During a Netflix movie marathon, I came across Seoul Searching, the most relatable yet unrelatable movie I’ve ever watched. A John Hughes-esque 80’s throwback film, it’s about a group of foreign-born Koreans going back to their roots through a summer camp established by their government; the camp served as a way for those who didn’t grow up in Korea to experience the culture of their motherland. The story and the depth of each character was loosely based on a true story, one which director, Benson Lee, lived in.
It was funny, slightly scandalous, heart-wrenchingly emotional, and relatable. It was one of those under-the-belt kind of movies—the kind that hits you in the sensitive areas of the heart. It’s the type of film that you will remember because of the impact it has on you. And as I was getting into the movie and learning more about the essence of each character, I began to see a reflection of myself in the film; I recognized how each of those Korean students didn’t know one thing about their original heritage.
One of the main themes in this film is cultural identity and the search for what it really means for people like the characters in the film, an exploration which is navigated through the camp as the characters fill the gap in their culture and heritage after spending their life in other countries. I was born in Quezon City, Philippines in February of 2000. Eleven months after the birth of my youngest sister in November, 2001, we packed our belongings and left everything—family, friends, and my parent’s childhood memories—and moved to England in 2002 to start a new life. I’m not going to write you a full, explicit novel about my life, but I will tell you about my fluctuating journey to self-discovery.
Like some of the characters in Searching, there’s a broken bridge between me and my native language and as I’m getting older, that bridge is slowly crumbling and disintegrating into nothing but an empty space.
“Saan ka pupunta at sino kasama mo?” “I’m going to a concert with friends.”
“Ay nako, gumagastos yung pera mo sa bagay na hindi mo kailangan.” “I’ve only bought books which I’ll use for school.”
“Anong gusto mo kainin?” “Fish and chips.”
As I was writing this typical conversation between my mum and I, Google Translate was beside me the whole time, assisting me with seemingly grammatically inaccurate sentences. I find this to be a major concern, since language is an important tool for communication and is a symbol of unity and cultural belonging. As my mother tongue is slipping away, that sense of affiliation which I had with my roots when I was young is slipping away with it.
During a trip to the Philippines, eight years after our life-changing move, similar to the feelings of confusion and the unorthodox experiences of Kris Schultz, I felt isolated. The extreme time differences between Britain and the Philippines gave me extreme jet lag, the burning of the tropical sun on my skin made me dizzy and nauseous, and meeting family I’d never met before made me a little uncomfortable. Communicating with people was the most challenging. Although I can understand my cousin’s Tagalog perfectly, I, on the other hand, spoke the language in a grammatically broken way which resulted in embarrassment, confusion and the feeling that I wasn’t Filipino enough. I’ve never hated anything more than being in my own birth country. And growing up within a Filipino household, I felt bad.
This led me to confuse which place I should call my true home: the country I was born in, or the country I was raised in. Like my parents who had an upbringing in the Philippines, and like my friends who grew up in South East England, I wanted a place to belong in. But, baffled between two cultures I adored and experienced and grew up in, I felt that I stood in the center of the two; I was in the overlap of a Venn diagram. I felt that, with my upbringing in a bicultural environment, I had the mind of a Filipino and an exterior of a Brit.
Home is a subjective term, having varied and multiple definitions—similar to how each character of Seoul Searching has different views of the original country of their heritage. Sid Park’s upbringing repels him from the culture, and Kris Schultz feel she’s home but doesn’t recognize her roots. I’m still learning about the world and myself, so this isn’t the conclusion of my journey to uncovering my cultural identity. This isn’t the part where I celebrate my discoveries; it’s only just the introduction. The doors of truth and realization have only just opened, and each day opens that door wider by an inch, slowly revealing the light that is myself. Being young and still inexperienced, I have yet to learn and discover.