By Chris Noh
“Are you Korean?” I am frequently asked by other korean elders to which my affirmative reply prompts a wide-variety of articulate phrases to which I neither comprehend or respond to. In this unflattering instance, I’m forced to resort to one of the limited phrases I can pronounce: “hangul mal molaiyo,” with a guilty grin (translates to a polite “I don’t know Korean”).
Being a Canadian born-and-raised, second-generation Korean teenager has brought many curious, embarrassing moments such as this, and some even worse. I have been raised in a setting, both at home and at school, that abides by the common cultural expectations to that of a western nation, and have majoritively kept my taste of pop culture very restricted to material that is created exclusively in this continent. Some may refer to me as “white-washed” or a “twinkie,” and they wouldn’t necessarily been incorrect. Whether the fault of my parents or not, I not only know little of the language which my ancestors have spoken with for tens of generations, but my knowledge of my familial history is equally lacking. As you can imagine, travelling to Korea (which I’ve done a handful of times) can be nothing short of cringy, barely being able to communicate with some of my closest relatives and playfully mocked for my oblivion to the foreign situations at hand.
At times, I feel as if there’s a giant reservoir of stories and portion of my family I’m locked out of to share, learn, and cherish with, but in a sense, it’s a sacrifice and choice that to help me succeed in the current state I’m in. Maybe this is the year I embark upon the journey to travel and confront my fear of cultural inadequacy; to connect with the DNA that can very well take credit for who I am today.