On Feelings and Comfort Things Pt. 2

This is where Taylor speaks about identity.

When I left orientation -heck, when I left the US- everyone told me that I would obviously be American. So, when I got to Gwangju I had this mind set that I would not be spoken to in Korean and would have time to learn more and be able to communicate.

This did not happen.

In the three weeks I have been in Gwangju, I get spoken to in Korean at least twice a week.

When someone speaks Korean to me and I can't say anything back, it's usually pretty awkward for both us. In fact, I went to dinner with two other ETAs (who are both White) and when we were seated at the table the hostess said something to me in Korean. I responded with a blank stare. She responded to me with a blank stare then started showing us the menu. We all said "ahh, yes. Okay." After she left, one of my friends commented that the hostess looked at me like I have 3 heads. The Why-Don't-You-Understand-Look is pretty common occurrence for me.

At first I thought, "oh, people are speaking to me in Korean because they are polite and just assume I speak Korean."

But when I had dinner with some friends, talked with one Korean American ETA about Koreans thinking that I am Korean/speaking to me in Korean. She pointed out that everyone who told me "ohhh, everyone will know you're American. You don't look Korean at all" was American. She also talked about how, before coming to Korea, American/Korean Americans told her she looked too American and would stick out in Korea, but when you're actually in Korea you can see that Koreans aren't one face or one body.

This isn't some GIANT revelation, but at the same time, it is. Sometimes people in America -actually, people in general- think in large generalizations. I do too, but being in Korea and living with my host family is reminding me that even countries more homogeneous than the US are not simple.

Not all Koreans are tall and leggy with clear skin and beautiful faces. Those Koreans exist, but they are not the norm (or so says my host brother). And not all Korean kids study 24/7/365. My host brothers are proof of that. They have time to go to PC 방s and play on their tablets and go on weekend trips to Seoul to visit friends (that's where my youngest host brother is this weekend). Yes, they study. They study A LOT. Once they get into high school maybe they will feel more of the pressure that Americans understand about the Korean education system, but right now? Right now, they're kids.

My time is Korea, so far, has made me feel a different kind of privilege (which might be the wrong word, but I'm going to use it for what I am feeling). I had privilege in the US because I'm educated, well spoken, and dress like "a responsible" person would (AKA I dress like a 40 year old mom). But in Korea I have privilege because I look Korean/Asian. I can take the bus/subway, be in the grocery store, I can walk down the street without being stared at.

I realized yesterday when I was with my friend Jenna, who is White and really tall, that when I lose her in a crowd it's not big deal because who else would be the tall white girl with long brown hair? But when she loses me? Totally different story. It's like needle in a haystack for her to find me. I'm sure she just sees a giant sea of black hair all about the same height.

It's just really strange to be in a place where I look like everyone else... And now there are different expectations placed on me because of how I look.


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