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Korea Notes : Page Turning

Yes, yes, it’s been way too long. I’m not a professional at this!… Yet.

Where do I even start? I’ve always prided myself on agility in times of growth, change, and transitions. Among the ambiguity of change, there’s an urgency to peer through the fog and arrive at a new, beautiful vista. Fog rolls like thunderclouds these days, and boy do I LOVE the storms.

In my Korea Notes : week 6 post, I wrote about the balance between growth and stability. Looking back at the short time that I’ve been here in Korea, so much has already changed. It’s taken small action steps to create monumental change in my life. Any fog that’s crept in has only been able to swipe at my shadow, and each time I arrive in a new place, it gets easier and easier to breathe. There’s been three big breaths coming out of Winter and into Spring: finishing classes, moving, and getting a teaching job.

Initially, I planned to be here for my Korean language program and then see if working was possible. That three month period came really fast! I was glad to be done with school. That routine and lack of income was getting monotonous for me. I love learning, but the student life is not really for me. That being said, from where I started to where I ended up, I feel really satisfied with what Korean I learned. Being able to at the very least read, listen, and communicate basically eases so much of my inner anxiety about my interactions here.

And of course, when I ask for less monotony, I put my foot in my mouth a little bit. Sure, I wanted some change, but I was not prepared for change that I didn’t expect (anyone relate?). I forget the amount of work it takes to physically move to a new living space.

I also forgot how significant it is emotionally and mentally to move to a new living space. I also forgot how emotionally draining interviewing for jobs is for me. Yes, upon the end of school (from which I was a rocket ship launching… back down to earth). From Feb. 12-20, I interviewed with three recruiters and five different schools all over Seoul. I had five contracts and decided on one on Feb. 21, on a short ski trip with friends. The following week, I had training at my new school, an hour commute from my Goshiwon in Anam, and didn’t move into my new apartment (2 minutes from school) until the end of the week – Feb. 29.

Needless to say, it was indeed a big leap. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Even then, with leaping comes momentum, and I wasn’t going to fall. Turns out the week of classroom supervising and attending the previous year’s graduation ceremony was cut short by something called… Corona Virus. My week training turned into two days of scattered training and three days of half-planning, half-crashing into a classroom. Starting March 1st changed to starting March 16. Starting March 16 changed into starting April 1. “Make sure to wear a mask to school.”, “The US seems to have run out of toilet paper all together.”, and “How much did you get done today? … Get ‘done?” become my everyday.

Okay, backtracking, it is overwhelming, isn’t it? (See why I’ve been behind?)

I’m working at a Canadian English immersion kindergarten and elementary school in Songpa-gu, Seoul. I have a kindergarten class of 10 students that I’ll be teaching. It’s a very Western-style school. If you took a school back home and put it here and turned up the parent pressure three or four notches, that’d be Maple Bear. Each class has a foreign teacher and a Korean co-teacher to help with parent contact and as an extra set of eyes in the classroom. The kids are adorable, we get lunches made for us, and I get off work at 6pm. My commute is a two or three minute walk. I’m very close to Olympic Park, and the area that I’m in is very nice and has pretty much anything I need.

My housing is provided by the school, which is really nice, and I’m extremely glad to be out of my tiny Goshiwon and into a more comfortable living space. I’m pretty low maintenance, but it’s SO NICE to have my own kitchen again.

Things are settled for sure, now. My work schedule is light, I’ve been writing a lot. I’m comfortable, but need essentials at my new place (some chairs, a shelf, a small rug, a food waste bin, etc.). I’ve made good connections with my coworkers and am starting to explore my new area, finding where the best street food kiosks are, which produce stand has the nicest old ladies, and which coffee shops I like best. These days, I’m very present and paying attention to gratitude that I have in my current situation.


Most strikingly, I’m feeling really sensitive to my own and others’ vulnerability right now. Intentional relationships and love for vulnerability are very much at the forefront of what’s happening around me. I’ve been approaching it all with curiosity, tenderness, and openness to the compassion that I have for myself and others.

The new place, situation, and job (income!) are all vital to my success, but to my core, this vulnerability makes me feel very much at home and very much like I am carving out my Belonging once again. Being in a new space to lovingly embrace this part of me in new contexts is new air in my lungs, new rhythms for my heart to beat along with.

Sending much love, as always,

writing about my birth search soon – stay tuned,

kerl

Korea Notes : 8 & 9

Stress has had my keyboard wrapped up. It’s amazing how many thoughts our brain can become obsessed with at the same time, preventing us from focusing on what is really important. I experience this in a couple different ways: in the moment, when I realize that I’ve been worrying about the same things nonstop, and when I look back on a period of several days, or a week and think “man, where did the time go? I feel like I was all static this week.”

Over the last two weeks I’ve ridden the rollercoaster of hope and despair, wondering when I could move on to the lazy river for a bit, and finally I’ve made the choice to get off. Visiting the immigration office multiple times, receiving different information each time, glancing at my dwindling checking account, fretting at my lack of occupation, and the infamous Corona Virus going around, have all been a lot of plates to spin. On top of it all, or maybe to add a tight-rope balancing act underneath, I’ve have nonstop been thinking about the ambiguity around reconnecting with my birth family.

That has all taken up a majority of my brain density the last week. But, with all that worrying and self-doubt that comes with it, I’ve come through to rely on my perseverance, support from friends and family, and to rest in meditation practice. “Don’t give up” is such a common and light platitude, but amid life’s adversity and challenges, there’s soooo much to be said about it. When things and circumstance are difficult, I find that my own attitude and thoughts prove to be the biggest challenge in overcoming and moving forward.

Author Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, gleans the most from life and finds so much inspiration from simply paying attention to the world around her. She writes that “Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention…the capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” I think this falls along the lines of taking in what we have, and focusing on what is in our control over what is not – the latter, draining away all our delight in life. My recent times have very much been caught up in things that I don’t have, or wish that I had, rather than focusing on what I am currently able to do, affect, and experience.

In my meditation practice, I’ve been learning and honing different mindfulness tools and general state of mind. In this sense, it’s really boiled down to my choice to let worry occupy my soul. What has me so constricted is important, yes, but it doesn’t need to become an obsession that takes over my life.

My fruitless grasping for my end goals certainly defines the last couple weeks for me. I’ve always excelled at envisioning my future, but have struggled with executing steps 1, 2, and 3. However, I also traveled south to the Busan and Changwon areas to connect with my cousin Weston, celebrated Lunar New Year over barbecue with friends, have grown closer with my classmates, seen so many beautiful people, and have continued to very much so enjoy my time here in Korea.

The pictures below are of the beautiful island of Taejongdae, also a cool park that is an entire island right off the mainland of Korea. It’s very quiet, a much needed change in contrast with the endless buzz of Seoul. Weston and I explored it and caught up on the last couple years of him being here, getting married, family things, and how we’ve grown since college, when we met and found out we were related.

The ocean is breathtaking and so grounding. I felt that I really needed to be away from my apartment and from the stress that I had been putting myself through. So, this was the perfect way to refresh and relax. Thanks Weston!

I am going to try to put out the next posts in a timely matter, so thanks for sticking with it.

Karl~

Korea Notes : Week 7

A face familiar
with passing hands that held my soul.
Briefly, but ever steadfast.

like many others,
born from loss –
so displaced –
You were the first to say:
You belong, here. And there.
I wish you well. I hope you do well.
๋ˆ„๊ตฌ๊ฐ€ ๋ณด์„ ์ž…๋‹ˆ๋‹ค?
who will you be?

That name, unfamiliar to me
and only empty of a person I could have been.
But to you, I was.
I am.

Jan. 13, 2020

I wrote this shortly after I met my former foster mother at Eastern Child Welfare in Seoul. My birth parents had me for 16 days and then delivered me to the social service office where they placed me in foster care until my adoption in Dec. of 1995. From there, the next five months were spent in the loving care of Mrs. Kim, my foster mother.

I struggle answering the question: “How was it?” that my family and friends ask in response to my story. It was really unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Of course I cried during the meeting. Which elicited “Oh, no stop crying!” Responses from both the woman that translated (could have been a translation, or her own, ha) and Mrs. Kim. How could I really help myself though? I sat before a 70 year old woman that had fostered over 100 children in the 30+ years of foster care that she had dedicated her life to.

Much like one would expect, her first questions were “How are you eating?”, “Are you doing well in Korea?”, and “Do you have a girlfriend?” Even with my basic, elementary level Korean, I could pick out the words “์—ฌ์ž ์นœ๊ตฌ” (woman friend, literally) in the last one.

We chatted about school, learning Korean, places in Seoul that we enjoy, our families, and a bit about where we’ve been the last 24 years. I’ve never been close with my grandmas, and this is certainly very much like a grandma-relationship.

This was one of those times in life where I felt that the person sitting across from me is someone that knows me deeply. Or at least cares as so, without really knowing anything about me at all. The most striking thing for me is that Mrs. Kim doesn’t know me as “Karl Johnson” at all. She only knows me as “๋ฌธ๋ณด์„” (bo seok translates to Jewel, incidentally). This struck me deeply, for until this point, my Korean name had carried empty meaning and was backloaded with grief, unknowing, and loss. In our context, I felt to her that it meant someone worth caring for, even for 5 months. A person very much worth time, energy, and the heart space. A person that is receiving love in times when he does not show it to himself. A person that carries meaningful experience and significant existence.

Restorative.

That’s how I would describe it. In many ways. Since our meeting, I’ve gotten in contact with her daughter and we’re going to all grab lunch in a couple weeks. Mrs. Kim told me that she wants to buy me a huge Korean meal. And if you know me, that’s most certainly the way to my heart, haha.


Beyond that, it’s been a big week in food. I’ve had boiled silk worms, braised pigs feet, a lot of raw seafood, and only some soju ๐Ÿ˜‰ don’t worry, aunties, it’s the Korean experience. Unfortunately, not a single bloody Mary!

Thanks for reading, as always.

Much love,

Karl.

Korea Notes : Week 6

Growth always inspires me. New experiences, learning, and self-improvement are things in life that give me life, but the part about growing that especially pushes me forward is overcoming past struggles. Renewing an old, tired mindset or identifying a destructive pattern that no longer holds me is powerful.

An aspect about growth that is somewhat staggering, though, is the rhythm of it. I feel that there are times that I’ve grown at different paces and in different ways in my life. Sometimes, it’s a steep launch upwards, and at other times, it’s a slow, gradual process that can feel painful and sluggish. My maths-senses are telling me that this would be some variation of y=mx + b, if that helps you visualize. Other times growth is irregular, with periods of learning and change, between stagnant times when complacency and comfort seem a bit too familiar.

As I explore this clean slate (tabula rasa) time and grow through it, a couple thoughts regarding this come to mind. They’re as follows:

How do we distinguish between stability and complacency?

What’s a healthy balance of pursuing growth/change and needing stability?

What does that look like for you?

I’ve been arriving at this weird spot of “feeling” like I want stability (namely a ‘stable’ job, simple schedule, and consistent routine… and also a more secure wallet). Every dreamer-bone in my body screams against it. But the safety-logical parts of me are tired of dreaming about starving artist passion-chasing. I think that pull between both, the conflict of it, is important to notice. And a feeling that I don’t have often.

My mother tells me that “everything in life is a balance.” And she’s 100% right (you’re welcome, and hear that Kevin?) I think the interesting part about this is that on either side of this, there’s growth. Stability and growth are not exclusive from each other. Nor is complacency stable. There’s a lot of “nonstop grind” sentiments in entrepreneur, young adult, and career-focused cultures. But I’m finding that rest time, challenging myself to pull inward, and not going 100% of the time is pushing me way further up (and onto way more difficult things emotionally/spiritually) into growth.


Some friends came to visit a couple nights before flying to Thailand. Really great to see familiar faces. And also to flex my new elementary-school-aged-child Korean with them at the market and restaurants. It was nice to show them around. We also got to do somethings that were on my list that I hadn’t gotten to yet! Thanks guys, for being adventurous and curious friends!

I’ve also gotten pretty close with some friends I’ve met through church here. I’ve noticed that I’ve started thinking about my relationships with people here more than nonstop survival thoughts like “how do I get from here to here, how do I say ______,” and “make a mental note about where to buy toilet paper.” My friends and I enjoy our time together, and I particularly like our shared meals.

Eating out and restaurants here are a really important cultural piece. Sharing meals and drinks at a cheap restaurant happens way more than it does at home. Well, for me anyway. I went from liking about five restaurants to liking every restaurant. It’s been fascinating, eye-opening, and refreshing to get to know people on a close, person-to-person level. Especially other Asian-Americans who had grown up in the States or had spent enough time there to have shared middle school phenomenon like Hot Topic or angsty punk music.

At the end of the week, I went to Eastern Child Welfare, the office where my adoption was processed. I’m going to have a second post about this, since this one is getting long. But it was emotional to say the least. And the current day I’m writing this (Monday of week 7), there have been wholly different changes and emotions.

With that, cliffhangers suck, and my life’s not a movie, sometimes I forget.

Thanks for reading, bit of a long post.

Much love,

Karl.

Korea Notes : Week 4 and 5

This is week five, but it feels like two weeks since my last post. ((EDIT: That’s because it has, oops))

I hit my strides like I belong now. I’ve gotten more connected with my church and lifegroup – a small family that meets very regularly and have made some good friends. I started a weekly cooking class at a local ์š”๋ฆฌํ•™๊ต (cooking school), maybe am an above average student at language school, and have continued to pursue my high priority of eating moan-inducing foods. Today, I actually had Subway in Eungam and it felt like home.

I got to go to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art last Saturday and was particularly looking forward to the work of Kim Soongui, a poet and multimedia artist. I had read about her work on a blog and was very intrigued. Much of her philosophy rests (no pun intended) in the minimal and calm aspect of being present and simply “paying attention.” In some of her interviews, she expressed some impatience or annoyance at avant garde’s obsession with highly produced, elitist, or bougie culture and attitude.

Her “Lazy Clouds” poem and the calendar she had made where each day is only “yesterday”, “today”, or “tomorrow” were particularly powerful to me because I have come into a real mindset of being present and approaching each day like this. The thesis behind Lazy Clouds is that living slowly, simply noticing, and taking in each moment often connotes laziness. Where much of her art is about being present and just relaying everyday life. In the busy-ness and high paced Seoul culture, I very much appreciate this work.

There is a special power in being present. Our world moves at a pace that will suddenly take you from where you are if you’re not paying attention. And it’s hard. It’s very hard to remain present. Emotionally, spiritually, physically – I’ve found the most significant times are when I’m able to be present with myself. Being able to genuinely and patiently feel my emotions and intuition is a foreign feeling when I’ve been constantly going-going-going for my whole life. It’s ironic, there is a Seoul-speed to things here that’s come up in conversation. In relationships, career, schooling – everywhere, it’s a very high-functioning society.

But the most difficult part in listening to ourselves is that, oftentimes, the truth that comes from that is a hard pill to swallow. It can trigger fear, anxiety, or flat-out anger, sometimes it digs up past things that we try so hard to suppress. How can we build trust with the self? What happens when our true selves shine through? Do we suppress and beat back at what we really see in the mirror? Or do we hang on to growth and wait to see new branches, bark, and fruit? This is something that I’m learning through my actions and taking steps into risk.

My impostor syndrome has been pretty quiet lately. I attribute this to resting in what’s true about me, and by letting what God has blessed me with take root in my heart and head. The clean slate that I’ve found myself in has given me a lot of good soil to play around in.

Lastly, being away from family for the holidays for the first time was really different, of course. My “Airplane day” (gotcha day, adoption day) falls on Dec. 21, Christmas, my parent’s anniversary, and new years all happen in one swoop, so it’s always a heavier time for me. Finding good people to share these times with was a great blessing. Waves of exhaustion, introspection, and exhilaration all sort of carried me through into 2020 and I’m glad to have shared that with newly found friends. Also, my parents were soaking up sunrays in Hawai’i, so I was sure they were perfectly fine ;).

Starting a new decade here is surreal. A couple affirmations that I’ve been using in these times are: “I’m open to God’s direction for my life, relationships, and pursuits”, “Be kind to yourself.”, and “Growth takes time and my creativity is unhindered when I allow it to reflect my emotions and uncensored filter of what’s around me.”

Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, peace and love,

Karl

Korea Notes : Week 3

Already, three weeks have passed. At the time of writing this, it’s Christmas Evening. The surreal feeling hit me that I am spending Christmas here in Korea. For the first time, I am spending my airplane day (gotcha day, adoption anniversary), Christmas, and my parents’ anniversary away from home, family, and friends.

This is not saying that I don’t feel that I belong or am at peace here in Korea. The last 21 days have proven to be full of exploration, rest, growth, and healing. A couple weeks ago, I was bedridden and completely incapacitated in my Harry Potter closet goshiwon. A lot has happened in a few weeks. After getting accustomed to my class schedule, building relationships and making friends through school and church, and meeting the rhythm of the city, I am finally feeling a confidence that I haven’t felt in a long time.

The most significant theme this week was finding friends and building relationships. It is always difficult to find a healthy community wherever you go. Many of my peers and transient young people have talked about it taking about a year to feel that they really adjust to new people and a new place enough to call it ‘home’. For me, days 15 through 21 have meant reprioritizing and slowing down.

The best blessings for me this week have been connecting with a church via a very close friend and mentor (Thanks Sarah!!!), and being invited into a life group that meets several times a week. Glen, the group leader and I have become pretty close. We geek out about baking and cooking, are both artists, and have similar themes in our upbringing. He has been extremely inclusive, welcoming, and… well, friendly since my time here. Our group goes to different cafes and restaurants every Sunday after church, and occasionally meet up on weeknights to have dinner after work/class. In a huge and bustling place, it’s nice to have people and time to just hang.

On a deeper note, it has been a long while since I have felt spiritually open and present. I had almost forgotten how important the act of worship is to me and my identity. Being in a completely new place with entirely different people has given me space to reflect on my spiritual and creative growth, which are very much so intertwined. There is something about a “clean slate” or “new soil” that provides room for reaching roots to find something to hold on to. As well as clean and uncluttered air for a trunk to grow and stretch it’s arm-branches.

Upon stepping away from a lot of things at home, I have had some space to breathe a bit. I struggle with valuing myself based on the level of productivity that I’m operating at, as well whether or not my passions and dreams are practical enough to pursue. There’s this image of busy-ness and the romantic/glorious “hustle” and “grind” that I fell into, thinking that in order to be good enough I had to juggle all these different projects and initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, the things I am passionate about are very worth pursuing, but it started to feel like running in a hamster wheel, needing a break, and stepping out to find myself on another hamster wheel. I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to stand out, set a standard, and be more than myself.

After a mental and emotional reset in week 2, my priorities have become 1. Be a student, 2. Eat all of the food, and 3. Just go with the flow. Following this, I have entered in a season of some really great creative, emotional, and spiritual clarity that has lead to some much needed healing and rest. More on this next week! To finish, here’s a poem I wrote out of a place of newly found connections, peace, and fulfillment.

Korea Notes : Week 2

Hey everyone, this is a little bit late – sorry!

Last week I caught a really bad flu on Monday night. I was stuck in bed with a hot fever and awful, suffocating congestion all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Getting sick away from home is one of the WORST things. Whenever I get sick, though, I’m always reminded of the power of rest and of slowing down.

The last month and a half or so have been extreme go-go-go and getting here has been the only time that I’ve been able to catch a break – even a forced one. Through the first eight days of being here, I was on overdrive. Travel days, then settling down, then hitting some of the city pretty hard, and having getting a visa, finding a job, stress about money, and new classes all on the top of mind put me out pretty quick.

This isn’t naught without lesson, however. I started to have more energy on Thursday and Friday. I was able to get out of my goshiwon, go for a walk, and go to class. After a good breakdown about not feeling productive enough on Friday, I had some much needed time to reflect on the last week.

A very close friend and mentor of mine constantly reminds me “Be kind to yourself.” Self-hate, chokingly high expectations for myself, and a need to justify worth with productivity are big parts to my mental health and self-image. So, this message is one that is always welcome and always seems to come at the perfect time. All of the changes that happened put me on square-one, and on a completely different gameboard. I really expected myself to hit the ground running and pick up in the same spot that I was at back in the States. Which… is really unrealistic. And honestly afforded little grace for me to feel like myself here.

Taking a mental reset was needed and refreshing. And one that I could use a lot. Even before coming here, I would have benefited so much from stopping the physical and mental constant busy-ness, project-pursuing, and wheel spinning.

So I’m trying now to prioritize myself by eating the best food, learning Korean, making friends, and just taking a deep breath in my life lungs. I’m not trying to force anything, I’m not trying to plan out my next 12 months to the T, nor am I fixating on making my trip the perfect life chapter. It is what it is, and I am present in it.

The weekend was much better than my weekdays. I went to a church that a friend recommended to me and got connected with some great people. We’ve gone out to eat twice now and I’m going to an illustrator’s fair this weekend with one of the life group members. Finding a new community is difficult, but I have a feeling I’ll be able to connect with these people. More on that in a different post.

I’ve felt a lot more at ease to enjoy myself and enjoy being here not worrying about everything. It is way easier said than done. But, I am realizing that there’s no pressure on me to perform here, and I’m continuing to release myself from that pressure every day.

Thanks for reading. I miss you all very much. Wish my parents “Happy 30th!” As they are celebrating in Hawai’i right now for it.

Blessings and much love,

Karl.

Korea Notes : Week 1

Week 1 has been… a week of adjusting. I had orientation on Dec. 3, and actual classes start Dec. 9. I have been waking up at 6am every morning because of jetlag. I love being up early, but eventually I will hit the inevitable wall of “I hate mornings.”

Seoul is a huge city. The buzz, the vibrancy, vitality, and bustle is amazing. In 50 years, Korea’s per capita GDP went from 100 to 35k, and it makes sense why. The city’s sprawl and sheer size is jaw-dropping. During the day it’s impressive architecture and mostly concrete everywhere, but during the night it’s a beautiful sight to behold.

This accurately depicts my frequent places I’ll go – out at night, on campus, eating ramen, and holed up in my cozy goshiwon (box room). I love the architecture at Goryeo (shorthand name for Korea University). It is such a beautiful campus. I walked across the main pavilion and gratitude hit me like a punch made of smiles and private school tuition fees that I got scholarship for. Goryeo has one of the highest regarded reputations in Korea for its education.

Okay, next for me, is paradise. There’s a big market that’s really close to where I’m living. I was really lucky that I spent my money on some sheets, a blanket, and a pillow, and had 3 dollars left in my wallet (which I promptly bought some dumplings with). Otherwise, I’d go broke faster than you can say “kimchi”. This will be my first step into the language too. I’m dedicated to learning what it takes to haggle the women that run most of these carts and stands.

I love the colors, bustle, and thrum of the market. There are so many people milling about, arguments over prices, and some irresistible food stands. I couldn’t believe some of the eel, stingray, fishes, giant tubs of dried shrimp, and other oddities that people sell.

On Saturday, the last day of my week, I went to Gangnam with some German friends that I made. Gangnam is known for being a lively, modern, and stunning area of Seoul. All of the food and shops charged almost twice that what we could get back by our school, and everything was at least twenty stories tall. The Octagon, is a club in Gangnam, that apparently was ranked #7 in the world by a DJ publication. I’m not a huge fan of house music, but I love to dance, so we danced for five hours or so and it was a blast.

Honestly, after a week like this… I’m TIRED! It is going to be a balance for me (and my wallet) to want to experience a lot of new things, but also take time to rest and relax. One of my top priorities on this trip is to take time to meditate, journal, and pay attention to myself. Having physical and emotional distance from a lot at home will give me the emotional space to reflect and grow.

It’s been very interesting simply being here, observing, and listening wherever I go. My ear for Korean is already improving, and even using simple words and greetings everyday is feeling more and more natural.

A harder thing that I am feeling my way around is a deep shame (and conversely freedom) that I have around my Korean identity. My Korean-ness has lacked, been rewritten, discovered, embraced, and missing throughout my life. So, coming here without a lot of cultural and langual (word?) knowledge has been a bit stinging. No, Korean people aren’t judgmental or critical, but I have some mix between expectation and desire to fit in and “be Korean.” So, of course, admitting that I don’t speak Korean, blowing my nose at the dinner table, even having an English name have caused a lot of hurt to come up for me.

Growing through this, though, is giving me a lot of freedom and liberation. I feel more empowered when I remember that people are just people. That I hold the highest, most outrageous expectations for myself. No one is judging me, I have the freedom to own my identity – American, Korean, creative, emotional, and otherwise.

This has been Korea Notes 1. Stay tuned for more. If you see my parents, drop them a nice word or two, they’ve been the most supportive through all of this. I miss you all! I am so so grateful for the love that you freely and unconditionally have for me.

-Karl

belong_ing pt. three : overcoming fear of being misunderstood

When I was a freshman in high school, there was a kid that bullied me by the bus loading zone after school. One day, I was sick of him telling me that Asian dudes have small penises. After a short altercation and in an emotional flurry, I fast-walked to the school counselor, swiping at tears along the way.

I slowly walked into the counselor’s office, pretty distraught. She sat down and asked me “What’s wrong?” and I half-sobbed to her something like, “He’s—-telling—-me—-saying—-asians—-dicks…”

There was clearly a lot going on here. For starters, this is probably the second time I had ever gone to a teacher about a racial bullying incident, I was convinced that she wasn’t going to get why this was upsetting me so much, I was a blubbering mess, and on top of that, my bus was going to leave in six minutes – I didn’t want to be that kid that missed the bus home, and then have to explain all of it to my mom. I left in a rush after a short, unsatisfying, half-explanation that left the counselor confused and probably helpless.

In the end, there was a stern talking-to with the kid that had said these things. He didn’t apologize to me, I was only told that it had been “taken care of” a day or two later. After it all, though, all I wanted was to be validated and to not feel constantly alienated or alone.


One of my biggest fears is being misunderstood.

Being misunderstood has caused me pain, shame, fear, and isolation.

One thing is for sure, this bowl of ramen will always understand me.

In my writing this morning, I contemplated this fear of mine. Why am I so scared of people not understanding me? Why does that matter? What’s wrong with being misunderstood? Questions that could be posed against many of our fears… These questions led me to conclusions that I’ve made above, and these answers are rooted in a lot of insecurities that I have. I’m ashamed to not be able to speak Korean here, where everyone assumes that I do. Like I am, but also am not, Korean. Communication is needed when building trust, and lack of both have really burnt me in the past. Lastly, Being very alone is something that has always scared the shit out of me.

Anam-Dong, my neighborhood in Korea, the night I arrived.

Moving to Seoul, South Korea, where I don’t know the language at all, is probably the biggest, riskiest decision I’ve made in my life.

But all of this comes with time, much like healing, learning, and growing. I’m here to learn Korean, absorb the culture, potentially find my birth family, and overall learn and grow my spiritual and emotional identity. Embracing the ambiguity, discomfort, and fear in this process will be part of why it is so monumental for me. There isn’t a magic answer to overcoming the fear of being misunderstood. But for me, it’s been through deconstruction and self-awareness, embracing some of the uncomfortable parts of growth, and trust in myself that I have integrity to why I am doing this that give me peace. Here is an affirmation that is helping me reframe my lack of language and communication:

Affirmation:

I am learning to communicate, with others and myself. Gaps in understanding do not make me ineffective, and there is no shame in lack of connection – there are just obstacle I haven’t found a way around yet.

Learning = New Connections = New Brainwaves = Growth.

In growth, I find peace.

After reading this post, I hope you consider these questions:

  • What do you feel when you are misunderstood?
  • How do you go about achieving mutual understanding with someone?
  • What are obstacles you have that prevent you from understanding others? Yourself?

belong_ng pt. two : humblebeast


I wish I had a dollar for the amount of emails I send with one of the following in the subject line or as a salutation – I would be rich:

“connecting”, “let’s connect!” , and “I’d love to connect with you!”

There are so many things that encourage or set us up for connection. Social media corrals us to find our communities and to follow who we relate to. Social movements establish common identities and call people to act and be a part of a change. Whether it be a subreddit about why water is amazing, or the global women’s march, people unite under almost any fandom or cause.

Communities like these uncover passion and purpose of their subscribers. These two concepts create baseline for connection.

Shared Passion + Shared Purpose = Connection

Connection built on our Passion (what we love) and Purpose (why we love) instills a sense of belonging in relationships.


poster for the Prophiphop x Murs tour in 2016
the show I really met Matt and Kali

humblebeast records stands out as one of my favorite record labels. The signed artists release their music and poetry for free under values of creativity, humility, theology, and doxology. In a genre full of braggadocios, inflated egos, and traditionally toxically masculine monoliths, this stood out as an organization I could do more than just listen to.

I follow humblebeast with some of my closest friends – Matt and Kali. We consider each other family. We met each other at a concert in 2016, two days before their oldest child was born. I saw a very pregnant lady give an entire plate of peanut butter cookies to Propaganda and I was not only jealous of the cookies, I was honestly jealous because those cookies represented a connection with one of my favorite artists.

It turns out, we had been to several of the same concerts in our area over the past several years, leading up to this one.

Kali and Zion, Matt and Sojourner

Since then, we’ve shared many meals, obsessed over emerging and dated musicians, ranted over generalized trends in religion, and laughed at the quirky things their two beautiful children do. We’ve shared a lot of experiences and a lot of time. But we also are vulnerable with each other. By peeling back layers in our relationship, we’ve continued to discover things we love together – and reasons behind that love – shared purposes. Our belonging together represents emotional and spiritual healing, healthy relationships, and creating thriving communities.


So, what is it that you are passionate about?

What in your life gives you purpose?

How do you share those with people in your life?

Answers to these questions tend to be uniquely human and beautifully simple. Please share answers you have to these questions and see what you have common with other readers.