On the first night of my Seattle trip, as my boyfriend and I were driving down the streets of Bellevue, Washington, I commented, “You know… Seattle is becoming more and more foreign to me everytime I visit.” I felt a tinge of sadness as I said that. To think that Seattle, my so-called 2nd home where I spent my college years (my “developmental” early 20s), was becoming associated with foreignness felt hypocritical. I never thought I would feel this way. So much of who I am today was based around my lifestyle in Seattle. My values and habits are heavily influenced by the Emerald City. I always used to say without a hint of hesitation about how much I loved the city and how much I would love to come back and live there. Then for me to come back and feel like I’m in a foreign place? That was hard to accept even as I said it.
Then my boyfriend asked, “What about Korea then? Does Korea still feel foreign to you?” This question was based on my continuous quest for belongingness, of which he knew very well. My answer was: no. When I first moved back to Korea in 2014, I had a difficult time adjusting to my “home” country. I had to re-learn many different ways of doing things. I had to pretend like these different ways of doing things were normal in order to live up to the expectation of my Korean heritage. After years of battling and adjusting, I had finally obtained a level of “familiarity” where I could live in Korea comfortably. However, this did not equate to “love.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are certain aspects of Korea I do love. For instance, public transportation is fantastic here. Food is second to none. I can get amazing skincare items for cheap anywhere. But these factors do not warranty love. There is just something (or a lot) missing that distances me from loving the place. I see foreigners in Korea who cannot imagine their lives outside of Korea. I see other Koreans visiting from other countries who want to live in Korea. I can’t help but feel part bewildered and part envious at these people.
That night’s realization got me thinking: I’ve been living passively in a place for sake of familiarity. It begs the question: am I not giving Korea a chance? Am I too stuck in the past to see what is in front of me?
Who knows? What I do know is that just because you are familiar with a place does not mean that you’ll love that place. You might know all the best places to hang out, all the little alleyways and holes in walls, the little hacks only locals know of but still, your heart might not budge. It’s not about how much you know about the place. Love of a place comes from how the place fulfills your heart and let’s you nurture the life you want to lead. The place needs to resonate with your values and interests.
Then what about Seattle? Do I love Seattle? I still do. I’d like to think that the sense of foreignness is coming from the mere distance. It’s been two days since I landed in Seattle, and already I am reminded of why I adore this place. Of course, if I stayed here long enough, the parts I hated about Seattle that I’ve been blind to will start to creep up. But in the end, Seattle caters to the values that are important to me and I can relate to the city in many ways.
If you’re not completely happy where you are but not quite sure what to make of it, ask yourself the question: do you love where you are, or are you just familiar with it? Whether you are a local resident, a TCK, expat vagabond, this can apply to anyone. Maybe there’s something a place is not providing you. Just remember, familiarity doesn’t equal love.