My first year in Korea was more "magical." I experienced so many firsts... seeing the country I was born in, getting to know my birth brother and father, being so far away from my family and friends. Nearly everything was done with such a sense of wonderment and awe... "I can't believe I'm here doing this!"
I can honestly say my second year here has been more "real." We've much more deeply immersed ourselves in the culture by learning the language and developed strong, life-long friendships with Koreans and foreigners studying the Korean language. Also, this time around, I've felt less like an "honored guest" and more like a member of my birth family. My birth father and SangKwun are more themselves around us, and less likely to tiptoe around us constantly trying to please us. This year has been more of a feeling of, "Yep, this is my life."
This year, there have been some huge moments... meeting my birth mother, my extended family, my half brother... Emily and SangKwun's Korean and Chinese weddings... studying Korean at Sogang and being able to communicate with my birth father for the first time.
I guess the major lessons I've learned this year are more related to how I'd like to live my life.
1) Take risks, don't be afraid to try a Plan B:
When we originally came to Korea, we promised ourselves after one year we'd return to the States. Then when the time came, I just didn't feel like I'd done what I needed to do here. So, we came up with Plan B: come back and study Korean. And I can honestly say it's one of the best decisions we've ever made.
Mark and I both agree that without a doubt, the second year has been a better experience than the first. While we enjoyed our first year, we really were kind of like year-long visitors to a foreign country. If I'd left for good last year, there would still be so many aspects of the culture I would probably never understand. And there would forever be a huge language barrier standing between my birth family and me. I'm glad I took this little extra time to bridge that gap.
2) Learning about other cultures is not just interesting, it's necessary.
This is really something I hadn't put much thought into back when I was living in St. Louis. Actually, I was pretty content in my daily life surrounded by people who tend to speak, dress, and think like me. Then I came to Korea and saw people around me who have such different lives and stories to tell. Particularly at Sogang, we've met people from Turkey, Sweden, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Japan, China, and it's made my life that much more rich.
One thing we've been astounded by is when we ask our classmates (particularly the Asians) why they are studying Korean, the answer is most often "because I'm interested in the culture." Can you imagine if in the more people in the United States had that attitude? A willingness to go to another country, live there, and learn the language just for the sake of learning the culture?!??! Mark and I have promised ourselves whenever we have children of our own, we're going to encourage and maybe even push them to go, explore, and learn about the world. Because it's so big and it's filled with so many interesting, kind, amazing people.
2010 has been an unforgettable year. I honestly have no clue what 2011 will have in store for us, but I'm excited for whatever comes our way. Happy New Year!