Column: The schism

By Se Young Lee

It has been 10 years since I left behind everything I knew in South Korea and dug my roots into the strange land that is Illinois. All things considered, I can’t complain about the life I have today. I somehow have managed not to fail out of school, am in relatively good health – minus the fact that I am a human forecaster of rain thanks to my bulky joints – and have met good people who I am proud to know.

But there are moments in the wee hours of the night – like 2 a.m. Tuesday as I was studying for a midterm – when I stop and wonder just how I ended up living in a cramped apartment in a town surrounded by farmlands in the middle of Illinois. And sometimes I am surprised by the fact that I can now think and write in a language that I once found so daunting.

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Being part of a diaspora, for me, has been both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I was given a rare opportunity to learn firsthand just how much of a difference two cultures can have in their worldviews as I struggled to reconcile the ideas and beliefs I acquired in my childhood with those I encountered as I spent my formative years in the United States. The person I am is a combination of both cultures – after a process of distilling what I thought was worth the trouble from the two different value sets.

On the other hand, I cannot shake the feeling of fundamental disconnect from both Koreans and Americans. Because my identities have been forged by merging the ideas and values of both cultures, I am both Korean and American – and therefore not really either.

I am, for all practical purposes, not all that much different from a typical American college student. I listen to Led Zeppelin, Cannonball Adderly and Kanye West when I walk to my classes every morning, have a sick obsession with Jack Bauer and “24,” play videogames, spend hours of valuable sleep time reading about when Barry Bonds’ head will finally explode from the HGH and make a habit out of quoting “Family Guy.” And as of last October, I am even an American citizen.

But when I set foot on campus I cannot help but feel that I am somehow out of place, even for a simple and inconsequential fact that the color of my skin is different from most of the faces I see in the streets and even those of my three roommates. And I wonder if they even are aware that minorities like myself are not completely irrational to keep in the back of their minds that they could be tied up and dragged behind a pickup truck for miles simply for looking a little different.

At the same time, my emotional connection with my birthplace continues to fade as time moves on. What are left of the 12 years I spent in Korea are now nothing but mere fragments and vague recollections of a handful of days I can manage to muster up: a few nameless faces, split seconds of walking down a sunlit street with a backpack in tow, the salty sea air that soothed the senses. But the Korea that I remember is no more. It has changed just as much as I have changed, if not more. The object of my nostalgia, in fact, now only lives on in my imagination as a shattered reminder of what once was.

Even as I live, laugh and love among those I heart, in the end I come back to the very question that I have been asking myself for years now even as I muster up these trite and tired words – that even Moses may have asked in the bleakest of times as he led his people through the desert.

Will there ever be repose for the wandering souls?

Se Young Lee is a junior in Communications. His column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]