I was born in Korea but moved to Argentina when I was three, where I grew up until the age of nine. In pictures of that time, I see a small girl playing in the park, oblivious to her surroundings, with a mischievous little boy, my brother, in the background. Looking back at this time I was like a seed: full of potential, but at the mercy of my environment. Ready to grow, but in need of nourishment and care.
The wood that doesn’t bend is broken, they say, and so it was for me. As we moved from Argentina to the States I found new friends, and like a small green shoot of bamboo eager to reach the skies, I grew roots, settled in and held on, and grew into my environment. I took English classes, adapted a California accent, made friends, fell in love, had my heart broken, and as I watched the sun set over the ocean, I felt at peace and fortunate to have made this place my home.
Some years later and as an adult, I knew that the luck that brought me to California would cause me to leave it once again. At the same time, I felt anxious. One doesn’t just uproot a tree and replant it elsewhere without damaging its roots, breaking off a few branches, or cracking the bark. When I left California with my partner to move to Japan, Belgium, England, and now Korea, I felt disoriented and unsure if I could call any of these new places home again.
Like any plant that is potted and re-potted and moved to a different garden, I had to adapt to my new surroundings and grow beyond my limits. I changed my career: from fashion design in California to becoming a chef in England to photography in Korea, and I used my creative skills to overcome my nostalgia in unfamiliar environments. The process of adaptation was often a painful one, with plenty of room for misunderstanding, but slowly and steadily I observed, learned, and understood, until I was ready to invite friends in, cook a warm meal, capture a fleeting moment in a picture, and repay the kindnesses that I received one at a time.
As time passed and I moved from place to place, I have learned to find small joys in unexpected places, to help strangers and to be helped in turn by strangers that turned out to be really good friends in disguise, to share food, to be invited and to invite, and sometimes just to observe from a distance. Wherever I went, I learned to see the forest for the trees and to move past shallow differences. On the other hand, I’ve also learned to look out for people that were once like me: about to step into the world, full of dreams but unsure at the same time, and to provide them with the nourishment and encouragement that I received along the way.
Thanks to my partner who continues to find me in these beautiful words, jointly written for Popopo magazine.