I think that’s something that’s always going to bother me about living in South Korea. No matter how long I’ve lived here, no matter how well I speak Korean, or how well I acclimate to the culture that I will always be an outsider. I’ve read about how micro-aggressions work and, while some people discount those kind of things as making mountains out of molehills, would you believe me if I said all of those small looks and comments can completely jar you out of your day, make you feel uncomfortable in your own space, and they add up when you experience them from several different sources and on a near constant basis..? I’ll never be…quiet exactly in as much as I’ll be out. More like an awkward hovering in the doorway, haha.
I like to think I’m gracious about it, because I know most people wouldn’t (and aren’t) being deliberately mean. Like when the group of giggling older women sitting next to me at the cafe just complimented me on how well I pronounce “thank you” in Korean when… well, I can hold entire conversations in Korean, thank you very much. I’m not fluent, but I’m edging closer and closer to advanced. Yet I still smiled graciously and took it as praise rather than focusing on how it was being pointed out to me (again) that I’m an anomaly in their algorithms. The same when wide-eyed little kids shout out “foreigner!” when they see on the sidewalk and people hold conversations (loudly) about my appearance because they assume I don’t understand, or when they compliment or exclaim over me knowing how to use chopsticks and other rudimentary skills and knowledge.
And I know, I know.
You knew this going in. Why are you complaining about it now? It’s true, I understood the history behind Korea’s tense relations with other (often invading) countries in the past and the general opinion toward foreigners and I understand that with blonde hair and blue eyes there was absolutely no way I would be able to blend in. Especially in a city as small as ours.
It’s one thing to estimate what to expect from a safe distance and using only the factors you know, but there’s no exact way to measure, quantify, and apply how it’s going to affect you, how it’s going to trickle in to your life in ways you had no idea to expect or make contingencies for. Suddenly you have 20 figures to work into the equation when you thought you’d only have 4 or 5. Not to mention how you’re going to feel on the first day compared to, eventually, how you feel on the 1,000th.
There’s so many good people in South Korea, especially my in-laws and my husband’s rather large extended family (so, so big! haha) have been so accepting and lovely. And all the clerks and baristas that I see every week are usually all very kind. I suppose I’m just feeling nostalgic and, admittedly, a little lonely on New Year’s Eve thinking about how I’ll never quite fit in to the world I’ve been utterly immersed in for the last six years. That I’ll never quite belong. And wondering if I’ll ever be able to make some sort of peace with it instead of just accepting it resigned.