My day goes like this: I wake up and Junkyu calls me on Skype to say good morning, then I go to work and teach a few English classes at either elementary school or junior high school. My Japanese students are loud and crazy and get excited when I talk about what concerts I’ve been to recently. I go home and wind down, study Korean, read books and blogs, and then eventually Junkyu is calling me on the way back home. We stay on the phone for hours sometimes. Other times, the night is busy and time for chatting is cut short, but no matter what, we always tell each other goodnight. The distance between Japan and Korea might not be great, but it takes its toll.
And yet, I have found that no matter what obstacles lie in our path, be it language, culture, distance, the weird quirks the other one has, our relationship drives us to grow and experience new things, and it’s never boring.
As a high school student, I started learning about Japanese culture, and I eventually studied abroad for two months. In college, I took Japanese and Korean, lived in the international dorm, and soaked up every international experience I could. These things changed me from a small town country girl to the well-traveled and well-read explorer I am today. I started out as a fangirl, obsessing over movies and dramas and music from Japan and South Korea, but it evolved into so much more.
When I came to Japan for a job, I already had a boyfriend. He was from Taiwan but studied at my university, and though we both knew I would be moving overseas, it didn’t stop us from entering a relationship. I studied Mandarin and learned about Taiwan and taught him about American culture as well. However, a month after I moved to Japan, we broke up. In hindsight, I can see that the experience taught me so much about myself and relationships and about just how much culture affects us.
Life led me down a different path, and the next thing I knew, I was meeting a Korean guy on a train to Nagasaki. Suddenly, we were talking every night and I was back to re-teaching myself Korean, watching dramas again, and listening to all the K-pop I had stored on my iPod. I’ve visited him in Korea and he’s visited me in Japan, and we have our next few vacations planned out. It’s surreal now to think that back in college I was preparing myself for dating a Korean man, when for so long I had studied mainly Japanese and Taiwanese culture.
Junkyu couldn’t speak English very well the first time we met, and I had to clear the cobwebs in the Korean portion of my brain. The beginning was very challenging for us, not only because of the language, but because we have a slight age gap, and we are both from very different countries and family structures. More than it was daunting, the task of learning about him and teaching him about myself was a welcome challenge. I learned so much about myself just by telling stories and explaining my past and my future goals.
Now, his English is so good that it overshadows my Korean ability, although I’m studying every day to tilt the scales back in my favor. Learning Korean wasn’t just to speak to him. I met his friends and family and now I can better communicate my friends and former roommate in Korea. It feels as though I would have lost this part of me if I didn’t continue cultivating it.
My personal relationships have led me to learning about so many different cultures. Sometimes I wonder how could anyone not be open-minded, but I am really fortunate to have met so many people from all over the world. Japan was my first goal, but it was just the starting line.
If I hadn’t met Junkyu, I would have given up on Korean. I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s such a rich language and culture, and it’s a good thing I didn’t leave it as just a college fantasy. Learning languages, traditional food, music, etc., has allowed me to connect with more people than I could have otherwise. My life will never be boring, and I have Junkyu, and also my own gumption, to thank for that. I still have a lot to learn, but isn’t it the journey, not the destination, that really matters?