During the COVID-19 quarantine, many people have tried new things while stuck at home, like baking sourdough bread or crocheting. Of course, it’s hard to be productive 100% of the time when you can’t leave your house, so the most popular quarantine activity by far is probably binge-watching TV. When we first started self-quarantining in our apartment in the Boston area, my fiance and I were already halfway through the k- drama Itaewon Class on Netflix. Having to stay home all day gave us the excuse to binge watch the rest of it. Then the second season of Kingdom came out, and we finished that in two days. (Why did they have to end on a cliffhanger again?!) I don’t even want to admit how quickly we got through Crash Landing On You and The King: Eternal Monarch.
My fiance and I are both half Korean and half white, with varying degrees of connection to our heritage. His mother immigrated to the U.S. in the late ‘80s from Gwangju, while my mother was a Korean adoptee who was born in Seoul, but raised in Minnesota. My fiance grew up with more Korean culture than I did given that his mother was still new to the U.S. when he was born, but both of us feel somewhat lacking when it comes to our knowledge of Korean culture and history.
Neither one of us speaks Korean fluently. He can speak and understand more than I can, but he can only hold simple conversations. I tried Korean lessons on Duolingo a few months ago, but I didn’t feel like I was retaining much, so I gave up after a week or two. Language is such an important and inseparable part of culture, and for those who do not speak the language, there is always the feeling of being an outsider.
I try not to judge myself too harshly, because even binge-watching k-dramas offers an insight into Korean culture. While watching Itaewon Class, I learned a bit about racism and transphobia in Korea. The scene where Toni wasn’t allowed in a nightclub because he was black was especially poignant, as was the episode where Hyun Yi was publicly and maliciously outed as transgender.
K-dramas may seem like a strange and non-traditional way to learn about culture and social issues people face in Korea, but to paraphrase Se-ri in Crash Landing On You, sometimes the wrong train takes you in the right direction. Yes, on the surface, it sounds like I spent much of my time in quarantine on my couch watching Netflix (and you would be correct), but I do think it was time well spent. I am still learning. My hope is that after COVID-19 is less of a threat and it is safe to travel again, I can finally go to Korea to experience everything firsthand. In the meantime, I may give Duolingo another shot, and of course, I am always on the lookout for a new k-drama!