When you think about “reconnecting with your culture” there is almost this movie like expectation that you will have this magical trip where you and your identity are transformed. You might expect to have an epiphany where you suddenly get your past and heritage. What I realized when reflecting on my time in Korea was that I did not have a jam-packed, action filled montage of momentous, cultural aha moments. Rather, my connection to my Korean culture developed through a collection of subtle, eye-opening experiences.
These were the moments where I would be working in a cafe when at 12:30pm the daily rush of bustling Korean office workers would come in. I would notice them happily chatting away, excited to get their afternoon caffeine boost. Or, I would be sitting on the ground immersed in the calm environment of a traditional Korean tea house trying 대주차 (jujube tea) for the first time. Even times when I would be in a 찜질방 (sauna) and I could actually use what I learned in Korean class to understand what two people were talking about. These occurrences may seem mundane and unimportant, but in these small, passing moments I felt myself forming a more mature, profound understanding of my Korean culture. Anyone can learn about a culture, but not everyone can experience it. For me, living through these real, nuanced parts of Korean life and experiencing the cultural norms are what intruiged and impacted me the most.
Being Korean American, it’s harder to distinguish and fully grasp what my identity means when I’m at home in America or in my homeland, Korea. Connecting with your cultural roots after feeling a long disconnect from them is not a clear-cut process. It takes time to understand how two contrasting yet intertwined cultures affect your view of yourself. Even now I still get shocked being in Korea and seeing so many people that look just like me. Being so accustomed to diversity, I don’t know if I will ever get used to being in a place where I simply don’t look different.
At times where I feel too American or too Korean to fully belong in one group, it’s good to be reminded of the beauty that lies in being stuck in between. There is a nice balance of getting the best of both worlds and it truly is the perfect place to always be exploring new aspects of the different cultures that make up my identity. And as my time studying abroad in Korea comes to an end, I've found myself extremely grateful to have been given a newfound appreciation and love for the Korean part of my identity.