"Your Korean is so good!" the ahjumma exclaims to me in her mother tongue.
"Well, yes," I start, also speaking in Korean. "I'm Korean."
"Ah," she grins at me, "but not really Korean, right?"
My smile turns cold and I convince my friends to move onto the next roadshop, that there are prettier things in the Ewha area. I silently reassure myself that my pronunciation's fine. That I'm still as much Korean as I am American.
"Your English is very good!" the store clerk, random stranger, whomever praises to me in their mother tongue.
"Well, yes," I reply, also speaking in English. "I'm American."
"Ah," they ponder, "but where are you really from?"
I stare back blankly until they become uncomfortable, hurriedly packing the groceries or awkwardly excusing themselves. I tell myself that it's another case of ignorance I can spin into a story for future gatherings. That I'm still as much American as I am Korean.
I was teased for how bad I was at math and science. I was judged for my stumbling Korean, scrutinized for my tan skin. I was questioned about my unaccented English (and often still am). I felt like I had to apologize for not being Korean or American enough. However, I've since recognized that my existence as a “foreigner” neither diminishes my appreciation for the two cultures I grew up with, nor discredits how I’ve become the person I am today. I’m forever empowered by and grateful for that duality.