Growing up, I’ve never felt like I had much of an identity.
Sure, this sounds like a truly first-world problem. But let’s think about it. I grew up in rural Kentucky in a mostly (if not fully) Caucasian community, went to school with people whose families have been in the area for generations, went to the same churches, but most obviously, we all spoke English. As far as I’m concerned there are not many bilingual individuals in the town where I grew up.
In college, I was still a little too normal, even by awkward standards. Still spoke English, took one Spanish class to fulfill my requirement for graduation, and went along with my bad self. I learned (attempted) to make my mouth move to the rhythms of Middle English, but I’m not so sure that counts as a second language. By the time I graduated, I wondered “Why didn’t I pursue that language?
I bet it would really help me.” I began to envy those people who could speak two languages or could pick up languages easily. I was tired of vanilla English and all it’s plainness. In fact, I took a class that described English as a source of power and prestige. Then I just felt guilty about being a native English speaker. There was no identity and then a bit of guilt on top of it all. Speaking English was lame.
I was not until a few days ago that I realized how special one’s language is, regardless of what he or she speaks. I was sitting in my Korean language class during the break when the thought hit me: We’re all born with the ability to learn any language, and that language (or languages) is a critical part of who you are. Even if you are part of the majority (in my case: English), language is deeply cultural. I was recently told that I speak English like a person from Jeju Island speaks Korean (with a cutesy accent). Not many people speak like me. Not many people speak like my family. Not many people speak like my friends. Not many of us speak exactly alike.
Language is truly special when boiled down to how it works in the life of its speaker. For me, speaking English is much more than a job opportunity in South Korea, it’s a way of speaking my way back home.
Good morning America and geon bae from a different kind of south,