It’s been a while since I wrote regularly here, mostly because once the excitement of the wedding was over, I didn’t feel I had much that was Mrs. Kim-ish to write about. My life was focused on getting a full-time job, applying for Mr. Kim’s green card, and worrying about politics (in the USA and Korea). So while I didn’t stop writing, the Annals of the Mc-Kim family have been pretty empty.

However I feel like writing here again now, for various reasons, and today I’m gonna start with balancing time with family when your family’s on two continents 14 hours apart.

Mississippi River
Mississippi River, returning to Korea from a trip home, 2009

First of all, this is easier for us than for some. Both of us have generally undemanding parents, we like each other’s families, and neither of us is banned from entry in the other’s country or something. We’re kind of tight money-wise, but not suffering – we can generally do what we want by prioritizing well. And of course, not having kids yet makes everything easier, from the emotions involved to the cost of plane tickets.

However, there are still some challenges, and since I think we manage to do okay, I want to share our ways of staying close to both my family and Mr. Kim’s:

Background: We live in the Midwestern United States; my parents and sister live in the Southern US, where I’m from; and my brother lives in NYC.  We live here for Mr. Kim’s school, and before that we lived in Seoul, on the opposite side of the city from where Mr. Kim’s parents extended family live. So we’ve kind of experienced this from both sides.

1. Visits

our wedding
Our wedding (Photo by ChristinaFoto)

Before we married, our wonderful officiant, Rev. Susan, gave us a list of questions to discuss as “homework” between our premarital meetings. One was, “How will you decide whose family you spend Christmas and Thanksgiving with.”

We kind of laughed over this because Thanksgiving isn’t a Korean holiday and Christmas, while it’s celebrated, isn’t really for families. Of course we would spend them with my family, unless we were using the extended Christmas break to go to Korea. Easy answer!

Indeed, last year we spent Thanksgiving with my family and flew on Christmas Day to Seoul to visit our friends and family there. Perfect! Although, of course, due to the expense, we don’t get to see his family as often as we could wish.

2. Phone calls

So, of course, we do phone calls a lot. We pretty much call Mr. Kim’s parents twice a month. It’s complicated due to the time difference, so it’s usually a Friday night for us/Saturday morning for them. We do video-calling using Kakao, which is the most popular messaging app in Korea. When I lived in Korea, I called my parents with about the same frequency, on a similar schedule.

Kakao display in Sinchon Station, Seoul, Jan. 2017

3. Messaging

We also use messaging a lot. We have multiple text groups for my family with various combinations of members. We also occasionally message with Mr. Kim Sr. on Kakao chat and email with Mr. Kim’s mom. I can’t imagine living across the world from loved ones in a time before these inventions, especially email!

4. Language Problems

Another problem for a lot of couples in our situation would also be language. Mr. Kim speaks perfect English so unless someone references a nursery rhyme he’s never heard of, he understands everything.

Going the other way, it’s more complicated. I do speak Korean. But. I definitely don’t understand everything. If someone changes the topic suddenly, I’m lost, and since I don’t speak Korean very often, my words often come out in a jumble, with misplaced particles or impolite verb endings. In a typical video conversation with Mr. Kim’s parents, I’ll understand the beginning fine (weather, comments how we look, what we’ve been up to lately, etc.). Then there will be some conversation I get the general gist of but few of the specifics (Korean politics, his parents’ plans for their 60th birthday celebratory travels). Next, Mr. Kim and his dad will veer into an arcane academic discussion on Chinese history or start discussing something from Mr. Kim Sr.’s workplace. Often I don’t understand any of this, often not even the topic. Finally we’ll have a little more general chat and say farewell, once again in safe territory for me.

Korean study page
An actual page from my Korean study book, 2012.

I’ve found that the main key to staying comfortable during all this is just to be chill. I lived in Korea for 8 years and got pretty used to not understanding everything that was going on around me, so that probably makes it easier. If something seems important, I ask Mr. Kim what they’re talking about; otherwise, I just wait out the call and ask for a summary.

In person, I do find some awkward moments, especially with Mr. Kim’s extended family. For example, I really can’t understand his grandfather (which may at times be for the best!). Some of his family members are really good at “talking to foreigners,” by which I mean figuring out how much I understand and figuring out what I’m trying to say. Others aren’t as skilled at this but they are all still nice people so it’s really not a problem, a smile covers a multitude of sins!

Email and messaging are easiest language-wise for me. I love emailing Mr. Kim’s mom (even though I don’t do it often) and her writing is like poetry. If I don’t understand something, I have time to figure it out, and my grammar is better than my speaking. But, even if these are easier, they don’t replace face-to-face conversations!

me and omma
My wonderful mother-in-law and myself in hanbok before my & Mr. Kim’s wedding. (Photo by ChristinaFoto)

Okay, so obviously I don’t have any crazy secrets to staying close to family here. It’s really just the basics, and the main point is to actually do it and be okay with ambiguity. But, it’s nice to outline it here, and I look forward to looking back on it in the Mythical Future Grandchildren Days and seeing how it changes from before we have kids to after!