So at the instruction of the ESL teacher, from kindergarten onward, English became my primary language. My parents spoke Korean to us at home and we kids answered in English. My Korean comprehension is decent, but expressive language is work. Fortunately, back when I was in middle school, my mom gathered several Korean kids (children of her friends) who lived around us and taught all of us some basic Korean grammar. We, now as adults, are grateful that our parents made us sit through Korean class every Saturday morning, and I, especially, am thankful my mom took the initiative to teach us. At the least, I have a fundamental knowledge base on which to build. I hope I can pass some of that along to our children, and I am trying to speak some Korean to them, despite it being imperfect.
Looking back, my growing up years contradicted some Korean stereotypes and affirmed others. Again, my experience as a Korean-American is simply my own, and my parents’ methods of raising us kids are simply theirs (obviously with the understanding that they, too, were influenced by their parents, experiences, and environment). The main theme of my parents’ parenting style is that we kids came first. We never doubted that our parents stood with us, behind us and before us… and for that, I am grateful.
Anyway, the background story is that I was born in Korea in a “famous” hospital run by “the best doctor” who delivered many, many children. (The quotes indicated the literal words used by my parents when they tell the story). Decades later when we were already living in the U.S., my parents found out “the best doctor” was imprisoned due to not having documentation of her education and thereby practicing illegally. Apparently, this wasn’t a shocking happenstance as much was destroyed during the wars. But, it is a weird feeling to have been brought into this world by a possible quack, albeit a famous one. Might explain a lot….
We left Korea when I was about 20 months old and moved to a small island off the coast of Spain. It is a vacation spot for Europeans. My dad started a business there, but eventually ran into more headache than not. After a few years, my parents decided they needed to move on, the biggest reason being that I was almost five years old and going to have to start school which wasn’t too great there.
We ended up in the U.S. and my engineer-degreed dad found a job as a technician for the local county government. We lived close to two of my dad’s sisters, although our cousins were much older than we. (Nine years is a big deal when you’re a kid, but not as much now). We briefly rented a house owned by some people we knew during which time my parents scraped together enough savings for us to buy a house in a neighboring town (which supposedly had better schools). We moved the January of my first grade. I do have memories of that year and half because of friends I made in the neighborhood, and being pulled out of kindergarten and first grade classes to go to ESL (English as a Second Language) class. I remember a Greek boy named Nick and I playing Chutes and Ladders and Candyland with our ESL teacher. My parents recall her telling them that they shouldn’t speak any Korean with me to help me learn English. I think that theory was common then. Mom also remembers the teacher asking how we slept since I didn’t seem to understand the concept of “bed”.
It’s amazing that in any marriage there’s a blending of two people who grew up in completely different “cultures” of thinking, communication patterns, interpersonal dynamics, spending habits, ideals, morals, spiritual attitudes, parenting styles, education, social status, goals, unspoken expectations, etc. Quite beautiful to see it work between two partners as a complement to the other. Even more amazing to add another layer of different language, food, and ethnic culture. And on top of that, kids.
Obviously, when we got married we didn’t really think through all the nitty gritty details of raising children, much less what a bicultural home would entail. But here we are now with two precious daughters to whom we want to impart our heritage and instill the best of both worlds. We’re grateful for the privilege/challenge/adventure.
And, my experience as a Korean-American is simply my own. I can’t speak for every Korean-American because what my parents taught/did/showed/valued probably differs from what other Korean parents might have done. The fact that we left Korea when I was a year and a half means my experience in the U.S. differs from someone who left when he/she was older. I did all my schooling here, whereas some only a year or two. Nevertheless, I carry with me deeply ingrained (whether explicitly taught or subtly absorbed) culture of thought, ideals, expectations that stem from being raised by Korean parents. Actually, we all do, no matter what our backgrounds. I’m looking forward to exploring these different aspects of my upbringing and how it affects my parenting. Thanks for joining us in our journey.