listen on; after all, it’s not nice to interrupt your senior in Korea, right? Park went on. He has an older brother. When Park was 9th grader, his family lived briefly in States. While Park came back to South Korea with his family, his brother went on to college there, got a job and is still living there. His bro speaks good Korean and says he is Korean, but Park doesn’t feel that he is. They are still very close to each other, but when Park tries to share his experiences in Korea to him, he just doesn’t get it. Naturally, Park stopped to share it with his brother.
“My kids are somewhat like him. And you too, I bet. What American teenagers experience and what Korean teenagers experience are different and it’s really hard to be shared, you know. Once you are exposed to all that friends and surrounding, there’s no reverse. So don’t try too hard to convince yourself to be Korean or have some Korean identity. You will never feel comfortable, like wearing a jacket that doesn’t fit for you. Don’t try too hard, like you HAVE TO get a job here and settle down. You are American. “
Thanks for realizing that I’m not the next-door-Korean-neighbor!
Realistically, it’s difficult to not to do that. The opening of job market is very narrow worldwide, and South Korea really lacks option to develop your career in a step-by-step way. It’s one shot or nothing. Many organizations involve a lot of hierarchy and vertical structure, which I am not a fan of. Like Park said, my potential Korean bosses and colleagues will throw it directly to me, instead of giving me some time to settle and learn, saying ‘well, aren’t you Korean?‘ On the top of that, American immigration regulation is getting tighter and tighter, despite Obama administration’s promise. Who wants to hire a newbie foreigner, involving much more money, time and administration than newbie local? (Which is why my potential employer canceled the whole deal). I don’t see any positive signs of change on regulations yet (I know I know, super-busy time with that social security bill). On the top of it, I think it is important to have a first-hand work experience, preferably with different business cultures. Maybe not.
Overall, I am grateful for Park, not only for lunch and good advices, but also for recognizing that I am not quiet a typical Korean. It feels better that there are Koreans who see me as I am, instead of throwing “oh well, you are Korean” and shove it to my throat. Sense of hope and comfort, I guess.
But at the same time it also felt weird to hear “you are American.” I guess more than half of what makes me came from American experience, but there are times when I clearly felt that I’m not 100% typical American (duh) – to begin with, I have a nice dark green South Korean passport and nothing else. Once in college, I was left out from the class discussion for the entire semester, being the only international student and also the only non-Caucassian. When I was about to speak something of A, everyone else already started talking about B. I was so stressed out that I had to take Tylenol before I walk into that class. I went up to the professor, almost crying, only to hear: “Um, I am not too sure what I can do here…so what do you want me to do?” So I went up to the Dean, who was very understanding and only after than a situation got a tad bit batter.
I think I am closer to figuring out about my plans (or maybe I just want to believe so?). But this will remain as a big homework for the rest of my life – dealing with people who does not understand the TCK identity.