눈치 (Noonchi)

Last week my aunt asked me if I knew about noonchi and was surprised when I told her I’d never heard of it. She explained that it is anticipating and meeting people’s needs without being told to. She said this ability is very important in Korean culture and that I should start cultivating it.

This clears up a misunderstanding I had with my mom recently.

One night after dinner, I was about to go up to my room when my mom exclaimed, “Could you put away these bowls?!” I was annoyed by her tone and asked why she was so angry. “Because! I feel like you should have thought of that yourself!”

At the time, her answer perplexed me.

Now, the episode makes a lot more sense. If I was a good Korean daughter, I would have anticipated her wanting my help clearing the table and would have done it without her asking. (She must have temporarily forgotten I was raised the American way.)

Earlier this summer I went camping with a bunch of (white) girls I grew up with, and I realized that I felt distinctly Asian.

In high school, I rarely felt conscious of my race, and if I did, it was only because I looked different. On the inside, I felt exactly the same as everyone else. But now, after getting in touch with my Korean roots a little in college, I feel “Asian” around my white friends – somehow different on the inside.

After experiencing this bit of cultural miscommunication in my own home, however,

I’m realizing just how American I will feel in Korea.

When I was in Korea two years ago (for a 5-week language program), I spent almost all my time with other Americans, and the only Korean I spoke outside of class was brief phrases to shop clerks and waiters. I had a great time, but I didn’t wrestle much with my cultural identity. When you’re not trying to fit in, it’s hard to feel out of place.

This time around, I’m determined to immerse myself in the Korean culture as much as possible (my biggest goal is to make Korean friends who I can/will have to speak Korean with).

I expect more tension, more wrestling, and more change. I’m excited to see what happens.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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