Korean, Spanish or somewhere in between?

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Korean, Spanish or somewhere in between?

I’m what I like to call an international foreigner. No matter where I go, I’m a foreigner. Even in Korea, I sometimes feel like a circus attraction when I meet new people.
Recently, I went on a date with a Korean guy and told him that I’m from Spain. He didn’t seem to buy it.
“So, what’s your name,” he asked.
“Oh Song-ha,” I said confidently.
“But you just told me you’re Spanish.”
“Well, I do have a Spanish name.” This seemed to relieve him. “But I’d rather be called by my Korean name.”
Then he looked confused. “But your name is a reflection of your nationality. That’s why Korean-Americans go by names like ‘John Lee’ or ‘Esther Kim.’”
Suddenly, he realized that we were speaking in English. “How do you speak English so well?”
“I went to an American school.”
“You went to school in America?” He asked, looking more confused than ever.
“No, I went to an American school in Spain.”
If I were in his shoes, I would have given up at this point. Especially since were in this extremely noisy place and we were both, well, less than sober. But he seemed amused by it all. He said that I’m like a walking geography riddle, whatever that means, and kept on firing questions at me.
“Why did your parents go to Spain?”
“I can’t remember.”
“When did you come back to Korea?”
“I can’t remember.”
Eventually I got tired of answering his questions. And by the end of the interrogation, er, I mean conversation, he probably forgot everything I told him.
Speaking three languages is pretty easy, but being bicultural is difficult. Not for me, but for the people I meet. I’ve learned to take advantage of understanding an Asian and a Western culture, but the rest of the world seems to have trouble dealing with me if they can’t put me in neat and tidy box with a neat and tidy label. Is it really so impossible to believe that in some ways I’m Spanish and that in other ways I’m Korean?
Nonetheless, I kind of liked the guy. If I’m lucky he’ll consider me mysterious or exotic and give me a chance to clear things up for him on a second date. But this time we’ll have to go someplace that’s quieter.


by Tess Chae

The writer, a student at Seoul National University, is an intern at the JoongAng Daily.
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