I was relieved to return to Boston this year. Back to school to finish up the second semester of my sophomore year. Finally, “home”— or at least, that is what I thought initially.
Here and there, sometimes even on the familiar and colorful streets of Boston, I feel what I like to call “casual stares.” People rudely watching you beyond curiosity’s polite allowance. In response, I cannot help but challenge them with a look. Friend, tell me — why do you think you can stare at me like that? Keep your eyes to yourself. They often then look away, though not always. Either way, I must brush it off and go on my way because, hey, my skin color will not change.
I have been to South Korea, “the motherland,” three times now. I do not want to overlook the fact that traveling to and from there is a privilege every single time. The most recent time, this winter break, I felt surprisingly distant.
On the return flight, I so dearly wanted to be able to say, “Ah, going home was so great!” just as eagerly as I had said on the way there, “Wow, going home is gonna be so great!”
But I was not home in Korea.
As of now, in my current state, I do not belong. Yes, there may lie a degree of self-pity in that sentence, but really I do not. Simply put, I am a foreigner in South Korea as a Korean-American who dresses differently, does not look “Korean” and does not know the language as well.
For me, this was one of the indications: people felt comfortable staring at me. As I shared earlier, I get this all the time in the U.S., so it was not the stares in and of themselves that bothered me. Rather, it was the breaking of my own assumption: I had assumed that I would be returning to a “second home” when I revisited Korea, but I was instead left with a naive thought.
And so, here I am in Boston, spending a few more days resting before classes start. I am trying to enjoy myself by exploring different areas of neighboring towns, but it seems that no matter where I go, I still get that same look. At the moment, it sickens me to the point that I want to cry out, “I swear I belong here! I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life!” Yes, there is a term for what I am dealing with: perpetual foreigner syndrome. However, this term had failed to clue me in to the social realities I would encounter in Korea. I feel no judgement or anger, just plain confusion. I wish I was a little more prepared, or perhaps I need to have more time in Korea to make certain my own argument.
I continue to counteract my feelings by noting first the obvious — I am in a very white area of town. This is true. But the frustration feels unbearable sometimes. Why must I step up to receive this destiny? Not just I, but other Asian-Americans too.
Maybe this is what I am wanting to say. As I grow older, I have been noticing a peculiar destiny for some of us. Specifically, I see that I do not completely or easily belong anywhere. I think I can be okay with that, but what would that entail? What purpose could arise from such a destiny?
Physically speaking, I have a home. I live under a beautiful roof and am happy with those around me. But in light of this peculiar destiny, I must redefine belonging.” I sense that the process could be maddening, but let us see it through. They call you “outsider,” but do not feel obliged to leave.