So I am now living in Seoul. Said goodbye to Jeonju with bottles of cold beer and some dried fish as crispy as the accompanying sauce was spicy.

cold beer

It’s my first time living in a “real” city. It’s a city full of elbow-to-rib bus rides, intense cell-phone subway addiction by even the most elderly of residents, and smells that waft up from the cities creases that could make a cockroach blush.

Why I did it:

I moved here for the same reason I came to the country in the first place: growth. I want to learn how to grow things, I want to learn how to turn those things into delicious sustenance, and I want to write about it all in a way that makes the world understand the land we have forgotten and the myths that we need to create.

I wasn’t completely happy with my Fulbright experience, for a myriad of reasons some in and out of my control (another blog post to come on this). I wanted to feel involved in something that was transforming my environment for the healthier and happier. And here, despite the ability to spend an entire day in one of the densest cities in the world without talking to anyone, I believe this is the place where I can find the connections that will help me in the next steps in my life.

Missing my Jeonju family, but looking forward to what may come.

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A question for those who seek to tell our stories in the name of a higher power

is it godly

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First Supper Club

Cooked for some good people on a friend’s rooftop! (photo credit Emily Ahn)

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Cooking as an Adoptee

If they called you bougie

Like a pepper with no knee slap


If everything we touch, touches us

And the chopsticks were like two shoelaces in your fingers


If the way we have forgotten what a carrot should taste like

Is like the way you have forgotten your ancestors


If on a city bus, the sour of the marketplace

squatted in the back aisle for five stops

through the high rises rising, through the pressed dressed shirts leaving

and you wished you could love like that


If the blade slipped

and out came evidence that the heart

is in constant gift-giving


if you questioned its workings when it was cast out

like kimchi from a white boy’s cafeteria


If you learned in school to clean dirt from under your nails

as if it wasn’t dirt

that made all grow


If the garden you planted isn’t technically legal


If mother is origin

And you are a point in motion and every direction is forward


Remember the Fall

Harvest’s lesson:

in every tree a handful of persimmons left for the birds

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Jeju Island School Field trip

fish mountain suitedsand

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Beyond Qualifications: contextualizing the foreign English teaching experience

I post this as an foreign English teacher working and living in Korea. I post this as a Korean-American adoptee and as a recipient of a privileged government teaching contract. I post this out of my love for education as the practice of liberation and from a desire to see us all grow. I don’t want to address directly address Korean media coverage of the topic, like MBC, as it’s in a language and context I am unfamiliar with. Rather I seek to create dialogue around why anti-foreign English teacher sentiment exists and how we as foreigners not just suffer but benefit from the systems that create these viewpoints.

I believe that the perspective of English teachers in Korea as under-qualified is a fair and valid statement—not about us as individuals (I have met many a foreign English teacher here who is overqualified), but about the way that English education by foreigners is implemented systematically in Korea. Furthermore I do not believe blame solely lies in hagwons or hiring practices, but rather lies in a structure of privilege of which English is just one branch and of which we, as U.S. citizens and English speakers, all certainly benefit from.

First we must admit to ourselves that overall our credentials and training pales in comparison to any Korean-certified teacher (this could even be said when comparing credentialed teachers in America to credentialed teachers in Korea, but that is another discussion). We must admit that our opinions and judgments of the Korea education system are equally unfounded and generally based on a set of limited personal experiences. We must admit that we have no chips on the table, that ultimately it is not our future children who will live, learn, and grow in the Korean education system.

But we are important to the Korean education system, I hear many cry. So let’s say we are qualified. Let’s say our English fluency and bachelor’s degrees do translate to effective teaching pedagogy. Let’s say we provide a global (re:American) approach to education and culture that Koreans couldn’t possibly possess. Still a larger question looms: why is there a need for English education and who is reaping the rewards?

In today’s world English functions as a filter. Some of us have access to English fluency as birthright, while others are left struggling in the margins. One need not even look beyond the borders of our country to see how English is a marker for inclusion and exclusion, the haves and have-nots. English means economic opportunity, access to some of the top Universities in the world, political power, not getting stared at while walking down the street, the difference between being labeled as friend or enemy of the state. Simply put, English is access.

English functions in similar ways in Korea as well. Many of my students study English for even more hours than their Korean.  It is rigorously tested on school entrance exams regardless of its relevancy to the field of study. A lack or mastery of English can make a break a student’s academic goals, and it appears this trend will only continue as the Korean University entrance exam expands to include a listening portion.

There are very real economic benefits to speaking English, but we as foreign English teachers experience these benefits in very specific and unique ways. Like it or not, qualified or not, we get jobs, tutoring opportunities, a plane ticket to and from Korea, and shorter work hours with more vacation time than any Korean teacher I’ve heard of. We have the hearts of the Korean people and institutions of power opened to us through homestays and free or discounted language programs. And we have the ability to leave it all when it is no longer meeting our needs and return to a life back home. Our lifestyle is a far cry from the way other immigrants have come to Korea and how Koreans have come to America. Here, more often than not, our pay scales don’t reflect our qualifications or talent, but our privilege. And that money is coming out of Korean pockets to pay for Korean futures.

English education in Korea is unjust. Not because foreign teachers in Korea face slanted media coverage. Not because Korean education policy stresses long hours of English acquisition and testing. But because there is a world system of privilege that benefits those who speak English and marginalizes those who don’t. I find youth often have the sharpest sense of fairness—as one of my students put it “why do I have to learn English, I am Korean.” This is the “why” behind why we as foreign English teachers are viewed as under-qualified. This is the “why” behind the unbalanced media coverage, the misdirected anger, the misunderstandings between us and our Korean peers.

Perhaps most importantly, this “why” is the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing Korea’s educational policy shift from foreign English teachers to Korean English teachers. The Korean government’s goals are not to create ethnic purity on the peninsula or to ignore the economic and political impacts of globalization on the Korean people. It is a move to create a relevant teaching force, one that understands the pressures and intricacies of learning English in a Korean context. It is a move to provide a permanent, trained staff that can serve the needs of a population subject to an unjust global language system. It is a move towards self-determination by the Korean people. We as foreign English teachers should support these shifts, learn from them, and take these lessons back home with us. We should listen to understand the context we have been thrown into, not jump to defend our sense of self-worth whenever the system we are working in is criticized. The Korean people deserve this much.

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My feelings on the media that either says that the DPRK is a dangerous threat, or that the DPRK is not a big deal and it’s a situation most South Koreans are numb to

There has been a lot of media hype about the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. While much of the media has covered the fear we should be feeling, some writers have been taking the “bold” stance of speaking about a perceived lack of concern that South Koreans have of an attack from the North. In most cases it is explained that the ever-persistent presence of threats, pressures, and remembered and experienced violence has numbed the South Korean people to the situation. But I don’t think that the only human response to dehumanizing situations is numbness. There is a life that happens as well. A way in which a moment of pain becomes transcendence and helps us understand our humanity and how we are connected to the universe.





One does not worry

when life has been spent listening to men who speak only missile,

a life of flame and moments of wreath

One prays for the green

that hands coax from dirt

until skin resembles earth

not plastic

Economists call it a miracle

when cities hide their roots in polymer sheets and give

away children

these: the same lessons a border teaches

“I’m sorry” the first words I hear

from the taxi driver

the women who sells me my garlic

when Corea is carved from me by my tongue’s sharp consonants

Maybe fast food and internet in the sky will home this place

maybe simulated bombing runs and brinkmanship will home this place

Or maybe

it was never the plastic that was calling me back,

but something between breath and bloodletting

speaking return


like the dirt of this city for my hands


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A continuation of my “not-a-30/30” poetry series

“being second generation is such a tightrope between the “homeland” and here”

—my sister on the similarities between the adoptee and 2nd generation refugee experiences


There is power when language vibrates my throat ugly

An adoptee advocate tells the Korean government

She will address them in English by choice

As English was never a choice she was given

The margins of me are a tide that pulls everything out


My throat ugly when language vibrates with power

A Corean student asks me why he must learn English

My answers blossom like Japanese cherry trees on Corean soil

the 18 years of ESL classes

I never had to take

Vine with my vocal chords and wither


If you ask me why I came back here

I can tell you:

I am living somewhere between those two stanzas

Home as much a culling

as that which is reaped

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Not even gonna call this part of 30/30 cause that would be lying

Just saw Olympus Had Fallen I wanna go buy a gun and kill every fucking Asian

—tweet about the new movie Olympus Has Fallen which features a group of North Korean villains attempting to take over the White House





War rhetoric spills from his mouth

Like a piece of gristle he grew tired of chewing

Irony is when I wonder

If he paid his taxes last year

Government’s got ways to make some wishes come true

Somewhere in the Pacific men yell into wires and metal moves

Headlines: military “exercise”

Invisible bombs

fall like


I wonder if the finger over the button

tingles like a war vet’s missing limb

When did headlines stop horrifying?

What would it take for them to horrify again?

Words don’t communicate so well any more

The way repetition seems to amputate us

from the feeling a thousand families wake up to

over there

We, a country that’s always preferred the eraser

to anything that might strain our fidgeting eyes

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Poetry Update

Special thanks to Denise Jolly for encouraging me to write this. Check out her work at:

The following two-part poem is a found poem derived from the texts of two newspaper articles-one from Tahoe, California and one from Korea-both places I am trying to navigate as home. I wanted a story that would be covered in both disparate places and would be reflective of my experiences with how I am being constructed and am constructing myself as a Korean American male. I choose the Virginia Tech Shooting.

Article links:


Tahoe:  Being Seen as a Precipice

where our cliffs lie

people closest

offer quiet violence as plan for exposed violence

so all strangers are red flags

a young man

becomes a house tipping over in time

learns crevices

behavior is raised like a stiff drink

at a social boiling point

playwriting an anger to solve our problems

with what they did

is familiar

and so damn old-fashioned

for us, seen as a precipice

of remarkable

and disorder

a part of us

they want to know

we: edge madness

gun quiet before the snap

a part of us

they never want to learn

the part of us human

writing desire into new history



Korea: Consider Leaving [again]

consider leaving if

home is all riot and fallout and

to learn

is to discover damage in the aftershocks

consider leaving if

time over there

translates to:

so anxious to be Korean


horrified to hear Korean

to go out, to move in Korean

consider leaving if

others worry about programs and classes

and you worry about studying

since as a man

you are not the child you hope to be

consider leaving if

yesterday in a nightmare

community was percussion

and the parts of you: all silence

like ethnic in the U.S. should be

consider leaving:

it is

our massacre

not shock or one act of tragedy

a safe fall

a home we emerge from each day

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