It might be of value to know that I identify as a cis-gendered, straight, Black and Latina woman.
I really miss Korea. I’ve been back in the States since August of 2013 (by way of Spain from July-August 2013), and for awhile, I was excited to be home. I mean, I still am happy to be here, but recently, I’ve been getting a weird culture shock feeling.
It’s the same kind of culture shock that I had in Korea for the first semester that I was there. The feeling that I’m just never going to fit in. I was able to excuse Korea for this because I jumped in to the experience knowing that I was going to be in the extreme minority – I honestly didn’t expect much. But coming back home to Ohio, I guess my expectations were pretty high.
Contrary to popular belief, Ohio isn’t just a big cow town, but has cities with really diverse populations. I live the capital, Columbus, and I’m proud to say that I grew up in a really diverse environment – a lot of this due to being the home of The Ohio State University. Now, because of this, I’ve found that I’ve never really found a group to fit in to. I don’t really have a group of friends, but rather I float around in a lot of different groups of friends. I hang out with a lot of Asian international students (namely Chinese, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese, and Southeast Asian), Black and Latino people that I meet at my place of employment (the Multicultural Center at Ohio State), White people because they’re everywhere (mainly Women’s Glee Club and Sigma Alpha Iota, my women’s music fraternity), a mixture of all of these because of my student org, AIESEC, a bunch of Japanese and half Japanese people because of church, queer-identifying people from high school and my place of employment, and I was even in with the biomedical engineers for my sophomore year of college. Wow. It’s weird to see all of that written out.
Because of the many places I get my friends from, I have a hard time finding my ‘niche’ or whatever. I’m not sure if any one group claims me as theirs nor am I sure if I myself can say which group I belong with the most. It also seems as if the group I’m closest with changes on a semester or academic year basis. Every now and then I’ll try to stick with a group and end up feeling rejected. You’d think that after living in Korea twice that I would be accepted by Koreans. You’d think that by being black that I’d be accepted by black people. You’d think that being Latina would keep me from being “not Latina enough”. And honestly, I think I just end up being “the funny black girl who knows how to get along with us and isn’t really stereotypically black” in most circles that I frequent. My conclusion is that I can fit in everywhere but not really fit in anywhere.
Let me go back to what I said about not being accepted by Koreans. I understand that as international students, it feels safe and comfortable to be with people of your own kind; but at the same time, it feels really exclusive to those who want to try to be included. I’ll admit that I was exaggerating – my Korean friends DO accept me and I think generally DO like me, but it never feels like it’s enough to be in their circle. I’m not saying that I want to be Korean, I’m just saying that it sucks only being invited to things one-on-one and never with a group of Koreans. This is where my culture shock lies because that never happened to me in Korea.
Now, maybe I was spoiled, but sometimes it was secretly fun to be shown off in Korea. You’re instantly prettier because you’re different. Korean people want you to meet their friends and families because you’re different. Korean people want to include you as much as possible because you’re different. But here, it almost feels like the opposite. *boohoo you sound like an attention whore, Christina. Well, sue me.* For awhile, this would make me feel like I could never fit in when I was in Korea, because I was always going to be so different and I would never be one of them. But looking back, the I guess it’s bittersweet, because the attention and recognition was nice; while here it seems to get buried.
The example that I just used with Korean international students living/studying in America is the same way that feel about almost every group I try to be a part of. Good enough to an extent, but never fulfill all of the credentials.
The only time I’ve ever successfully belonged to a group was when I was living in Korea, actually. I had a distinct group of friends (we even had a name for ourselves – I love you my 차별s!) and we did everything together. It was a really weird, but nice, feeling for me. We comprised of 3 Americans (a white girl from Washington, a Filipino boy from Hawai’i, and me), two Canadian girls (one of whom is white and the other Native American), a French Jewish girl, and a half Thai/half German boy from Germany. We were the group of foreigners that had a sincere interest in Korean culture, the language, and didn’t just go to party. Although we were so different, together we made so much sense. I had never felt more secure with a group of friends in my life. Of course we had other friends that we loved outside of our group, but we were still pretty distinct.
After having a taste of being in a group while I was in Korea, I miss it. A group that wasn’t based on background, ethnicity, or culture. It was just a group of people that fit with each other. I’m not sure why I don’t/can’t have that here. My best friends aren’t even from the same friend groups. It’s so weird and kind of difficult to manage. Then again, sometimes I wonder if my group of friends in Korea was just a tease and that I’m not really meant to have a group of friends at all. Maybe I’m meant to be a nomad, traveling from friend group to friend group. Maybe I’ll never find somewhere I’m fully accepted and fully belong to again. This feeling then extends into romantic relationships where I feel like everybody loves me, but can never truly love me…but that’s a story for a different post on a different blog. Meanwhile, I’ll be getting used to this weird kind of loneliness while being surrounded by friends.
All of this being said, I’m extremely happy with all of the friends I have. They each individually bring a love and perspective that I could never get from anyone else in the world. And for that, I’m grateful.