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Monthly Archives: June 2013

So, Korea has gotten under my skin, not in the good way, but in the sneak-attack-make-you-apathetic way.

Today, almost everyone I know is celebrating because America is finally catching up to reality.  I am proud again to be a member of a profession which helps to propel and compel social change (or at least tries to eliminate some of the roadblocks). US v. Windsor enforces what most of MY PEOPLE already knew:  EQUALITY means EQUAL.  And, furthermore, is for every citizen of the United States EQUALLY.

But I must confess: In Korea, I don’t proclaim and shame as much as I do in the United States. I am humiliated and heartbroken and ashamed of this fact. At home, my sister calls me one of the most gay-sessible people she knows and I remember being angry at friends for calling me an “ally” instead of just a person with basic reasoning skills who understands fundamental fairness.  And  I’m not sure why I lost my sense of logic and reason in Korea.  I’m not sure why I let Koreans steamroll me on equality issues.

It’s not only Marriage Equality.  It’s race equality, nationality, religion, sex, gender, class. As a sociologist, social worker, feminist, equalist, and attorney, Korea basically ignores, disdains, or shames the topics I have dedicated not only career, but my very existence to overcome.  I chose my battle holistically (granted, not always strategically), but I have always known my reputation for GRRRR on certain social equality issues precedes me, often to my delight and simultaneous horror. I’ve been lucky (or fucking stubborn), but I’ve been able to push through my agenda more than once. I’ve not been afraid to create enemies or burn bridges when I know I’m right.  And fairness and equality and equity are always right.

So, why have I lost myself here?

A few weeks ago, a student asked me what I thought about an article regarding gay marriage in America. I asked him what he thought, and his reply was “It is disgusting.” I could’ve shamed him, I probably should’ve, I had the hierarchical advantage and he appeared open to listening. But I didn’t.  Instead, with much exhaustion, I told him to think for himself about what fairness and equality meant and I went to my office and cried.  It is tiresome to be constantly surrounded by such a large and vast blanket of ignorance over issues which have simply not made their way across the sea yet. I cannot even imagine what it must be like for someone in Korea who cannot even fight for their right to be equal (or open or free) because the topic has not even been identified as an issue for discussion.  Koreans are convinced no one in Korea is born gay.

I find myself fighting mundane and stupid issues constantly and I realize now it’s because I am helpless and oppressed to make positive change for the issues that truly matter to me. I was in Gumi last month, and for the first time in a long while, I was overwhelmed with helplessness about the orphan situation in Korea. Even with my fiercest, most difficult, most damaged CPS kid, I never gave up hope that that child could have a better future. But in Korea, I’m often skeptical that a better future awaits many of the children raised in group home care. My fight feels futile, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so wholly incapable of fighting.  My GGRRRR has become a whispered gasp.

So, here I am without answers or a bow to put on this post.  Except to say, I’d like to spend the rest of my time in Korea focused on the battles that matter.  I’m tired of fighting for copier paper when Koreans still tell little girls that they can’t get a good job unless they are pretty.  I find it a waste of my intellect to keep asking for adequate housing, hot water, fair billing, or a venue for concerns when the TRUE thing I desire is to be treated like a person of value – something I cannot compel by force of action, screaming, or writing long emails filled with loathing. I can’t make Korea stop being hierarchical and collective and demand it move forward with progress, analytic thinking, and equality.

But, I can command it in my classroom, in my office, in my home, and in my presence.  And I can remember to battle, to proclaim and, if necessary, to shame.  I can be a Twinkie on a Soapbox again… I guess I just have to find a box…


So, May was filled with all kinds of good stuff.

My classes successfully raised all of the money necessary for an amazing  activity for KKOOM (Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission – and also planned the event, marketing, publicity, fundraising, and research to accompany the project.  (by threat of F, anyhow.  I am discovering that a lot of parents paid for a passing grade, which makes me super uncomfortable, but since it wasn’t my intention, I have to let it go…) (SUPER SN: Also – I had to do a  lot of stuff. It was stuff that would take me five minutes to do but would take me 15 minutes to teach.  When I could, I tried to teach, but near the end, it was sort of not reasonable.  I fed them pah-dalk (green onion fried chicken) instead…).  I felt like SOME students in SOME classes learned something. I finished all of my classes in tact and with only one major change to the curriculum. I managed NOT to color my hair (but I did chop bangs and fix the layers).  And as a whole, I only managed to make 4 students cry. WIN!

This weird thing also happened, where I realized my office became the place for students to spend downtime. Some of this was necessary for the students working on projects, but sometimes, there were just a helluva lot of students loitering.  Now, I understand this is due to the snacks I keep lying around.  Sometimes, if I am starving and you are just standing there, you get a free lunch.  And sometimes, if you loiter long enough, I buy coffees for everyone loitering.  And sometimes, I just yell at you for loitering.  So, it’s really caveat emptor on reserving a seat in my office.

This might also be a super Korean thing, because if you develop a relationship with someone, the understanding is that this person will treat you with favor.  Except, I do anonymous grading in my classes. And, if I learn your REAL name (your given Korean name vs. your randomly chosen English nickname), really WATCH OUT, I just call on you because I know your name. There is no real advantage, but my students are probably just testing my boundaries.

Then, I also realized I have only boys in my mentoring class. Not really sure how I ended up with 8 freshman boys just self-selecting into my little group, but there they were all bushy-tailed and eager to play Yahtzee and eat Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. As I began having 1:1 sessions, I saw a pattern emerge. My mentees had selected me for 1 of 3 (or all) reasons:  1) They heard free food was usually in my office; 2) a sibling or elder had recommended my class; 3) they started their mentoring session by saying “I want to do _____, but my parents think I should do ____.”  OR “I don’t know what my career passion is yet.”

I think I was supposed to be wise or sage or at least be a better “nuna.”  Instead, I sat there baffled with the first young man. I wanted to tell him to try everything until he figured out what he liked.  But I remembered I was in Korea and that was impossible. Instead, I told him that finding your career is like falling in love;  you have a general sense of what you’re looking for, but you don’t feel it until you find it. I wanted to tell the kid today to fuck his parents’ desire and just follow his talent and passion, but then I remembered: I’m in Korea.  So, instead, I told him he could develop a great career that combined his parents’ desire for stability and his want for a more creative path. I told him I’d help him figure out what he likes besides his creative passion.

All of these comments are UN-Korean, where hierarchy and parental deference is paramount to true satisfaction, and where it is subversive to plan for an alternative life.  Happiness is about fitting in, belonging, agreeing. My heart aches slightly at advising these young gentlemen to try to conform, when I’m not sure conformity is right for everyone.  But I’m in Korea. And I’m basically an epic-fail at managing the culture clash.

So, maybe I encourage a tiny bit of rebellion and subversion.  Maybe I share my own truth and my own need for adventure too freely. Maybe, I’ll never be Korean…