My Past Rewritten: Make Me Fluent in Korean

When I saw today’s daily post, I thought I knew my answer. It surfaced immediately, demanding my attention, demanding my justice. I’d wish that I didn’t move as many times as I did.

I was born in Peoria, Illinois, then my family went to Singapore where my brother was born two years after. Right after, we went to Manila, Philippines where we stayed for three years. Then we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia where I did kindergarten until second grade. Then we moved back to Singapore where I did third grade and half of fourth grade. The rest of fourth grade until grade nine was done at my birthplace, Peoria Illinois. But right as I was getting comfortable, we moved to Montreal until the end of grade 12. And now, I’m at Iowa.


All the moving was great, yes, but it also left me craving a long term friendship. Constantly uprooting made it hard to make friends that lasted. It was also hard moving around and settling in where people had lived their entire lives and grew up with the community. I saw the friendships and relationships built from birth and desperately wanted it. This led to be being clingy until after grade 9. It was a frustrating time and I cried a lot. But in the midst of my darkness, I found my best friend, Jesus. And now, my darkness is my testimony.

Because the experience of constantly moving contributed to who I am now, I don’t want to change that. Who knows who I’d be now? I wouldn’t have as much experience and I’d have a different world view; no, I wouldn’t change that because it was central to creating who I am now.

Instead, after much thinking and today’s experience, I want to change something else. I want to travel back in time, find my parents right after I was born, and tell them to make sure that I maintained my Korean. Even when I went to school, make her speak Korean at home. Make sure she’s bilingual when she’s older. Make sure she never forgets.

I don’t feel bad about changing this part of my life, because my inability to speak Korean has only been a disability for me. Or maybe disability is too harsh word? Honestly, not being able to speak Korean as well felt like that though, like I was handicapped because now to keep me in the lo0p, people would have to speak English. And this handicap has messed me up so many times. Even recently, when we moved to Montreal.

I always attended a Korean church. But after being in school, my Korean started deteriorating and my parents didn’t really go the extra mile to make sure that I maintained fluency in my mother tongue. Starting in Singapore, I couldn’t understand what was going on at church and I started to feel…inferior? Less than others? Handicapped? Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. When we moved to Peoria, we started out at the Korean church, as per usual. But I was older now and wanted to actually know what this Christianity was. So we also attended the American church that our Korean church rented in the afternoons. Eventually, we completely uprooted and went to another American church and there I really learned about faith for the first time. And, I was away from Koreans.

But after I while, I longed for the Korean environment again. So when our family moved to Montreal, when my dad said that he wanted to try the Korean church again, I was for it. I was older now, why not? Being at an American church was a good break for me, now I was ready.

Except I wasn’t. I went into the church extremely hopeful, wanting it so desperately to work out. I wanted to have people to call 언니 and 오빠 and feel that Korean community again. (These are terms Koreans use to address girls (former) and boys (latter) older than them). But again, my handicap smacked me hard like a basketball to the face. And again, that feeling of inferiority. I pulled in like a turtle back into their shell, even though I wanted, craved what the Koreans had. I took everything that the Koreans did as a sign that they didn’t like me and it clogged my head so much that some times I would completely lose it right before going to youth group. I would fight with my dad, tears streaming down my face and scream that I wasn’t learning anything and only felt lonely. They didn’t care, they didn’t like me, and I wasn’t learning anything new.

Except it wasn’t necessarily true. My dad told me that perhaps they envied me because I spoke English well. On top of that, many students were exchange students sent from Korea to study here and in comparison, had a lot more problems in their life than mine. Many were in Montreal alone, and perhaps were jealous of me. And also, Koreans are usually shy; if I wanted anything, I had to instigate something. I had to be braver and take the first step. It wasn’t their fault, it was my immaturity and my feeling of insecurity. Regardless, I fought with my dad to not go to the church anymore. My mom was also struggling for her own reasons. Chris was indifferent. But eventually after much tears and arguments, we withdrew from the Korean church. My dad was the only one with enough wisdom to correctly diagnose what our problem was: we weren’t ready for the church, we still had to learn to be humble and take it all in stride. I didn’t care; I just wanted out.

So we changed to another church, this one now in English. I still didn’t really get what I wanted or feel as fed in my faith. But when I went to university, I found my church family this time Korean Americans like me and I got the love and support I craved for when I was in Montreal. I got my 언니s (I don’t really call anyone in Iowa City 오빠 actually ha) and I thought my past wounds were healed and that I was mature now. So in my mind I told myself that when I went back to Montreal, I’d go back to visit the Korean church, just to set things right with myself, to show myself that I had grown, that I was more mature.

Today my friend told me that she was doing a fundraiser and that a mutual friend from my Korean church would be there. Perfect, I thought. I can test my theory of my maturity there in a smaller setting. So I went.

And sure enough, there came that handicap again, but this time it hurt even more because I thought it had disappeared. Not that it would have disappeared because I was fluent in Korean (I’m not) but because I thought I was old enough to not experience inferiority from it. But no, it was just buried deep down and would emerge again, just as hard as when it was four years ago.

I was shocked. Really, Ashley? How old are you now? And you still struggle with this? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! I mean, I’m always the one saying “know your identity in Christ” and “your identity shouldn’t be shaken by other people” and yet, AND YET.

And the worst is that when I’m in those situations, though inwardly I retract into my shell, outwardly I start to talk a bit louder to try to keep myself afloat.

Maybe what really needs to happen is that I need to let myself sink.

How scary. But I mean, you get a fresh perspective when you’re off the high horse than when you’re on it. And maybe that’s what I need.

If only I was fluent in Korean now. I wouldn’t go through all this. I could fit in, I could laugh along with them at their jokes, I could follow along in conversations rather than looking at them with a blank stare and an empty smile.

But at the same time…I know that I’ll get something out of this, like how I grew out of the darkness that was my past in moving. I’m still in the growing pains phase, but once this is all solved, I’ll be thankful for my struggles, just like how I am of my moving struggles now.

Still…it would have been much easier if I was fluent in Korean now

~ ~ ~

…Wow, that was surprisingly harder to write than I thought. Not gonna lie, I cried along the way. But it does feel better after getting it out of my system. So thank you, Daily Post for today’s prompt. It came at the perfect time for me.

If anyone from 사랑 happens to be reading this…hi. Um, first thanks for reading this. But more than just that formality, I’m sorry if I was cold while I attended church. Not to say that my inward struggle is an excuse for my past behaviour; I should have still been friendly rather than sulking on my own. If anything, I just hope that you understand a bit more where I’m coming from. I hope, whoever you are who’s reading this, that when we meet again, I’ll be able to smile and talk to you. Maybe even a bit in my broken Korean. But more than that, I don’t want to have to wait until I’m fluent to be friends.

So again…I’m sorry.


1 thought on “My Past Rewritten: Make Me Fluent in Korean”

  1. Hi Ashley! Fellow 친구 ! I like this post a lot. I, too, moved a lot when I was younger up until I turned about 10 years old. I also feel that ‘handicap’ and curse myself for not knowing Korean better, especially since my mom speaks Korean to me at home. I always think ‘what if’ and feel left out when other people are multilingual and use it so fluently and efficiently. I am always shy to practice my Korean with other people because I feel like they will judge me or expect me to know more. It’s a challenge being mixed race as a lot of people have twice the expectations: I should know English and Korean perfectly because I’m white AND Korean. I’ve gotten disappointed looks when I’m not what people expected. I feel you girl and I wish you comfort on your journey in self-discovery. If you need a little nudge from someone who can relate, know I’m here 🙂 miss you lots and safe travels to China!!!

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