Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Culture to Call Your Own?

So back in America and experiencing some major culture shock with my Korean relatives in CA versus Japan; I’m really starting to think they are just the opposite. First call in America was from my dad yelling about how I should have contacted him right away after I landed in LAX – to think that I actually missed this when I was with my Japanese host family who never even rose their voices to each other. And then I was thrust into a church camping trip with my uncle’s Korean-American church to Yosemite, where I once again experienced the constant quarrels in the car and the thirty-minute arguments about the rules of Mafia before ever actually starting the game. At which point I asked my cousin, “Why?” and she simply shrugged and said, “Because we’re Korean.” Apparently, too Korean for me. I don’t know how much different Korean-American culture is from Korean culture, but according to my other cousin who studied abroad in Korea last semester, the Korean-American culture in California is pretty similar because of the steady flow of immigrants from South Korea. If that’s true, then I don’t think I fit in either Korean or Japanese culture but somewhere in between. Is this what makes me American?

And when I look at the bigger picture, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry because everything is just so IRONIC:

1. In my first post, I admitted I was hesitant to travel to Japan because it meant I would be seeing it before I ever saw Korea – I assumed that the more I delved into Japan’s culture, the farther I would distance myself from Korea. In some ways, that may have been true, but in other ways, Japan has pushed me think about Korea in a way that living in America never could. America is all about the melting pot and being whatever culture you want to be, but being in Japan for two months has made me appreciate certain things about Korean culture. Little things like Korean BBQ (I almost cried when my relatives took me to a Korean BBQ place in LA and I ate like TEN different types of Korean meat) to larger cultural aspects like the politeness factor (“See, see! I TOLD you Koreans were more sincere!” my Korean-American friend told me when I complained about this – but maybe Koreans could afford to be a little less prideful? Ha).

2. And now I can speak more with my grandpa in Japanese than Korean. Again the irony – no one told me my grandpa could speak Japanese until he was like, “Let’s practice,” one day on the phone. And he’s much better than me because he uses all these colloquialisms and speaks with the right inflections. But of course, the only reason he knows Japanese is because of the annexation. My grandpa has always been the good-natured one, and he’s been complimenting on how “well” I can speak Japanese, but sometimes I wonder what he really thinks. I was so taken aback by his Japanese at first that I kept replying in Korean on the phone because I wasn't sure where he was going with this. I mean, wouldn’t he rather speak in Korean to me? But I even wrote in the first post that my Japanese would surpass my Korean this summer – I’m still getting used to the concept even though I’ve told myself a million times that this would happen – the same thing happened for Spanish, so why is it so much harder this time?

3. BUT I’m almost positive that I’m not going to take Korean as a class next fall because I realized how much I hated textbook learning this summer, even for Japanese. I know for Japanese, some textbook learning is necessary because I can’t just pick up grammar points and kanji naturally, but I wonder if I can at least attempt to “naturalize” my Korean. I’ve said before that I used to think I would never be able to become a native speaker in Korean again, but there are some instances that make me think otherwise. My Korean listening, for one. My friend in Tokyo took me to a Japanese-Korean church where I heard the message in Korean and Japanese sentence-by-sentence. For Japanese, I still go through a translation process to English, but for Korean, having Korean parents has at least ingrained something of a natural listening skill. I don’t think to myself, “Oh, he’s using that grammar pattern and that particle and that tense…” And I want to believe that my speaking last summer was on the verge of becoming something like that. Of course, if I really want to be FLUENT in Korean, I know I’ll have to take some kind of standard approach to learning grammar - actually, I've been thinking it would be much better to learn Korean from a Japanese perspective if my Japanese is ever that good, since they're so similar - the irony continues, right? But for now, I think I want to try the “coffeeshop” approach and learn as much Korean as I can before I’m ready for that point.

Thank you, Richard Light, for helping me realize things about language and culture – and defining what I want to call my own – that I couldn’t have figured out in America. Actually, I still don't know if I even have a "culture" that I can claim as my own, but I'm starting to think more and more that it's okay - maybe this is what being American means. Not the epitome of American culture, but just an example of what it can be. And I’m not exactly sure if this blog is what the Light Fellowship expected when they gave me the funds to travel to Japan, since it doesn’t seem to talk much about the language program. Rather, these are simply my own experiences, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.
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Kelly McLaughlin said...

"And I’m not exactly sure if this blog is what the Light Fellowship expected when they gave me the funds to travel to Japan, since it doesn’t seem to talk much about the language program."

Actually, we have all the program information we could EVER want! It's posts like this that I think are the most useful in the long run, if not for its readers but certainly for yourself.

Well done. An amazing summer. Some amazing conclusions and plans for the future as a result.

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