Q: Do you sometimes speak Korean between you and your brothers?
A: Only when I’m around my parents so they understand what I’m saying. Especially if it’s an involved conversation where everyone needs to hear like, an opinion.
There’s a lot of miscommunication between me and my parents through the Korean language. Cos I know only a little bit and they know a lot, and so if they say something I can’t really express myself completely. So it can be very frustrating at times.
You can share secrets or like, say how you really feel on like, a topic or discussion. And you kind of get each other’s opinions. Cos it’s kind of like a small group secret thing [the Korean language].
Whenever I talk to my grandma it’s always very basic Korean; it’s always like: “How’s the weather there?”. Cos I don’t really know how to like, have a conversation with somebody who knows so much more than me.
So it would always be in Korean, just the simple kind of Korean talk. It pushes me out of my box though, cos like, you’re kind of forced into the position where you have to speak Korean as well as you can cos you know she’s like – my grandma’s like, going to be full Korean. Nothing about English, so whenever I use ‘Konglish’ [Korean-English] it’s really confusing for her.
When I went there [to Korea] I went with really high expectations. I was disappointed in the end, cos at the time I didn’t feel like I belonged to my ‘White’ friends or my ‘Asian’ friends, so I thought if I went back I’d feel this connection cos they’re all Asian. But then I felt more disconnected than I was here. Cos if I tried to do something simple, like buying something, there’d always be that kind of… there’s a language you have to speak and sometimes they ask you unexpected questions… Yeah. And I didn’t have any friends there as well. It’s kind of hard to make friends when you don’t really speak the language comfortably as well.
[Talking about Korean school, in Christchurch] I went there for around four or five years, but I never got anything out of it. Maybe I did but I don’t really recall, of myself, ever thinking: “Oh I learnt something new today in class” or like, feeling proud of myself there. Yeah it was kind of just like a very forced experience which made me kind of dislike my language like, I didn’t want to learn it.
A: [Talking about advice for other teenagers like her] I would say don’t give up on your own country’s language. It’s a really good advantage, you don’t see it at the start – I didn’t see it at the start. I kind of thought: “I don’t need this language”, but then as you end up having more opportunities to get to know people who speak your own language, you end up finding some kind of like… a lot more communication. So stick with both languages.
Q: If you have a child in the future, would like to teach them how to speak the Korean language?
A: I wouldn’t be any good at it! But I’d still want them to know the basics. Just so that they can communicate with my family. It’s a good thing I think.
If I look at myself in the mirror, I’d be Asian. And then if I speak, and if I come out not being able to speak my own language, I’d be like: “What? I’m from this place but I don’t even know how to speak it”. And I’d feel quite disrespectful in a way as well – to my own country. And so there’s a bit of an identity crisis where you kind of doubt yourself in a way: “Should I just stick to being like… having that kind of ‘White’ personality? That ‘White’ upbringing? Or should I try to have that relationship with the country I belong to?”
A: I had a lot of encounters with other… ‘White’ people – Oh I hate calling them that! I’ll just call them ‘White’ people anyway… umm… I had a lot of encounters when I was in primary school with ‘White’ people from different schools, who dissed me because of the fact I was Asian. And I felt quite a lot of hatred towards them because I grew up thinking I belonged to this country, yet a lot of people that belonged to this country treated me differently because of the way I looked. It’d be that kind of thing which would really hurt me back then. And I kind of felt like: “Oh I hate this country! I’m gonna go to Korea!”. Yeah. Like, I felt quite disconnected.
Q: But later on you went to Korea and you felt…
A: I felt MORE disconnected! [Laughs] Yeah… I was just like: “Oh where do I belong?!”.