Friday, April 23, 2010

My Home is an Island

I had this dream awhile back (forgive me for those who despise dream posts) that I was visiting a very old relative at their house. Yet the house was like a floating island. It didn't look like a typical island. Islands usually have a mountain in the center with sandy beaches all around them. This island, the one in my dream, was a typical American house with a green lawn around it and even a mail box, but surrounded by calm water. The shape was like an "L" and the house was situated on the long part of the L while the mail box was on the short end. I got there by boat and docked myself near the mailbox.

Although I am not going to go into more detail about the dream, I will say it left a memorable image in my mind. I dream every night and they are always vivid. I am capable of being "awake" in my dreams, which means I can control things. But nowadays I just sit back and watch instead of trying to take control since when I usually do things end up messy.

Anyways, I usually spend a lot of my thinking time either in the morning or before bed time thinking about the images in my dreams. This one of the floating house made me realize how as an adult living abroad in Korea I am in search of my home.

Even if an adult is not living abroad I think they spend a lot of their adult life looking for a place to call home. It doesn't meant that it is a house that they buy or mortgage out and grow a family with. I think it means a place that they feel comfortable living. Or perhaps a place in our minds where we know we have come far enough and will not go any further...basically that we become settled with ourselves.

Now I don't mean to get psycho-trippy here but I just want to reflect on this "elephant in the room" issue in my expat life.

Living in Korea past your first contract year kicks up a lot of life questions, especially when you are in your late 20's. Should I make Korea my permanent home? Should I try to find a way to live back in America? Should I go live in other countries?

I have to say I feel almost like I am settling down here in Korea. Take for example the way my office-tell looks. I assume that most expats living here don't have a lot of stuff in their house. That they wouldn't have a favorable lamp collection, or just things that people have in a home that they keep to make it nice. I would think that an expat lives lightly not buying certain cooking devices or having 4 different winter blankets. What I am saying is that when I come home and enter my place it feels cozy and home-like. Not scattered and spare like it would look if one were a transient.

Having stuff means it is harder to move around, and a lot of my stuff is sentimental, which means it is harder to let go of. Actually I am up against a paradigm, where for example I have boxes of sentimental things back home in my Father's garage.

Yet as settled as I make myself look here in Korea I definitely don't feel like Korea will ever be (close-to-my-heart) home. For several reasons, one when I look outside my window I see Korean style buildings (neon signs plastered onto gray square buildings). Tall apartment buildings clustered together like a micro-city. When walking to and from places I am reminded this isn't home because the people are entirely unlike the people I am familiar with seeing back home. The basics: I'm not Korean, don't speak Korean well and I function unlike a Korean. I don't mean to make this sound negative I just want to point out the obvious stuff.

However, Korea can at times feel like a home. I have a boyfriend who is helpful, cheerful and very loving towards me. Since he is Korean this helps me feel close to the people and culture. I find myself comfortable in my neighborhood and have become familiar with local restaurants and areas.

And the longer I stay here, in Korea, the further I become distanced with my American home. I listen to the current news via NPR, read the New York Times and the New Yorker but still I can't tell you the mood of my country or what is in or out. However, I could answer those questions about Korea. (What Kpop band is currently big, how Koreans feel about national issues...etc).

Yet even as I get closer to my host country I still feel like an outsider. To sum up I am lost somewhere in the middle between my home country and my host country. My home is an island floating somewhere in the midst of these two places. When I think about it deeply I feel that this island is where my home will be forever. And instead of planting it indefinitely on one country's soil it will visit both now and then...going back and forth.

Who knows if this theory will change over time or that I will have a different dream where my home is on top of a mountain. For now I am going to take a shower and go back to the land of dreams.


  1. up against "a paradigm" ????

    Did you mean "an enigma" ????
    - something hard to understand or explain. (from

  2. Ah thank u! I had a hard time finding the right word.

  3. Welcome to the life of an expat. Home is not necessarily 'where my stuff is', 'where my family is', or even 'where my house is'. Home is more than that. It's where you're safe, where you're comfortable, and where you're able to come alive. Some people are able to call one place home for years and decades - which I totally respect. On the other hand, other people are able to transport the concept of home to a new location at the drop of a hat, changing a job, or moving to a new country. I submit that neither mindset is 'better', although the latter does offer more flexibility.

    Regarding not speaking Korean well or not functioning like a Korean: do you want to? While learning the language is a respectable goal, could you honestly say you'd be happy living life as though you were a Korean woman? Yeah, didn't think so. I suspect you like the freedoms that life as an outsider bring, even if those freedoms mean you can never really join the 'insider' group.

  4. I'm heading over there probably in mid-July. I'm thinking of staying for at least a few years, and maybe even on a permanent basis (I'll have to see how much I like things there though). I'm sure I'll go through the same dilemmas you are.


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