To Live In The Daehan Mingook Or ‘Murka?

I’d be lying if my Korean wife and I didn’t talk about leaving this country for at least a few minutes every single day. The reasons for departure usually revolve around how both of us have gone about as far as we can with our careers here—as a university professor who also tutors rich kids I apparently make as much or more than the typical doctor, while I met A. as she was trying to learn enough English to work as a nurse in the West—in addition to the obvious fact, present everywhere you look, that this is not a good place to raise a kid. There’s a four-lane highway right outside our apartment, people daily refer to our son as a foreign baby (and none of them will ever accept him as one of their own), every child is completely preoccupied with memorizing random information for multiple-choice tests, and there is so little diversity I can’t help but think that when my son grows up he’ll imbibe a lot of the xenophobia, monochrome conformity, and arbitrariness, that seems inextricable from the Korean mindset. Not to mention the cost of living.

And yet…

Like, if I moved to America, I would actually have to work. It’s two in the afternoon on a beautiful Thursday here in Gyeongju, I’m done for the week, and I’m sitting in a chair watching a thunderstorm roll in, the wind in the trees—and if I lived in America every such Thursday afternoon would be devoted to the generation of lucre.

The fact that I live in such a foreign place is alternately exciting or frustrating, depending on my mood, but rarely boring or normal in any way. Everything I look at everywhere I go is notably different from what I grew up with. I also live in close proximity to a number of far more exotic nations, many of which I have never seen or only barely explored. Settling in America would put to rest my dreams of travel (which brought me to Korea in the first place) for at least two decades. The seeming fact that I can speak and understand a low-to-moderate amount of Korean—while also conversing at a level that far exceeds any English teacher I know—while also having the opportunity to learn other bizarre languages, like Chinese and Japanese, for only the cost of effort—these things are also exciting and interesting, and I’m fairly certain I would cease to bother with these languages if I put down roots in ‘Murka.

I keep telling myself that two years of university experience will open the door to Western Europe. A. is currently working on her B.A., and should probably finish it, as she’s going to college for free. The baby is also young, and hopefully not destined to grow up into a fully-fledged racist prick just yet. These are the reasons we choose to stick around, though we’re still probably going to see if we can go on some job interviews when we head back to ‘Murka to visit my parents in a few weeks.

And yet…

The food is so much better in America in every imaginable way. There are libraries full of books. I can drive without fearing for my life. My friends are within range. People won’t stare at me when I go outside, and not a single person will even think of my son as being foreign. There’s a line from Terence—something like, I’m a man, therefore nothing human is foreign to me—and this is far more true of America than Korea. I could get involved in politics. I was totally bummed that I couldn’t help Occupy Wall Street. I might even be able to find a job that doesn’t involve waiting tables, cooking food, washing dishes, or sighing in front of computer screens.

What do you think? Stick around, or boogie?

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5 thoughts on “To Live In The Daehan Mingook Or ‘Murka?

  1. Jennifer says:

    Only you can know, really. Weirdly we’ve sort of switched places. I do long for Portland still, but with this job and with the creative community I’ve become a part of here, I’m starting to lean towards stay (at least for a while), get a distance master’s and then move out towards Europe or South America when the loans are paid off. Maybe? Who knows. I’m happy now, though. But you can achieve anything you want to, Ian. You’re quite brilliant! So don’t settle for less than you want!

  2. Let A finish Uni. Then hi-tail it out before Harry understands the what “foreign baby” means.

  3. Martha says:

    I would say that both you and your wife have skills and jobs that would allow you to work anywhere. I say that when she finishes her BA, you should travel. Pick a place in the world where there are English teachers and nurses needed (read: anywhere) and go. Live there for a year or more, and then find another place to explore. Teach your son from home, bring him up bilingual and open-minded and knowledgable about the world because he’s traveled it. Go home when you feel you want to settle down. Your friends will remain your friends, just make sure you have an internet connection when you travel. Go stateside every once and a while to visit and remind them of what you really look like!

  4. halfy in korea says:

    As a halfy myself who grew up in Seoul until I was 7, ‘Murka is hands down a better choice. Although I had to deal with the racism involved with growing up in rural area, it wasn’t that bad now that I look back on it. If you’re fat, ugly, quiet, half Korean or just non-athletic, kids will find a reason to make fun of you.

    Now, I don’t agree with the politics involved with running America nor do I think that America is headed in a positive direction anytime soon, but it’s a different perspective as a child. You don’t take these things into consideration and because of that, it’s a great place to grow up.

    I look now at what my life would have been in Korea – hogwons, staying at my high school until 10PM, fear of death while crossing any street, long hours wasting away at PC Bongs in my free time, military service and smoking in an alleyway before class while trying to keep up with the joneses (latest phone, designer wallets, k-pop hairstyle, bragging because my height is >180cm), my life was much better playing high school football, going to watch varsity basketball games with my friends (and chasing tail), having my dad teach me how to drive when I was 16, getting the right smoking (tobacco) and sex education, having a proper summer vacation and senior prom.

    Now that I’m back in Korea, I get the stares, the racism and all of the rest of the shenanigans that go along with being a foreigner (and half Korean). But I don’t mind as I’m a mature adult now and realize the way that people were educated and grew up in Korea. I don’t blame them at all. It’s the system here.

    If I ever have children in Korea, you bet your ass they’re growing up in America. For us adults and especially those single folks looking for a great time, there’s not much competition to Korea. Easy money, low working hours, great public transportation, no closing time for drinking, smoking is cheap and you can do it everywhere, traveling is great, women are beautiful, etc. etc. But if you’re going to live your life for your child(ren), and sacrifice for them, go to ‘Merica!

    Good luck.

  5. hiddenconnections says:

    The verdict is in: get the hell out!

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