Calling My TribeOctober 16, 2010
I recently joined the Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab, thanks to a nudge from the fabulous Kyran Pittman of Notes to Self. One of the themes of this particular dreamlab is the idea of “tribe” – surrounding yourself with people who support and nurture your deepest self. One of the exercises I was supposed to do last week was to describe what my tribe would look like. I had no idea.
When I was a university student majoring in English Lit, my school opened up a fine arts department with majors in Theatre and Visual Arts. Suddenly, there were little pockets of delightful strangeness opening up all over the very small campus. The department had just opened, so there were just a few of those Fine Arts students walking around. When I saw one of them, usually dressed in black, and looking like they were laughing at a secret joke, I would feel a pull. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of artist. Still, these people were different. Having grown up just a little odd, I instantly recognized and appreciated that difference.
Then I met and fell in love with one of the Acting majors. This was such a sweet time for me. Not only was I in the middle of a very innocent and open-hearted love, I was quietly being accepted by his Theatre friends as one their own, even though I was still an English major. About a year later I decided to join the department. My father worried that I was just following my boyfriend into a path that would lead to the unemployment line, but I knew that I had found my tribe. I don’t think I was particularly meant to be an actor. However, the hours I spent around the green room talking about BIG THINGS were home to me. Classmates gave me mixtapes so that I could hear new music. Professors gave me books to read that they thought would interest me. Many bottles of wine were consumed. I was being nurtured on the deepest level.
Sixteen years later, my primary identity is “Foreigner”. I am not a woman, a Canadian, a teacher, a writer, a coffee-drinker or a goofball. Before all those things, I am foreign first. When I first came to Korea, it was a novelty. Trails of kids would chase me in the street yelling “hello” over and over like like talking dolls stuck on repeat. I thought it was cute. The blatant staring made me feel special and exotic. I became pleasantly aware of my soft pink curves. The feeling of walking through a society without having to really be part of it was freeing.
That is different now. Usually in Seoul, people don’t stare or point anymore, and kids usually have a foreign teacher of their own and don’t feel compelled to chase the ones they see in the streets. I have married a Korean, participate in traditional Korean family ceremonies, and have made a very good life here. More importantly, I have learned how to blend. I know which of my “foreign” behaviours will call attention to me, and I know how to put on “Korean” manners. When I meet new Koreans, they sometimes say that I am almost Korean. For them, that is the highest compliment they could pay me. Still, I will always be a foreigner. I have a Korean family, I have Korean friends. What I don’t have is a Korean tribe.
Being an expat and making expat friends is also tricky. In the beginning, I put a lot of effort into making friends with other foreigners. The problem is, most other expats eventually go home. We share coffees, dinners, secrets and trust and on the other end of it, I find myself alone again. This has caused me to turn in on myself, keep myself company, and close my heart a little. Today, though, I am rethinking. One of the really good things about the expat world is the opportunity to become friends with people whose path you would never cross at home. We are all very different, yet we are all foreigners and that binds us into some kind of a misfit tribe.
So, I am calling my tribe. I am ready to open up and be nurtured, to let people pass through my life and enjoy them while they are with me, let them go with love when they need to move on. I still don’t know what my tribe will “look” like. But, I’m sitting here with an empty chair on the other side of my coffee shop table and enough money in my wallet to treat you to an espresso. Come find me.