In Search of Self and Happiness
Sun Hee Yoon
"Hi, I'm Sun Hee. You can call me 'Sunny.' "
I speak with medium tone of voice with smile. This is how I start the conversation whenever I encounter new acquaintance. Introducing my original name would be the little hint for others that I'm non-native English speaker. If anybody notices my two syllable name is common for Koreans, I'm very glad. But of course, I don't mind if anybody, who is not certain about my name or curious about it, asks my origin or nationality. I prefer when people asks questions, and verifies the truth with me rather than assuming from my appearance or predicting from their personal background.
Less than a minute, I hesitate how I should continue going on the conversations. No one likes the uncomfortable silence after introducing each other. I try to render many sentences in my head, but the safest and easiest questions seem to be a weather recognition. As long as I stay in the boundaries of the mutual communication ground, I don't feel so awkward.
However, I have a desire to be asked certain questions in order to deepen the overall conversations. Among many others, my favorites are; 'How long have you been in Chicago?', 'How did you meet your husband?', 'What do you like to do when you have a free time?', and 'Is there any meaning behind your name?'
With eight years of practicing my English in total immersing situation, I've had enough experience to answer those questions without hesitation. Finally I'm willing to share these stories with others.
* * *
It's been four years living in Chicago. I can't say it was an easy road from the beginning, but now I can say I'm truly enjoy living in Chicago. What a journey! What an agony! What a drama! What a roller-coaster ride of life! If there's a God, s/he knows how I survived during these four years. No matter how well trying to explain these time, I still don't think it's illustrated enough.
In 2007, late September I arrived at O'hare airport with new-born baby in my arm. My husband's recent job then was very promising and considered a great opportunity for the long run. Previous four years of living in Montreal, Canada was just about to settle, now my life seemed to have other plans for me. Having delivered a new-born in Lasalle Hospital in Montreal was just a month and half ago. Leaving family and friends behind who were my primary support was torture. Not being able to drive while my work-devoted husband's staying late in his office was surely a life obstacle. All the stores, all the products, even language that commonly people speak seemed real foreign, although I spoke English good enough to communicate in general life. From A to Z, nothing comforted me in this time. It's said once we experience the time of difficulty, we finally get comfortable in ourselves. I guess that was the reason why I suffered the ultimate isolation, depression and desperation. It's always hard to imagine to put ourselves unless we went through same situation, but I'm in a mission to describe what it was like, being a mom in a foreign land without any comfort or support, building something from nothing.
During my little one’s first year, I was like a hostage in my own home. Not to mention that I'm much of outgoing person, very social, a magnet to people, but no one was available. No one visited me, no one reached out their hands. The only person that I could interact was my fast growing child. She was the only human being that I shared my feelings, my life at that moment. In a retrospect, maybe this extreme isolation for a long period made me strong at the same time, made me being able to be flexible regardless the situation.
It also came down to a confidence issue. First, I was afraid of talking in English, because I didn't want to make mistakes in front of others. Majoring English Literature in Chosun University in Korea was not helpful when it came to the real conversation in the Jewel-Osco or in the neighborhood playground. I had hard time to understand what the grocery clerk was telling me, so instead of asking him to repeat the questions, I just nodded and pretended to understand. I wanted to avoid further embarrassment. With thousands of times practicing, trying, promising myself not to get embarrassed even if the others don't understand me, finally now I can go to any stores without worries. Furthermore I have an abundance to make jokes with clerks.
The other part of overcoming lack of confidence was learning how to drive. I don't know how many times I cursed myself not learning driving earlier. I never knew not being able to drive was the greatest drawback in Chicago life. Whenever I saw a mom who was entering in my daughter's music class with a dangling car key in her finger, there was a loud voice echoed in my head. 'I wish I could dangle my car key just like her..', 'I wish I could take my daughter in a warm car, instead of waiting for a bus in a cold weather and riding with crowds.'
I tolerated all the inconvenience without complaining, I hesitated enough, but it was time to change. At the beginning of 2010, I decided to take driving lessons. But, I needed to find the confidence in me before driving in the city. I never had any experience in driving what-so-ever, besides I never had any interest or desire to drive a car. But it was time to act, I needed to brainwash myself with this simple sentence, 'I can do it! I can do it!'
After five months of practicing driving a car with a compassionate driving instructor from the driving school, I finally got the driver license. The day I got the rectangle shape of plastic driver license with my shy smile on was the best triumphal moment of my life. However, life was never easy on me. Since our car was stick shift, I needed to practice few more months to drive on my own. By mid-September 2010, I was finally able to drive alone.
Now, the year of 2011, mid-November, I'm sitting on the driver seat, shifting engine gears smoothly, taking my daughter to her preschool comfortably. While she's in her school, I often do the errands such as grocery shopping, picking up books from the local library, and if I still have a time I go to the neighborhood cafe. I like to sit next to the big window. I bring my homework from Memoir workshop or sometimes I just take out my small purple notebook to scribble. Often I get teary eyes because I'm writing my memories from the past mainly. Sometimes my words can't describe all of my feelings so I choose certain phrases and forms them into an impromptu verse. I drink alternately Mocha coffee and Hot chocolate. These aroma and the heat warm me up to create a certain mood to write. I often watch people walking by on the Roscoe street. I often gaze long time to the fallen leaves and dried flowers. I look up the sky and look for clearing spot between grey, dark clouds. Then, my alarm says it's time to pick up my daughter. While waiting in the hall way for my daughter comes out from her classroom, I often get to talk with other parents. Luckily I already developed good relationship with few moms and had joyful play dates with kids together. Building a new social network is something I put into priority after learning a hard lesson. But also I'm constantly reminding myself that the relationship always changes so I shouldn't expect too much from others, just let it be. There are things that we can't control, people are unpredictable, situations are tricky but good friends will stay until the end; I believe in this.
On my way home, driving my stick shift car in the city of Chicago, listening to my 4-year-old daughter's preschool adventures are like my dream come true. Whenever people talk about their dream, it's mostly extravagant. But I've learned the real dream or paradise of his/her own doesn't have to be far away. It's only a matter of finding it in a mundane life.