On the Border: France and Germany

Au Pont St. Martin in Petite France, Strasbourg, France, July 5, 2019.
Two years later… Au Pont St. Martin in Petite France, Strasbourg, France, September 24, 2021.

Two years ago, I visited Europe and toured the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. I also visited France, or more specifically Petite France in Strasbourg, France, for about 30 minutes – just enough time to take a couple of photos but not enough to be able to proudly say “I’ve been to France!” Moreover, I didn’t get the impression that Petite France was actually a part of France because it was different from what I imagined France to be through the films and artworks I had seen. Nevertheless, Petite France was undeniably, breathtakingly beautiful. The river flowing through the city, the colorful architecture, the bright flowers – everything about the city came together harmoniously to create the picturesque quarter of the city of Strasbourg.

I chose to study abroad in Strasbourg, not only because I wanted to visit Petite France again, but because of its close proximity to Germany, both geographically and historically. Upon my arrival in Strasbourg, I learned about its very unique culture and history as part of Alsace, a region that was constantly being disputed between France and Germany. I was drawn to this aspect of Strasbourg’s history because I felt that I could relate it to the question of identity, which fascinates me as I have been on my own quest to discover my Korean American identity. Since I grew up in America, I often felt disconnected from my Korean heritage, but I was able to access Korean culture through the language, music, films, and food. This also created in me a dual identity in which I felt culturally more Korean, but socially and politically more American. When I visited Korea for the first time in 2018, I realized how different I was from Koreans who were born and raised in Korea. In Korea, I felt more American, but when I was back in America, I felt more Korean. I am learning to embrace this unique identity, which is neither completely Korean nor American, but a blend of both cultures.

In comparison, I expect the Alsatian identity to be a much more complex melange because the region alternated multiple times between French and German control. I learned that the Alsatian dialect is very distinct and that much of the architecture in Strasbourg reflects German influence. I would like to discover how Alsatians feel about Alsace being officially a part of France and whether they ever felt neither fully French nor German. I also hope to talk with the younger generation of the Alsace region and gain perspective on their feelings toward Alsatian culture – whether they feel a strong connection to it or if they identify as just French. I could relate these discoveries to the sentiments of second or third generation Korean Americans who, I’ve often found, do not share a strong connection to their Korean roots. 

In addition to writing about my research on the history of Strasbourg as the capital of Alsace, I plan to include my own personal experiences. As I was preparing to go to France, I wondered what it would be like for me to live in a country where I do not speak the language fluently, and where I clearly do not look like I belong (whereas in Korea people never questioned if I was a foreigner). After arriving here, I made an effort to find a community outside of my program in which I could meet the locals and become integrated in French culture and society. I was able to meet many French and international students from all over the world in my classes at Sciences Po Strasbourg, in a choir called La Cohue, and at Trinity International Church of Strasbourg. I also found a Korean church where I met families that have lived in France for many years, as well as students who came from Korea to study for a short period of time. Though I know I will face many challenges trying to adapt to a lifestyle that is completely foreign to me, I believe these communities will help me feel at home and, most importantly, help me improve my French! 

Finally, I plan to include in my blog posts observations on how the French have been reacting to and adapting during the coronavirus pandemic situation. There have been many protests against the French Health Pass, which is a QR code indicating one’s vaccination status, and is mandatory to show if one wants to dine in a restaurant or enter a government building. When I was studying in Korea last semester, they also had a similar regulation in which everyone needed a QR code with their personal information so the government could contact them if there were COVID cases found in restaurants or other public facilities. However, I did not observe strong resistance from the Korean people against their government like I did in France. I am interested in the differences in culture and tradition that influence public sentiment toward government actions in France, South Korea, and the U.S. Therefore, I will try to make comparisons throughout my posts between my experience living in France as an Asian American to my experience studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you!

Sunset on the River Ill, Strasbourg, France, September 4, 2021.

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