In Korea, one of the jokes that followed me for 9 years was the more than a little long-winded dissection of my international character - and its no joke. I have a Russian first name (Yuri), a Greek middle name (Alexis), and a Dutch last name (van der Leest). I was born in Canada (English), but in the French part of the country (Quebec), and I lived in Korea for almost 9 years (Korean).
Add to this the fact that I have a Dutch passport in addition to my Canadian one - if I can add a green card, all the better - and you really do end up with a quintessentially international character.
But what am I really?
I guess I could spend my life answering that question (actually, I guess I have spent my whole life to date poking and prodding at that particular query).
In Korea I was asked often whether I felt Canadian or not. And, of course, I just assumed that I did feel Canadian despite the melange that my life path and moniker suggest.
Well, here I am in the USA adding one more spice to the flavour of my character, and that question has taken on more meaning as some of the last near-decade in Korea starts to percolate in hindsight rather than...um...nowsight :).
The fact of the matter is that Korea really was my home - and is the place that I call to mind now when I think of where my comfort-zone is. I learned the language fairly well, I know the city like the back of my hand, and it is the country where I learned the pleasures and pains of opening my mind and heart fully to the woman that I believed to be my life partner.
Now I have left Korea behind. For the first few weeks I wandered the streets of my favorite neighbourhoods in my mind, I searched the Internet for photos of vistas that I had viewed often in the routines of my life, and I reached out to friends and colleagues online to comfort my unsettled mind. I also listened to (and am still listening to) Korean pop music and watched (and am still watching) Korean movies. Just the sounds of the songs and the cadence of the language in the films calms me and makes me feel more at home.
And in the meantime I have watched the slow process of Korean words and phrases slipping from memory and making me feel I am losing a part of myself.
So tonight I had my first Korean language class in the USA - and I stayed after the class for more than an hour chatting with my teacher about my life in Korea and her life in the USA. It felt like I was on top of the world, conversing more or less freely in the language that not only defines part of my life, but also part of what I am as a person.
You see, Korea was almost 30% of my time on earth, and is really some unfathomable percentage of my character and identity. And it always will be. I don't know if I have the discipline to continue studying this language while here in this world of English speakers, but I hope that I do and that it grows to fluency and remains an integral part of my life.
Speaking the language enriched my life in Korea a great amount, and there is no reason why it can't continue to make life - and self - more rich, full and intriguing to me and the world at large.