Korean Summer 3: Connecting with Relatives

H with Min’s brother (Jakkun Appa) and mother (Halmoni).

We have just one week left before we are on the plane back to the U.S.  I am trying to savor my time with the people here that I love and who love my husband and children.

Visiting Korea is enjoyable and relaxing like a vacation in many ways, but world travel alone is not the reason we come here.  I lived here for three years, so I’ve already seen and done much of what I’d want from a “travel” experience.  Korea is where all of Min’s family still lives.  We have tried to cultivate the relationships between our children and their Korean family as much as possible.  When we are here, the main goal is to connect with family and friends.

Gomo Halmoni playing “airplane” with H.

Including this trip, Min has visited Korea five times since we moved to the U.S. in 2010 (once with J and once alone, so I’ve only come back 3 times).  We also hosted Halmoni and Gomo Halmoni (Min’s aunt, and one of my favorite people in the entire world) for a month in the U.S. when J was an infant.  In fact, the emotional pull of remaining connected with our Korean family through frequent visits has almost certainly contributed to our debt problem, though I don’t regret a single one of those trips.  This trip is bittersweet because we are committed to not incurring debt for anymore travel, including Korea*, so it will probably be at least three years (all consumer debt paid off and adequate savings accumulated) until any of us are able to return.

Something about this trip feels different in other ways, a kind of subtle emotional shift.  The heat has prevented us from enjoying many of the outdoor activities we love to do in Korea (hiking, temple visiting, sightseeing, festival-participating, etc.). More of my friends have moved away from Korea (or even just Daegu) and our old swing dance club is defunct as of June this year; those that are here are in a similar phase of life and busy with the demands of young children and in-laws.  We went downtown, and my favorite restaurants there are gone (replaced by what seem to be great places, but they aren’t “mine”).  While I’m visiting old haunts and enjoying the familiarity of this foreign culture, it doesn’t quite feel as much like a second home for me as it has in the past.

At the same time, Frederick feels more like home than ever after J’s first year of school, and my enjoyment of my new job.  Min even mentioned this feeling, though it is making him feel more anxious than me.  We love our home (new roof and all) and our life there.  We will always miss our friends and family in Korea and other parts of the world, but I feel happy thinking about spending the next 5, 10, or even 20 years in the same place.  I’ve never really felt quite that way before; I used to yearn for the life of the postmodern nomad.

I want to grow plants and keep routines and deepen my friendships and community ties in my chosen hometown.  I want my children to feel grounded in being from Frederick.  I still want to travel more (when out of debt, with my family), but I want to come home when I’m done.

* The declining health of a Korean family member has forced us to discuss possible emergency travel situations for Min alone; we are making plans to increase the emergency fund while paying down consumer debt to accommodate.  However, should the worst happen before we have the full amount, we will do what we can, even if it means a setback to our financial progress.

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