Hi, readers! Happy New Years from Cambodia!
So, I’ve been keeping this blog since 2010. The first few years were for personal documentation, but recently I’ve been growing it into a bigger project and have another one in the works with Adam.
Since deciding to apply to serve in the Peace Corps, I stumbled upon Jedd and Michelle’s blog, Intentional Travelers. Their story and content resonate with me deeply. What they’re doing is what Adam and I had in mind for a while so I’m quite inspired by them as we work on our own similar project, sharing stories and starting conversations with readers about important issues.
Anyway, I’m pleased to sign up for Michelle’s latest project, Blogging Abroad, in which she will send prompts to bloggers twice a week to help motivate us to write. Since I’m currently on the road and in a new country every month without a computer, it will be a challenge to keep up, but I’m going to try my best.
That being said, the first prompt is about why I went abroad. Here it goes.
Hi, I’m Lianne. Or Yoon Hee. I respond to both now, but I didn’t until I was 24.
Why do I have two identities? At four months of age, I was adopted from South Korea to an Italian-Jewish couple in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in a white family in a white neighborhood had me believing I was white, so I was often shocked when I looked in the mirror and was reminded of my Asian-ness.
I lived a happy-go-lucky childhood with my sister and brother (adopted from Thailand), never really thinking about my adoption. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began to question my identity. Am I really Korean? Where did I come from? Where are my birth parents now? Why didn’t they raise me? Did they want to meet me? Do I look like them? These were questions others often asked me, but I tried to avoid such topics. In my mind, my birth family and Korea were my past and I had no connection to them, but I awakened to the reality as I got older.
FIRST TIME ABROAD
Upon graduating university, I traveled abroad for the first time to Thailand and South Korea. My eyes opened to the world of possibilities abroad. There’s more to life than studying, research, and working. The contents in my 40 liter bag were more than sufficient to survive. We don’t need much to be happy, so why lead a stressful life chasing money?
Returning to South Korea for the first time wasn’t easy. Never had I been surrounded by people who actually look like me. I’m so used to being a minority in America. Even though I still was a minority in Korea as a foreigner, I didn’t look the part. I expected to get a sense of belonging in Korea, but it didn’t feel like that. In fact, I never felt more foreign than the first day in Korea.
Things got better quickly. Through CouchSurfing and putting myself out there to meet people and other adoptees, I learned about the opportunities to live in Korea as an English teacher. Being a tourist for one month in the motherland was not enough. I needed more time to immerse myself: learn the language, cook the food, eat kimchi for breakfast… do as the locals do. Part of me wanted to simulate what my life might be like if I hadn’t been adopted.
So, I worked to make it a reality. I got accepted to teach through English Program in Korea (EPIK), quit my three jobs, went on a road trip saying farewell, ate lots of pizza, and brought two suitcases to Korea where I ended up staying for three transformational years. From 2012 through 2015, I taught English in public elementary schools. Through this time, I:
- Reunited with my birth family and fostered a relationship by seeing them about once a month.
- Enrolled in Korean classes and learned enough to have conversations
- Founded and participated in community initiatives: Gwangju Freecycle, ‘CAUSE Banana Bread, #CleanGwangju, CREATE and GIFT, writer/proofreader for Gwangju News
- Ran a half marathon
- Participated in Toastmasters and gave some speeches to tackle my fear of public speaking
- Earned a blue belt in taekwondo
- Developed confidence as a teacher and experimented with various learning methods to make English engaging across all language levels
- Met Adam, my loving boyfriend who always encourages me. I wouldn’t have started some initiatives if he didn’t inspire and support me.
- Traveled to seven countries and made great friends from around the world thanks to CouchSurfing
- Hosted dozens of people from a handful of nations via CouchSurfing
I’m grateful for the opportunity to live abroad in such a unique and dynamic country while constantly seeking ways to develop personally and professionally.
POST KOREA TRAVELS
After three years, however, it was time to move onto new opportunities. Adam and I have been traveling around India and Southeast Asia for the past few months, living on $15 (USD) each per day. While we’re traveling frugally, we’re not skimping on experiences. Through CouchSurfing and volunteering, we’re able to form meaningful connections with locals, fellow travelers, and expats doing important work.
WHY I’M ABROAD
Being abroad brings me back to being a child, learning through exploration and experimentation. When immersed in a new culture, we are attuned to both obvious and subtle cultural differences and we pay attention to this and learn like kids do. As adults in a routine, we sort of go on autopilot mode. We have all parked at work only to realize we weren’t even paying attention to the drive. But when wandering around a new town, we take in all of the new sensations. More than learning cultural differences, however, I’ve learned that people around the world are actually quite similar.
We are all students of life. I find that I learn well through travel. I remember despising history class throughout school. Memorizing dates and names didn’t have significance to me at that age, so I just memorized the basics needed to get a good grade in class. If you ask me, that is not education.
Traveling, however, rejuvenated my interest in history. Being inside the Cu Chi tunnels used by Viet Cong soldiers during the Vietnam War (or “American War” as they call it there) and visiting the War Remnants museum opened my eyes to a wider perspective, most of which I don’t remember in school. Learning about Cambodia’s recent ugly past of the Khmer Rouge and genocide – something never mentioned in my US world history books – and being in the prison where innocent people were tortured, moved me profoundly.
Other skills I’ve acquired from travel: learning new languages, navigational skills, how to live minimally with one backpack, confidence and overcoming shyness when constantly meeting new people, how be assertive when a situation becomes sticky, understanding the misunderstandings that stem from cultural difference, and the list goes on.
1. With locals. Engaging with locals has been the most meaningful and memorable part of all of my travels. Before going to any country, my perception was skewed by the media. By staying with families in India, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam I was able to observe and participate in family dynamics. We had a conversation with a hard-working Cambodian woman who worked her way from a nail salon to owning multiple businesses and real estate because her Canadian friend (now husband) sent her to university to learn English. CouchSurfing with medical students in India taught us about the medical system. Thao from Vietnam brought us to the market and we learned how to cook some simple Vietnamese dishes. Meeting locals has taught us more than visiting tourist attractions.
2. With expats. Meeting expats abroad gives us another perspective than locals. There is less of a language and culture barrier and they have experienced years of what it’s like to live in a certain country and so they have insight about things such as dealing with government corruption. Further, many expats are doing important and interesting work. We’ve met expats who were rejuvenating the art scene in Cambodia, working in NGOs battling issues like human trafficking, and developing medical schools to train the future doctors of Laos.
3. With travelers. Meeting fellow travelers has also been a great way to connect with people from different cultures. Granted, people who travel abroad do not fully represent their home countries, but I’ve still learned so much. I met happy North Koreans in Cambodia, former soldiers from Israel, environmentalists who worked in the oil industry from Canada, a Spanish man who traveled the world via bicycle for seventeen years, and the list goes on. Every traveler has a story and it has been fascinating to hear them.
1. American Culture with locals. Most people have an opinion about America, some good, some bad. It is my duty to serve as an ambassador representing Americans abroad. We unfortunately have a stereotype of being loud and ignorant, so I want to defy those stereotypes. Every local I’ve met in Asia is shocked that I call myself American. Some don’t believe me and insist at first glance, that I’m Chinese or Japanese. While this redundant conversation can be frustrating, I look at it from a bigger picture; I want to educate people about the diversity of America as opposed to what people watch in the movies.
2. Foreign cultures with Americans. With 38% of Americans holding passports, It is generally known that Americans don’t travel abroad much. Granted, the United States is a huge country and it’s not easy nor cheap to leave and there are bigger issues such as the student loan debt trap. More on that in another conversation, but basically, it is not easy to go abroad for many Americans with few vacation days given.
I feel fortunate to have escaped that trap and thus have the opportunity to live a traveling lifestyle. So, I want to share the world with people who can’t travel at the moment and hopefully inspire them that it is possible to lead a similar lifestyle with the right tools.
Some of my friends back home are under the impression that everyone lives in huts in Cambodia or that India is too dangerous of a place to travel. These perceptions might be shaped from the media or stories, so I’m sharing what I’ve discovered by traveling. For example, I’ve shared that there are millions of American unexploded ordnances – UXO – bombs threatening the daily lives of people in Laos today still, that Korea has the highest teen suicide rate; that the police are quite friendly in Cambodia, if a bit corrupt (and upon closer inspection, an apparent vice not entirely of their own fault); what it’s like to live in a ger with a Mongolian family of six; and more.
- Share travel stories and real conversations with real humans.
- Provide tested travel advice to facilitate others seeking similar experiences with a small budget
- Share my unique experience as a Korean adoptee abroad. Most adoptee blogs I’ve read are a bit on the negative side, focusing on the struggles of being an adoptee, which I do have myself, but I want to share my mostly positive experiences. By sharing stories of adoption, I hope to raise awareness about some important issues.
I hope readers enjoy what I share. If you have any questions or want to hear more about specific topics, please contact me. I used to blog for my own personal documentation, but now I’m using it as a tool to share. Since I do not have a computer while traveling at the moment, it is more difficult to get on to blog, so I have been using Instagram to share some stories while on the road. In the meantime, follow me @LianneBronzo for some short tidbits!