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Alien at home
Written by Rin Choi | Published. 2020.06.09 15:40 | Count : 184

Due to the unique and difficult circumstances during these past few months, I have been attending to my school assignments and projects from home. Even though I do actually complete all tasks on time and the best I can, it would be a lie to deny that I have been watching a lot more television than I would if I were going to school. A lot of what I have seen is news about the ongoing pandemic, and how different countries are handling it. In the middle of all this, two things struck my mind. First, I noticed that whenever I had a choice, I watched English news broadcasts. Second, I could not help but feel proud of how well one foreign country in particular was dealing with the coronavirus—New Zealand. 

I was born in Korea. When I was very young and living in Seoul, I regularly wore the traditional Korean dress called ‘hanbok’ to celebrate special occasions such as festivals. We would all often sit cross-legged on the floor around a large table, and eat a hot traditional Korean meal which would include some very spicy dishes with steaming, perfectly cooked rice. I was very happy living this life in Seoul, and I was no different from any other five- year old girl in Korea, with not a worry in the world. This all changed when my family moved to New Zealand.

[Childhood photo of the author wearing ‘hanbok’ for a family event]

Auckland was a very different environment from Seoul. I stopped wearing my hanbok so regularly and would only take it out on the annual “National Day” held at school. We no longer sat cross-legged on the floor eating spicy Korean food. At breakfast, a bowl of cereal replaced my bowl of rice. Because I was so young and maybe a little naïve, it didn’t take me very long to blend into my new surroundings. I became more physically active, I ran around outdoors in the sun, which soon led to my previously pale skin becoming a very tanned, coffee- like color. But all this seemed normal to me. And I thought it made me look healthier. During the six- years I lived in Auckland, I truly embraced the culture, and in many ways, I became a ‘Kiwi’.

[Photo of the author taken during her childhood in New Zealand]

However, my Kiwi childhood was brought to an end when my parents shocked me by announcing we would be moving back to Korea. I was really enjoying my life in Auckland, and I had never really imagined that I would live in my ‘hometown’ again. While I was born there, Seoul seemed like a different planet. I was scared that the people in Seoul wouldn’t understand the older and very different me. By that time, I was also much more comfortable speaking English. The moment I returned, my family members commented that my skin had become so dark, but then said, “It’s OK, you will gradually get paler, and be just like you were before!” I felt as if the people around me did not accept me for the person I had become and wanted me to change back into the version of me they had seen leaving Seoul so many years ago.

The spicy food that I had to eat again made my tongue numb, and sitting cross-legged on the floor was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time. I felt out of place. Because I wanted to fit in, just like I had managed to do in Auckland, I actually tried to deny my past and just be like everyone else.

It took me quite a long time to be able to accept that I was never going to be like I was before, and I eventually stopped getting so offended when people asked me why my Korean sounded awkward. I have also stopped being so defensive when my friends at my (international) school ask me why my English accent is strange compared to the ‘American’ English they speak. In the end, we are all shaped by our experiences, and I believe all experiences are lessons. I have adapted again to life in Seoul, and I am once more enjoying my life back at ‘home’. 

[Photo of the author taken during her childhood]

However, as I am flicking through trying to choose the English news channel that I prefer (and never stopping at a Korean channel), I once again realize how different I am. As I listen carefully to the reports that New Zealand is one of the countries that has reacted the best to the virus pandemic, I cannot help but smile and remember the six years I spent there. I also feel a sense of pride that Jacinda Arden is mentioned in the media as a great leader. It seems that, even though I have now settled in Seoul once more, I will always be part Kiwi after all.





Rin Choi
Freshman (Grade 9)
Asia Pacific International School

Rin Choi  student_reporter@dherald.com

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