Nearly 20 Years After Arriving, He's Found a HomeIt takes only three words for Bill Majors, an associate professor at Hanyang University's department of English education and a Christian missionary, to define himself: "I'm an American-Korean." After residing on the peninsula for 20 years, Mr. Majors's Korean is so fluent that if you heard him on the phone you would think he was, well, a Korean-Korean.
Born in 1960 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Mr. Majors majored in religious education at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then later attended Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. The decision to come to Korea, he says now, seemed like fate. "In undergraduate school, my roommate, Kim Yeon-jun, now a director general of Hanyang University, influenced my decision to come here," Mr. Majors told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition. As he sipped coffee at a Starbucks across from the Hanyang campus, Mr. Majors explained that he decided in junior high school that he wanted to be a missionary; the only question was where.
In 1982, a week after graduating, Mr. Majors arrived in Gwangju, in South Jeolla province, as a member of the missionary group Youth for Christ. But Gwangju was still traumatized by the army's massacre of students and civilians there in 1980, so Mr. Majors did not fit in well. "Many of the locals thought I was a CIA agent," he said. The language barrier was also a big hurdle. "My Korean friends in the United States had told me I didn't really need to learn Korean, but I found that was quite untrue," he said. In time, he became highly motivated to learn Korean to broaden his relationship with the locals. "My friends were not totally wrong," he said. "An expat can do well here without speaking Korean if he confines himself to the expat community, but that really narrows your options. I believe that such relationships can be time-consuming but beneficial for a successful stay in Korea." After picking up the language, the next step was to get a solid grasp of Korea's history. Soon, Mr. Majors entered Hanyang's graduate school, majoring in Korean history. By now he had married Lyu Ja-kyung, whom he had met shortly after arriving in Korea, and they started a family. He insisted on sending his daughters, Sarah, now 11 and Ann, 9, to nearby Hanyang elementary school, instead of to a foreign school, so they would be both bilingual and bicultural.
The path to becoming a American-Korean was not struggle-free. Asian values, such as paying respect according to age, are often hard for Mr. Majors to accept. "Recently I went to a get-together at my local tennis club and I was scolded by an elderly member for not properly greeting him," he said. "I disagreed with his opinion but accepted it and apologized." Later, Mr. Majors explained, he bowed again to the man, who praised him for "finally being a decent human being." Though he recalls the experience as none too pleasant, he said, "If you just go with it, it's easy to make a friend out of an enemy."
Mr. Majors noted that Korean culture, with its Confucian values, is akin to that of the U.S. army, where truth is not always paramount. He also sees parallels in Korean concepts and the "political correctness" of Western countries.
As a volunteer minister for Youngnak Presbyterian church located near Myeong-dong, Mr. Majors five years ago started a program called International Worship in English. He delivers sermons in English every Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. The congregatation consists of expatriates, including many Korean-Americans. Though Mr. Majors said he doesn't know what his future holds, he indicated there will probably be a lot more "American-Koreans" like him in the future: "If I was asked 20 years ago whether I wanted to stay in Korea, my answer would have been 'no.' But now, it is 'yes.'"
For Youngnak church information, call 02-2273-6301 or visit www.youngnak.net/IWE
by Chun Su-jin