Those that I met post-college know a different Lianne than my high school and maybe early college friends. Of course, we all change as we mature, but I find it difficult to identify with myself at 18. I’m still the same happy-go-lucky Lianne, but the way I identify myself has changed. Growing up, I wanted nothing to do with my Asian ethnicity. I felt ashamed and only wished to look like all of my friends and family – white people. Sometimes, I’d hide the fact that my middle name is Yoon Hee. Who is that girl? Now, I couldn’t be more proud to be Korean and fully embrace my ethnicity. I equally respond to Lianne and Yoon Hee, meaning graceful girl (very descriptive: I recently spilled red wine on my appa and water on my laptop). Sometimes I even prefer my Korean name.
During my senior year of college, buried between multiple jobs, school, and research, something, somehow, sparked my interest in Korea. I worked hard to make a trip out there and it finally came together a few weeks after graduating college. Within the first week of stepping foot in the motherland in 2010, I knew I needed to be more than just a visitor. One month living out of a backpack was not enough to satisfy my curiosity. Now that I had learned a little bit about this foreign land with which I should feel a connection, I wanted to be a contributing member to the society.
Two years later, I fulfilled that strong desire to live and work in Korea. A year has passed since I made the big move and I’d like to reflect on it.
Excited and Fresh Teachers
People always ask, “What was it like meeting your birth family?” Not only do I lack a short answer, I don’t have adequate self-expression skills. It’s a difficult question to answer. It wasn’t a crazy emotional roller coaster like some might imagine. It felt natural to me, but it also felt a little awkward because they were strangers who were passionately hugging me.
I remember believing that since cancer runs in my mother’s (adoptive) family, then I have a high risk of it as well. Isn’t that what we’re taught in school? Not knowing family medical history or anything about where you came from can sometimes make you feel like an alien that showed up on earth out of nowhere. Finally meeting my family helped close that gap. Indeed, my family medical history is excellent. Phew. Besides physical resemblances, the personality and interest resemblance can be astounding. Luckily, my family members are easy-going, goofy, positive and they enjoy the simple things in life. Developing a relationship with them has not been easy because of the language and cultural boundaries, but the gap is gradually closing as my Korean skills progress.
The first time in Korea, I came home having learned the Korean alphabet and how to say a few simple phrases. I continued to study for the next two years, but still had a very low level upon first moving in, not even knowing how to say, “what is your name?” Spending time with my family was frustrating because I couldn’t express myself or knew what was going on. I knew I needed to change it. Also, being a Korean-looking foreigner confuses the public. Of course, everyone speaks to me in Korean and not English (I don’t blame them), so that serves as even more motivation to learn Korean.
After completing an intermediate Korean class, an immersion class taught by four middle and high school Korean boys, and simply being immersed in the language every day, I can proudly say I have a good grasp of Korean. I can understand many things and have simple conversations. I’m nowhere near fluent, but hopefully my language skills will continue to build this year. Initially, I thought Korean was too difficult to master and couldn’t remember anything, but being constantly exposed allows you to distinguish the sounds better so you can retain vocabulary easily. Never say never! Languages aren’t easy to learn, but it’s rewarding and useful.
Korean Speech at the Closing Ceremony
I am notorious for changing my mind about the future. From dreaming of becoming a nutritionist, social psychologist, developmental psychologist, adoption social worker, school psychologist, research librarian, and school occupational therapist, I have a new aspiration. My current plan is to become a certified teacher and teach in international schools. I always felt comfortable in the classroom and teaching young students feels natural. While being a native English teacher is enjoyable at the moment, it is not a career. Teaching in international schools can combine my interests in education and having a traveling lifestyle. Of course, there are many factors to consider and circumstances that can influence my decision, but I’ll take it a day at a time. I’m not worried about the future; it always works out.
Found a Love for Teaching
Living in a new country forces you to take advantage of any free time you have as it might be the last September that you’ll have in that country, for example. Also, knowing that the weather will soon change from scorching beach weather to the freezing snowboarding season serves as motivation to get your butt moving and take advantage of what each season has to offer. In this past year, I have tried a handful of new things such as rock climbing, taekwondo, snowboarding, running a 10K, wakeboarding, ziplining, horse riding, paragliding, and kayaking down a river, and doing a temple stay. Every weekend is booked with activities and travels. I remember being too tired from the workweek in the states and being perfectly content with sleeping and drinking during the weekends. While that is needed sometimes, it is not a cycle I want to continue. I look forward to another year of new and rich experiences.
First Time Outdoor Climbing
Korea loves festivals and so do I. With the wonderful seasons of Fall and Spring come a plethora of events and festivals. Sometimes, it’s difficult to decide what to do on a given weekend because there’s so much to do (a truly first world problem). Some events I’ve enjoyed include: Sori Festival, Kimchi Festival, Bibimbap Festival, Lantern Festival, Green Blue Music Festival, Wangin Festival & scavenger hunt, Gwangju International Day, Jindo Miracle Sea Parting Festival, the infamous Mud Festival, and Korea Burn. I look forward to the Namhae Oktober Festival, and Busan Fireworks Festival in the near future.
I was lucky enough to have an excellent batch of friends during college. We have all since moved out of Jacksonville and I think we do a good job of staying in contact. Being spoiled from having such wonderful friends, I worried that I wouldn’t make such strong friendships after college. Well, Korea proved me wrong. A bustling social life doesn’t end after the rambunctious years of college. It takes a certain person to make the decision to move to a foreign country with two suitcases, especially the somewhat unknown country of Korea. Each person I’ve met has something unique to share with others; I’ve learned something from every person I met (well, I believe that about nearly everyone). Also, never in my life have I met so many open minded and adventurous people that are take active steps to stay healthy physically and mentally. The positive energy is absolutely contagious. We all come from different parts of the globe. After Korea, we may never cross paths again, but I like the idea everyone will be off doing other great things.
To be clear, my new friends don’t replace my old, dear ones; they’re just excellent additions to my life. That being said, this section can be personal. Let’s say I learned a lot this year and I’m working on being honest with myself and making good decisions.
Just a few of the fine folk of Gwangju
My first year in Korea is memorable in so many ways. I’ll always remember it as my first year abroad. Never once did I feel homesick. I love and miss my family and friends in the states, but they are fully supportive of me and understand my need to be in Korea right now.
I have moved out of my apartment to the university area and changed schools as well. With supportive co-teachers, great school environments, and friendly students, this year is off to a great start. My old students are missed dearly, but they’re in good hands with my replacement teacher. Here’s to another good year in Korea…