I left Korea after the famous Bucket Living transition, and that’s already almost ten years ago. At that time, all I wanted was to live in foreign countries, experience something different, just be out in the world. So I left. Living and working on the road led me to so many opportunities. I traveled to some of the most remote places in the world, and in the process learned so much about the world and myself through those experiences. Most of all, I met my tribe of people. But I couldn’t help but feel like I have two heads and two hearts because I was away from my home.
At the beginning of my long-term travels, I was happy to be on the road away from home. I felt all the traditions and customs of my culture suffocated me. The obligation to prepare and host traditional ceremonies during the holidays. The pressure to do things properly. The ageism. I thought all of those were so boring in my young mind. So I welcomed the opportunities to be away from all of that.
Funny thing is, as I grew older and spent more time away from home, those feelings disappeared one by one. I learned to truly appreciate my unique upbringing. The traditions and customs formed the person I am today. My needs for sharing, caring, and exploring all came from that. My parents, my grandmother, and all the relatives that I grew up around provided unlimited life wisdom and the comfort of a loving home. We didn’t have much but we didn’t need much to be happy. I learned that growing up with a very strong cultural identity wasn’t something that everyone had. My language, my culture, my cuisine, my customs, my traditions, and my homeland; those are all engraved deep in my existence.
I am still living away from home. I always wanted to live in a beautiful place surrounded by nature and I found one. I found a place to call home. But somehow, I feel like I’m missing something.
When I left home at the beginning of this journey, I had this conversation with myself. Choosing between my obligation and my happiness, which is more important? I chose to pursue my happiness and I decided it wasn’t in Korea at that time. And I still believe that finding my own happiness is a more important path in life than fulfilling obligations. My parents wouldn’t be happy for me to give up my path to be just home with them. But sometimes my heart aches, longing to be there. Holidays like Chuseok when I’m missing the smell of greasy food, a beautifully set ceremony table, and the proud feeling after we complete our duty. Now I’m missing the obligation.
If you’ve lived outside of your home country, maybe you’ve thought about something similar, especially if you’re bright up in cultures like mine. The Korean Peninsula has been the homeland for my people for more than 5,000 years, so we believe that our body and spirit are connected to the land. Maybe that’s what makes me feel that I’m missing something by living away from home.
Geographically, Alaska isn’t so far from Korea, but traveling in between is a long journey. So I can’t go home as often as I want to, and especially now it’s a difficult time to think of an international trip. I miss my parents and my home. I can’t even read a book that has a lot of sentiment of a mother, father, or the feeling of longing. I read Pachinko, a book written by a Korean author based on the Japanese occupation era in Korea about generations of one family and I cried from the beginning to the end. The display of affection in my culture is subtle. A small gesture means a lot of emotions. So, although the book was written in English, I was able to read between the lines and imagined my own relationship with my mother. So you see, it was inevitable that I felt so much emotion.
I miss home and my family. I miss the holidays. I miss family gatherings. I miss the familiar feeling of living at home. But would I move back and would I be happy? I’m not so sure. I’m happy I’m living in beautiful Anchorage right now, looking out at a birch tree outside my window. I left Korea so long ago, I don’t know what I can do there. I would be happy living near my parents and that should be enough. But would it be? I don’t know. That’s why I feel like I have two heads and two hearts.
I don’t have an answer now. Right now I’m trying my best to design a path for myself. Maybe when I’m more figured out, I can move back to Korea and be happy. I just wish good health for my parents and all my relatives until then. Selfish me. So I will accept this home away from home dilemma and move on to my day.