For Thanksgiving, Young and I went to visit his parents. Young’s parents aren’t fluent in English, and I do not speak any Korean, aside from a few words here and there. One of my favorite memories from this Thanksgiving was Young, Young’s mom, and me all sitting around the kitchen table late at night, snacking on Korean pears and chestnuts while having conversations in a combination of broken Korean and broken English. Every so often Young’s mom would temporarily stop and the conversation and quiz me on the Korean words she had been teaching me. She pointed to her head, her ear, her mouth etc. and I tried my best to recite the Korean word for each. I love learning languages, and I am especially eager to learn to Korean.
I don’t normally give much thought to the fact that Young and I would technically be considered to be a multi-cultural relationship. For Young and I’s relationship, multi-culturalness is not something that stands out awkwardly from the relationship. Rather it feels natural and is readily blended in.
However, this blog is giving me the opportunity to reflect on this idea a bit more. Each person’s relationship and experience with culture is different, and I can only speak from my personal perspective. So using my experiences at Thanksgiving as a frame, below I share my perspective on things I may do more of, or do in different ways, in my relationship with Young.
Be open to different ways of doing things.
For example, on Thanksgiving Day Young’s family and I did not watch the Macy’s Day Parade or the National Dog Show. Instead of having what would be considered a traditional Thanksgiving meal, we enjoyed many Korean traditional dishes. Some of my favorites from the day were Jap Chae, bean sprouts, and fluffy egg. Young’s parents run a restaurant, so needless to say everything was amazing.
If had had been unwilling to this different way of celebrating, or disappointed by it, I would not only have possibly hurt Young and his family, but I also would have missed out on a wonderful day.
I think being open to different ways of doing things makes many parts of life more enjoyable, and I think this is especially evident in a multi-cultural relationship.
Be willing to learn and be engaged.
It is one thing to accept and be aware of differences in culture, but for me, I don’t think my relationship with Young and his family could be as rich if I were merely an observer. For my relationship with Young, I have been able to demonstrate my appreciation of and interest in Korean culture by engaging further when I can and when appropriate.
At mealtimes, I tried my best to use chopsticks. I always knew which place seating was mine because his mom also kindly provided me a fork- just in case!
When speaking, I tried to integrate as much of my newly learned Korean vocabulary as possible.
When Young’s family would all speak in Korean, I could have just zoned out. But I didn’t. I listened. I listened hard with my ears and my eyes. I listened for the rate of speech, the tone of voice, the volume and I watched facial expressions and body movements. I was even able to pick up on what was being talked about sometimes.
I don’t bring the attitude of “Teach me! I must learn now!” I am not going to force anyone to share their culture with me. Culture can be a very personal part of our lives and I I feel very humbled by their willingness to share in that with me. I am eager to learn, but I let Young and his family take the lead, including me in ways that feel right to them.
It’s ok to not always understand exactly what is being said or what is going on. I do not allow myself to become frustrated with myself or with others when I don’t understand. Uncertainty is ok.
Holidays, food, and language are a very visible part of culture, but culture goes so much deeper than that. Most of what comprises culture can’t necessarily be seen on the surface, and in this way, it can be viewed as an Iceberg.
I am always learning more about Korean culture. Culture is deep, and I think it is highly unlikely, and unreasonable, to expect to fully understand it overnight, or ever. In fact, even as part of a culture you may not totally understand it. And that’s ok.
So to, wrap up, this week I challenge you to be a little extra open, to enrich your life experiences by trying something new. It doesn’t have to be big. It could even be as simple as trying a Korean pear (which I would highly recommend – they are delicious!), but it should be something that
pushes you beyond the realm of your usual routines and decisions. If you want, let me know how it goes by leaving me a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!