Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Perspective Series-Back to the Beginning

This week I’m happy to introduce Caitlin from My Korean Adoptee Story for the next installment of the Perspective series. This is a series about expats sharing their experience of living abroad and how it inevitably changed their perspectives on life. I was adopted from Korea as an infant by a wonderful family and grew up in Wisconsin. Like many other Korean adoptees are choosing to do, I came to Korea in June of 2011, fresh out of college and ready to explore the country, culture and search for birth family. Every part of Korean life and job has its ups and downs, but I can say I’ve truly been blessed with an amazing experience. I have a great job with very kind and helpful students. I’ve seen so much of the country and gained more knowledge about the culture and people than I ever thought I could.  And even beyond my biggest dreams, I had the honor of hugging my birthmother and thanking her for giving me this beautiful life to live. I think a lot of expats can agree - life in Korea is pretty good. I originally planned to stay for a year, then six more months and even thought about staying in Korea long term. 
I took a two week trip back home with my boyfriend in May to be in my friend’s wedding. I hadn’t gotten too homesick during my time in Korea. First and foremost, it was great to see family and friends but I had forgotten how awesome all of the little things were. I could speak English and no one would yell at me all like “YOU LOOK KOREAN WHY AREN’T YOU SPEAKING KOREAN? YOU’RE AN ADOPTED KOREAN, OK YOU UNDERSTAND ME THEN!!” I could drive myself to places. Clothing stores had clothes with different sizes and I could try on anything. And like every expat returning home does, I ate myself into a food coma that lasted all the way back to Korea. Being home was wonderful but I knew my life in Korea was good too. I didn’t expect anything to change, even with the small reminders about life at home. My family and friends would still be there when I got home and I could deal with small inconveniences.
My mom actually came back with me to Korea so it was me, her and my boyfriend on a bus from the Incheon Airport to Gumi. We stopped at a rest area and I just remember walking into the restaurant area and having the overwhelming stench of kimchi welcoming me back to Korea and making me want to gag. This wasn’t normal. I like Korean food. I like kimchi. Why was it having this effect? After catching my breath and hoping I’d readjust to the kimchi smell, I decided to get ice cream at Lotteria. Their version of McFlurry is called a Tornado. But of course, it says 토네이도 (Konglish version of tornado) and after having the luxury of speaking English freely for two weeks, I could not, for the life of me, pronounce ‘tornado’ the Korean way.  But after a few tries, it seemed like the Lotteria worker finally understand me and took my cash. I wait for a few minutes and my number is called. I am handed a coke. I had no idea how tornado and cola could get mixed up, but it did. At this point, I was almost in tears. I just wanted to be back in my clean smelling home town where I could properly order ice cream.
While that’s a funny story to tell, there was definitely a big question that caused my shift in perspective about life in Korea. While my mom was in Korea, she also laid out the question to my boyfriend, Joonwoo - “Are you going to move to America if you and Caitlin get married?” This kind of question was pretty early for our relationship but even then, I knew it was something I had to think about because I was completely in love. If I wanted to stay with Joonwoo, living in Korea long term was my fate.  
When I had to think about Korea in a different perspective - from life as a single girl in her 20’s just saving up money to a potential wife and mother - things changed. I loved Korea for traveling, learning, and just enjoying life. But when I thought about Korea as a family life, it terrified me. I teach adults who work in Samsung and if I’ve learned anything from them - it’s two things. Korean husbands work 12+ hours a day, six days a week and never get enough family time and Korean students are slaves to studying. I grew up in America with parents who were there for me at my sports events, dance recitals, and took us on vacation. I was able to pursue a lot of different interests as a student that shaped me into the person I am today.  Time for your family and yourself is what my students always say they miss and I knew I could never give that up living in Korea. I want my future family to spend time together and I want my kids to have time to play and have a hobby or two. For me, a place can never be home without family and doing the things that you love.
Again, Korea is an amazing country to live in. I’m so happy I’ve had a chance to experience the culture, visit the many beautiful places, and I even picked up a bit of the language. Most of all - I truly believe Korea can help you see just what you love (and maybe don’t love) about the place you call home.

Caitlin's blog first caught my eye shortly after moving overseas. I shot her a message because she had just announced that she would also be moving to South Korea and since then, we have maintained an online friendship. I have loved being able to follow along on her journey to find her birth family and most recently getting engaged! Congrats!  Both her blog and life story are amazing and inspiring reads. Check her out at My Korean Adoptee Story

If you have lived abroad and would like to be featured, shoot me an email at lostintravelsblog{at}gmail{dot}com. I would love to hear from you!

Check out the other girls from the series

Shireen from Eat, Play, Love that Top

Michaela from Michaela Rae