I left everything and flew to korea (봄날 #1)


I am a Korean American of mixed descent, the daughter of a Korean immigrant and a white American soldier. In January 2024, I moved from the United States to South Korea, where I will live for a year as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) and recipient of the Fulbright grant. Bomnal (봄날), or Spring Days, is a blog series where I reflect on my experiences navigating a country of my heritage in my young adulthood. The word 봄, Spring, comes from my Korean middle name. I chose the title 봄날 to convey the changes I will experience as I bloom, wilt, and learn to grow through this year abroad.

clairefy is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.

I can’t recall ever having felt homesickness. Although I grew up a military child, and my dad’s army career compelled my family to relocate to different states for each stage of my education, I don’t remember ever having grappled with missing a former home. There were things I missed about each community, of course, and the transitions were always difficult. But I never learned to associate home with place, and I still don’t claim a hometown. When asked, I usually tell people that I am from the state where my parents are living now.

And yet, upon arriving in Korea for the start of my Fulbright grant, I missed home for the first time in over two decades, at least in my recent memory. This idea of home is still, in many ways, as vague and murky as it was for me as a child. I can’t seem to identify a specific place that I miss. But I am, I realized this week, missing people more than I had anticipated. The 13-hour time zone difference between Korea and the United States, paired with a packed orientation schedule, leaves me little time to reach out to college friends and mentors— people who strongly defined not just the conclusion of my undergraduate studies but the genesis of my young adulthood.

How did I get here?


It is because of the guidance of these people that in the spring of 2023, I decided to accept the Fulbright grant. At the conclusion of my senior year of college, I felt deeply fulfilled in my endeavors inside and outside the classroom, but I was worried about landing a job after graduation. I had, at the time, already applied for Fulbright, but I figured that my chances of receiving the scholarship were slim. I spent my weekends and any spare time I had between classes and frantically writing my thesis applying to jobs in various industries. Even if I did somehow get the grant, I had doubts about actually accepting it. Among my worries: Would I be accepted in Korea as a mixed race person, especially one who is still learning the Korean language? Would I be able to find friends abroad and leave behind the community I started cultivating in Virginia? And, oh: I’ve been a student, but am I actually capable of being a good teacher?

When I found out that I had won the scholarship, my peers and instructors helped me to find the confidence to accept it. Some of this assistance was explicit: one of my professors, who is also Asian American, treated me to dinner and spoke with me frankly about the opportunity, what I might encounter, and what I could learn from it. But most of the support was implicit. My friends and classmates didn’t need to tell me, yes, you should do this, yes, you will be okay, but our conversations and creating shared memories together made me feel like I could become someone courageous enough to take on the anxiety of an uncertain future. This is not to say that in the six months before I left for South Korea that I felt brave and assured in my decision; on the contrary, while living at home and working part-time at a place that was never a part of “the plan”, I spent a lot of my time wondering if I had made the right choice. But when my head floated up like a balloon, away from the sure ground of reality and into the dark expanse of my imagination, my community— inclusive of my closest friends and people I’ve had the chance to speak with only a handful of times— pulled me back to land.

I wish I could share these reflections with the people I’m thinking about in time as I’m thinking about them. But I find that I’m almost relishing my homesickness. I am grateful for it. Because it tells me that, this time around, I have something to miss.

Meeting the ETAs


And who knows? Maybe, in a year, I will have something to miss about this new place and this program too. I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it has been to talk to other people at Fulbright orientation so far. Typically, when I moved schools as a child, it took me at least a year to adjust to living in a new community, much less to feel comfortable enough to start befriending people. But here in Korea, the challenges of a demanding orientation schedule and a common mission of serving Korean students has empowered me to make new connections quickly. I am surrounded by intelligent, considerate, talented, and kind people from parts of my country that I’ve never seen before. Of course, I have to keep in mind that I’m meeting fellow Americans; cultivating meaningful relationships with Koreans once I’m placed in a local community later this year will take a more purposeful effort to reach across our different cultural backgrounds. For now, though, I appreciate the slow steps that I am taking towards developing a support system overseas.

In particular, I’m grateful to be easing into living in this new environment alongside some other Asian Americans, especially other mixed Korean Americans. I’ve met more mixed Korean Americans in my first week than I maybe have in my entire life so far. And while I know that their presence and our shared background alone is not necessarily foundation enough for a friendship— I want to get to know my peers as people, too!— in the moments I struggle most with my personal connections to Korea, I find strength in knowing that I am not alone.

On diaspora feelings

More than once in my first week here, I’ve been challenged to draw from this strength. Fulbright orientation launched us into 12-hour days beginning the day after we landed in Korea. For the first three days, I genuinely questioned whether I could sustain the fast pace for the entirety of orientation. I was tired, recovering from a weeks-long illness, and jet-lagged. The prospect of completing classes, attending preparatory teaching workshops, and having to prepare my first ever English lesson while exhausted felt daunting.

To complicate matters, I found myself often becoming emotional as I began to parse what my identity, family, heritage, language, and citizenship meant to me in a new cultural context. After graduating college and experiencing my “Asian American awakening” through reading and talking to other people of color, I believed that I had learned enough about the distorted nature of American racial stereotypes to feel more confident about claiming my story as my own. But after attending a cultural workshop and starting to learn about my classmates’ various reasons for coming to Korea, I began to wonder if even my “awakening”, which had meant so much to me in the past year, was, in itself, a sort of trope. I spiraled. Had I cast off one mold just to step into another one? Was the next rung up from the model minority and the perpetual foreigner, this nebulous thing that I had been reaching for for so long, not belonging or becoming but being reduced to the label of mixed/Asian American identity crisis? Had my laborious grappling with who I was been experienced by so many Others that our stories could be commodified, generalized, and taught to people who had never experienced it before?

The critical essayist Cathy Park Hong might classify my scrambled doubts as “minor feelings,” which she describes in her latest book as the “racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned and dismissed.” One of my new friends, a former teacher and avid reader, calls my panicked thoughts “diaspora feelings”: what happens when you start to break the dam of memory and have to wade through your past experiences to form your own perspective of your Asian American identity.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the iconic Pulitzer prize-winning spy novel The Sympathizer, challenged me to approach the concept of the marginalized identity crisis from a more global perspective. In his memoir A Man of Two Faces, Nguyen reflects on the painful contradictions he has experienced as both a displaced refugee following the Vietnam War and an American citizen. He writes addressing the reader and himself, too: “You do not suffer from an identity crisis, because American individualism and Vietnamese collectivism war within you.” The “so-called identity crisis”, the author asserts, is in fact a “political crisis” that ensues generation to generation because “it is not innate to be divided” as people and as a world.

— ♡ —

I don’t yet have the answers for my diaspora feelings, and I don’t think that I will soon, if ever. Just the opposite: I anticipate continuing to struggle with who I am and who I want to be, as an Asian American and as a young woman and as a person, throughout my grant year in Korea. If there are answers at all, I don’t think that they will be as cut and dry as my questions might make them out to be. But I take heart in knowing that all of our stories are steeped in more than what broad categories and easy classifications may reveal. I take heart in knowing that my doubts and fears, so isolating in the echo chamber that is my head, are not mine alone. And I take heart in knowing that as I move through new experiences, I walk closer towards my own 봄날 (Spring Day): to finding what is meaningful to me, to defining my own narrative, to embracing the passing of the seasons, and to welcoming my own change.

Until next week ~ all the love,


  1. CLAIRE! Oh my god congrats on earning this Fulbright! I have several friends both from undergrad and from my masters program who have gone through a Fulbright and I'm certain that you'll learn so much. I'm also currently living abroad and have felt the tug towards my blog to reconnect and reflect on the experiences (though your experience with diaspora/teaching is of course very different from my masters in scotland). You're always welcome in my dms to talk things out. Sometimes it feels like the time we connected via zoom bookclub during COVID-19 was a blip in the timeline...but then I read things like this and am reminded that even how fleeting a connection it only takes a moment to reach back out. best of luck always <3

  2. Wow! What an amazing opportunity for you, Claire! Congratulations.

  3. This sounds like a hard, yet amazing journey (both in the physical and metaphorical senses), and I hope it will help you get the answers you're looking for. In the meantime, congratulations!

  4. Congratulations on such an amazing opportunity. I can understand the trepidation about undergoing the journey. You’ve moved to a new country with a different culture than you have grown up in. Although you have been used to uprooting your life with your family growing up I imagine nothing can quite prepare you for the change of moving to a new country without your family and friends. With so many new things all at once I can imagine it’s difficult to know how to feel but it’ll be interesting to see how things progress.

  5. Hi, Claire! This was such a joy to read, I hope you're settling in well and adjusting to the new place :) I felt you so much when you talked about missing home, less in terms of a place, but the people? I definitely experienced something similar when I moved in August of 2022, it was the first time I really felt like I was "homesick" but not for a place, really just a community of people I'd built up? It's that weird thing of growing up somewhere that you don't consider your home, at least culturally, until you leave it and realize that somewhere along the way the people that you met and grew close to did become a home of sorts. I can't wait to read more about your experiences in Korea, I wish you all the best and congrats on the opportunity!