A Goodbye Letter to Korea

After seven years of living abroad in Korea, I am finally returning home. I will be working at the English Language Institute at the University of Tennessee. I am both excited and nervous as I leave my familiar home and the only home my children have known to venture back to the terrible/wonderful beast that is America. The following is a good-bye letter of sorts.

“Where are you from?” is probably one of the first questions a language student learns. And on the surface, it has a simple answer: the country and/or city you spent the majority of your life. Most people who ask this question are expecting a simple answer, too: “I’m from the USA/Florida/the UK/Sydney/Paris.”

However, this question isn’t as simple as it seems. Yes, where you are from could be the place where you spent the majority of your life, but, like most things, quality counts almost as much as quality. I was born in New York and only spent a few years there. I never say that I’m from New York. Never. I grew up in Florida and spent about 18 years there, including K-12 and five years of university. Yet, I feel as though I’m lying if I answer, “I’m from Florida” because I have spent the past seven years (nearly a decade) abroad. And this time has most certainly had the same or more quality to it when compared to my time in Florida: I have matured here, I have become financially independent here, I have fallen in love with language and education here, I have found a rewarding career path here, and most importantly, one of the biggest moment’s of a person life – having children – was done here. How can I claim a simple “I’m from Florida” when “I’m from Korea” sounds so much more true to me?

And, when I return to the States next week to begin a new life, what kind of reaction would I get by saying “I’m from Korea”? I don’t look Korean. My wife isn’t Korean. I don’t speak Korean very well. I don’t like kimchi, or K-pop, or Korean dramas. But…I do take my shoes off indoors (I did this before Korea, though). I do love Korean barbeque (who doesn’t?). I think brushing your teeth at work or school is a fine idea and I will be importing this to America. I love Samsung (as any red-blooded Korean should). I think the ease of transferring money and using bank accounts instead of writing checks is just swell (the US hasn’t totally caught on to this). I like sitting on the floor to eat. I am inspired by Korean (non-hipster) fashion. I like to write in Hangeul. I am at the same time awe-struck and repulsed by the insanity and effectiveness of the Korean education system. I love the safety of Korea. I love being nestled between an ocean and mountains. I like using chopsticks. I like the quaintness and affordability of love motels and minbaks. I love the fast and cheap internet. Despite the fact that these things have shaped me as a person, none of this makes me Korean.

I don’t know for how long I will struggle with the “Where are you from?” question, but for now, my answer will be “I am from Korea”, and I will mean that with no sarcasm, facetiousness, or delusion. I will miss my home. I will miss my friends. I will miss Korea. 대한민국, 정말 감사합니다. 사랑해.

Random Facts about Me and Korea

  • I have visited Busan, Jeju, Geoje, Seoul, Yongin, Jinju, Andong, Pohang, Seokcho, Gwangju, Daegu, Milyang and a few other various cities and towns here and there.
  • My oldest daughter was born in a woman’s hospital Haeundae.
  • My youngest daughter was born in a giant bathtub at Mediflower Birthing Center in Seoul.
  • I studied hapkido for four years and received a black belt.
  • I studied MMA with Team Mad, the same gym as popular fighter Kim Dong Hyun, but not the same location. I have met his trainer, but not him.
  • I have taught at two middle schools and one university.
  • I have taught at both ends of Busan: Gijang and Noksan.
  • I have a Korean driver’s licenese and drove a Daewoo Matiz II.
  • I have a TOPIK Beginner Level 2 certificate in Korean. I haven’t studied Korean since receiving the certificate.
  • My kitchen balcony faces Jangsan mountain, so my view is almost all mountain. It’s very beautiful.
  • I briefly left Korea to live and teach in Japan. I discovered that Japan is great for vacation, but too expensive to live in.
  • I have become a big fan of Samsung products, starting with the Note 8 and the Note 3. The next time I buy a laptop, it will probably be Samsung.
  • I have never been to a baseball game here.
  • I love 돼지국밥, 카레돈까스, 생갈비, 오겹살, 갈국수, 꽃방, 탕수욕, and  복분자.
  • I have eaten dog, but it wasn’t very good. I have heard that dog is usually tasty, so I think I just went to a bad restaurant.


2 thoughts on “A Goodbye Letter to Korea

  1. David Harbinson says:

    Hi Anthony, I know exactly what you mean about the ‘Where are you from?’ question. Although I was born in England, I grew up in Wales from the age of 6. I therefore call my town in Wales (Aberaeron) my hometown. But, I’m not Welsh, I’m British, or English if pushed. With that being said, I find it funny and sometimes, even difficult now ,when students ask me about the UK. Like you, I’ve been living in Korea for since years, and in fact the last time I left the country was in 2009.

    Anyway, good luck with your future plans and travels. I hope all works out well for you. I’ve enjoyed interacting with you online, and having the chance to meet in person back in May. I hope we get the chance to meet again sometime down the line.

  2. What a lovely letter! I think this is something that all expats struggle with, especially when they’ve immersed themselves in the culture of the place they’re living in the way you obviously have.

    I’m 29 now, and have spent most of my adult life living abroad, including time in various different countries, and always trying to learn the local language.

    I spent two years living in the UK before I came to Sevastopol, and I never really felt like I belonged there, and was always a bit bored – I missed the challenge of living in a different country. I always feel much more comfortable abroad, although I feel more English too (before anyone corrects me, I’m not British – my family are all English going back a very long way!) I was teaching multi-lingual groups in the UK, and on one memorable day, they commented that they hadn’t met many British people. I asked “What about me?” and they replied: “You don’t count: you’re international!” 🙂

    I once read an article about leaving a piece of your heart wherever you’ve lived, and that’s certainly true. Some part of you will always be in Korea, and it will welcome you back whenever you choose to go there. Good luck with your move back to the States.


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