Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name

As an English teacher I've become more and more aware of how words change meanings within context, and that the way we intend a word may differ from how another person understands it.

Lately I've come to feel that when I refer to something as being "Korean" it creates a feeling/experience of "US v. Them" for many people.  When I realized this, I felt a great sense of sadness, but also of guilt.  The realization that my words, which I thought were drawing parallels of similarity, might have been heard as differences made me feel like an irresponsible communicator.

To me the term "Korean" it simply a locator.  It tells where I am and who I am talking to.  However, as I've read more commentary and listened to others talk about the country, I've realized "Korean" is often used to denote this "US v. Them" view of the world that makes me sad and uncomfortable.

The thing that I love and celebrate about my life in this country isn't that it is so much different from me, but so much the same.  I love being around so many experiences that I've missed while living in the lower 48.  The kids I celebrate because I love everything about who they are and what they do.  It's not because they are Korean and I think they are different or strange.  The photos I take of old things are because I missed old things and I think they are the prettiest things I see in a day.  I'm not pointing out that Korea has lots of junk.  (I mean, it does but I love that and I'm happy about it because I love junk.)

As I've learned more about folks from The States and how they think, I've slowly realized that when I tack the term "Korean" onto things people attach a white, middle class, Americana "US v Them" perspective to the content.  What sucks is that I actually have a limited, at best, understanding of this cultural perspective that I can't escape.

Since I can't change how people see be based on how I look, I'm going to change what I can which is the language I use to talk about the world around me.  Instead of referring to things as "Korean" or "Western" I'll change my language to use more words like local, transient, temporary, traditional, global, or present to reflect my thoughts on where I am and where I've come from.  Hopefully this will allow people to shed some of their preconceived notions.

It's not like anyone has made a big deal out of how I use "Korean" I just feel like it gets in the way of what I want to say about life and the world around me.  I see how they use the term and I realize it's not what I want my message to be mixed up with.

It might seem like a stupid little thing to focus on, but I feel it's important because I love my friends from all over the world.  They are my family.  They aren't some sort of collected trophy on my global wall of friends.  It's important to me that folks understand their value and importance in my life and don't dismiss them as my "Korean" friends.

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