N: Where did you grow up, and how would you describe this community?
J: This community?
N: No, your childhood community. You can talk about all of your different ones.
J: Agh, I don’t even know what counts as childhood.
N: Start from the beginning!
J: I was born in Wales, super random. I stayed there for a couple of months. I came to Korea and then lived with my grandparents for one year, and then I went to Wisconsin, with my parents this time. Stayed there for six months, went to pre-K, and started to—not learn, but acquire English, like the way babies do. But then we had to move again, so I came to Korea. So I lost English, sad. But anyways, I grew up in Korea, and in ninth grade we moved to New Jersey. So childhood: probably Korea, but I went to two different kindergartens, two different elementary schools, two different middle schools, and two different high schools! And then we moved around, too, so I would just say Seoul as a whole. My childhood, um. I think I used to be really shy, and very careful, and law-abiding.
N: Because of your community? Or just…
J: Just… yeah, just, like, personality-wise. Which is actually very different from now.
N: So you’re no longer law-abiding?
J: I’m no longer—I used to be so… I used to be all about regulations and following small rules.
N: Can you talk a little bit about moving?
N: Each time.
J: Um, in terms of school, I think my parents were always trying to get me to a better school. That doesn’t actually mean competitive, but just, like, better. And it always ended up like—in hindsight, I always really appreciated each move. In terms of physically moving, I think it was natural. And we ended up staying in one place starting in my second or third grade, so that was pretty stable. I think it’s pretty different than in America, because I don’t have a specific place I belong to in Korea, and it’s just Seoul or Korea as a whole community. I was an only child, so, um. I remember… um, oh my god, I can’t. Yeah. So my childhood was pretty happy, and naive, and very privileged in hindsight. Because I could get anything I want. And I was an only child too, so like… yeah. I don’t think anything was lacking, physically or emotionally. At least that’s what it feels like.
When you ask about childhood, everything that’s happening now just seems so much bigger, and it’s consuming your life, so your childhood in hindsight feels so trivial. I don’t know, that’s kind of how it feels. But I’m sure if you ask me fifty years later about my college years, I’ll have a hard time recounting it, just like how I’m having a hard time recounting my childhood.
N: So you feel like what you’re doing now is affecting you more, shaping you more?
J: Yeah, but probably my childhood shaped me in a lot of ways, but I can’t explain how.
N: What did you mean when you said what you’re doing now is bigger?
J: Like, I think I was saying I had a happy childhood and that I was privileged, but I’m sure during the time, I had my own struggles, and like what elementary—yeah, I remember being like really sad and hurt sometimes, but in hindsight it seems really trivial. It’s really easy to invalidate what you went through in the past. Or trivialize it. But yeah. In general, I think it was really good. But defining childhood… what span of years is that?
N: Sometimes it feels like I’m in my childhood right now. I’m still being formed or being shaped into who I am.
J: That’s very true. But I think I was very mature for my age as a child. And lacked self-confidence, very very much. And… and met God towards the end of elementary school years. So very pure and innocent and passionate and shy and not confident and timid. That’s, like, the same thing, but yeah. Very loved as a child. That’s probably the biggest characteristic. Very loved. Wow, that was a very long answer. Sorry you have to transcribe everything.
N: [laughs] No that’s okay, that’s—more is better, more is better. On a sort of related question, what do you consider your home, since you moved so much?
J: Oh my god. Home? I’m going through a big… that came up very recently because now I feel like I don’t have a home because… so I lived in New Jersey for four years, right? So when I first came to college and you have to introduce yourself, I would just say I’m from New Jersey. And when I was living there, that felt like home. I don’t think I had problems defining my home because that’s where my family was, that’s where my home base was, like my physical house.
Towards the end of first year I started thinking of Korea as a general home. I’m comfortable both in the U.S. and Korea, and at that point I think I could feel—I felt comfortable with the Korean international students and the Korean American students and just American students, so at that point I was like… oh no, retract. I felt comfortable in America, too, but when I went back to Korea for breaks it felt like home. Um. And again, I don’t—the reason why this topic has been on my mind is because my family moved physical home in Korea, and for some reason I didn’t feel sad. I’ve lived there since second or third grade, and I actually felt more sad in New Jersey when we moved after, like, six months. And now—actually, this is getting too deep. I was going to say I don’t feel like Korea is home anymore, because… this is getting really deep. Okay, how can I pack this in a nice way?
N: You can take your time.
J: Now when I go back to Korea, I still have a lot of American values and perspectives. Korea now seems too judgmental, too patriotic—no, no. Too… too… wait, shoot, I forgot the word. Too sexist, what’s the word? About men? Patriarch? Oh my god, I forgot the word. Like, men over women.
N: Is there any other word that means the same thing?
J: No. But that’s okay, I’ll find it later.
Like culture-wise, or family-wise, or identity-wise, Korea felt like home. But now in college—now that my relationship with my parents is also changing and I feel less close to them and my family as a whole—now, Korea feels less like home. And also, I don’t feel comfortable in Korea anymore. I don’t know if you should include this, but I gained a lot of weight in college, and in Korea I don’t feel accepted… or, I don’t know if I can live in Korea.
N: So you realized this when you went back for summer break?
J: Yeah, and winter. So… so that’s why Korea doesn’t feel like home anymore. Because I don’t think I would be comfortable living in it. But also, we don’t have a house in New Jersey anymore, and I don’t go back, so that can’t be home.
So maybe Yale is home! Maybe. I feel comfortable at Yale, but I don’t know if I’d call it home, because “home” just, like, has such a sense of permanency to it. I don’t think it has to be that way, but maybe when I feel really content and stable and comfortable with Yale, then yes.
N: I think that was a very complete answer. Okay!
J: [laughs] You don’t have to validate me every time!
N: No, that’s just me being honest! Okay. Changing gears again. Can you talk about your childhood dreams and what you want to do now with them?
J: Wow… I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I was young. But in hindsight, I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, not really knowing what they meant. I now realize those were ideal, very good jobs. I just wanted to be that… Oh, I think the reason I wanted to be a lawyer was because I had this ideal image like of this very smart woman, successful woman. In general, I wanted to be a lawyer, but now I realize I had this image of a very smart and vocal and 똑부러지는 [ttogbuleojineun]… do you know what that means? Yeah, I don’t really know how to translate that, so… My dad really wanted me to like… he kept trying to expose me to, like, sciences, because he’s in science. At first I didn’t really like it, but at some point in high school I wanted to become a researcher.
But now, I have no idea what I want to do. Which is scary, but exciting. But also, I’m so overwhelmed with everything that’s happening in the present that I can’t really think about the future.
N: What happened in high school and in college, such that you don’t know what you want to do?
J: Oh, I don’t know. In high school, I liked doing research, so I was like “I’m going to major in biology and go into biological research and become a professor.” It wasn’t even forced; my parents did like the idea, but they weren’t trying to force me into it. And in college, I don’t know, I just don’t know if that’s what I want to do.
N: Why is that? When did you decide that?
J: Second semester. Um… I guess it’s unfair to definitely say that road is definitely not for me, just because like I haven’t done research in college yet. I just realized there were so many other things that interest me, and I think now I’m trying to find the intersection of what interests me and what I’m good at. Which doesn’t need to happen at this point. But even just realizing that there were so many other things I was interested in was a big change. And also, I want to do something more meaningful, something with human interactions. So… yeah.
N: Okay. Tell us a little bit about your relationships. You said you weren’t that close with your parents anymore.
J: Oh yeah. That’s weird. Because I was an only child—I am an only child—so I’ve always been so close to my parents. Through each time we moved, or I moved schools and stuff, my family was the constant—the only constant factor, maybe. Also, because my faith wasn’t as strong before.
And then in college I think… it’s the distance, I think, and the time difference. It’s harder to just talk to them and be caught up in each other’s lives. And they don’t relate to the American college experience as much, so they don’t understand a lot of the things I’m going through. But I think a large portion of it is natural, just, like, being independent growing up. But also, sometimes I kind of miss the times when I felt very close to them. Yeah. Do you want me to talk about other relationships too?
N: No, no, go back to, like, your parents like you said. So you said you’re not close to them anymore. Can you talk about when that started happening?
J: I think that started happening last semester actually, when I was thinking about majoring in something totally different or possibly, like, going on a totally different career path, which I’ve turned against now, but back then I was pretty serious about it. I had a huge fight with my parents about it…
N: About changing your major?
J: Not my major, but just, like, my career path. Before I had thought, like, “Oh, my parents aren’t like other Asian parents, and they’re, like, super open and supportive no matter what I do. And they’re not like other Asian parents that force me to be a doctor and stuff.” But I think that last semester I was kind of disillusioned and I thought… I realized previously everything that I wanted to do kind of matched with what they wanted me to do, but still they were very supportive, and I know they would love and support me no matter what I do, but now I know that… I think, oh this is it. In college I started to see them more as humans, and, like, I think every human being is broken and imperfect. And I see that side of them more now. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
N: Because you changed your major, you see that side of them more?
J: Not just that, but in general. I’m just making a general statement about college and why I feel less close to them. Yeah.
J: Also, time difference sucks. It’s either my morning or their morning, and someone’s always grumpy. I don’t call them late at night either when my work is actually done, because I don’t want them to know how late I’m staying up. But in my mornings I’m too tired!
N: Do you talk to them often?
J: Nope! I occasionally send them pictures, and we message each other. But definitely not as often… I don’t call them often, and I don’t really talk to them as often as I would have. But also, that major thing wasn’t the one big incident that changed everything. That was one part of it.
N: Can you explain some of the other parts?
J: Other parts… I think the biggest thing is just, like, the fact that they’re not caught up to my life, and they don’t understand a lot of the things I’m going through, and they probably will never understand it. And me not feeling the need to catch them up to everything.
N: Okay, cool. Besides your parents, then. Tell us about your friends!
J: My friends… my friends are amazing! Oh, you mean my childhood friends? Honestly, I don’t think I have close childhood friends like other people do, just because I moved around. Yeah, like, I don’t really have best friends pre-college. I don’t think it ever got easier, like maybe starting in middle school, like… so, okay. I went to pretty much, like, one elementary, technically two, but pretty much one, elementary school for five years and a semester, right? So there are friends that I could go back to and reconnect in the future, and that possibility is definitely open, but I’m not actively talking to them.
I went to a Korean public middle school for one semester, and then I moved to an international school, and I went to the international school for two years. After I moved to New Jersey, that’s when I first started to learn that people just come and go, and you’re going to be forgotten and you’re going to forget people.
J: But it’s never been easier…
N: Can you explain that a little bit? You said that’s when you learned that, but was there anything in particular that made you think so?
J: For example, I had a very hard time adjusting when I first came to the U.S. So I would, like, obviously miss my old friends a lot back in Korea. But it seemed like they’ve already moved on. We’d still talk and stuff, but their life goes on. So I realized that. And… yeah. And I forget later too, and now I don’t really talk to them. And maybe it’s my bad for not keeping in touch, but I think, but it’s, like, really hard because even as I moved around schools so much, I don’t think that makes adjusting to new environments that much easier, or, like, I still get really attached to people. But I’ve kind of accepted the fact that people come and go. Which is really sad, but it just happens.
And even from high school, so, like, first year or two, I didn’t really have friends, because also I was super shy. And America was just so new, even though I kind of spoke English, and yeah. I was just always so on edge, uncomfortable, nervous, not fitting in, yeah. So, and then I had a best friend, and I had, like, a pretty solid friend group towards junior year and senior year, but also in college now I realize that it wasn’t—it wasn’t that close.
N: There was a lot there. When you said you first came to America and you felt like you didn’t adjust well, was there any particular reason or was it just because…?
J: Well, first I went to this high school. And I had like, I don’t know, not a typical American Dream, but I thought it would be pretty great, like I thought I spoke English okay enough. I definitely spoke enough English that I could communicate, but it wasn’t like I was fluent. And then I realized that everyone already knew each other through middle school, so it was kind of like you do your own thing and no one’s going to help you or notice you.
N: Was it a big school?
J: Yeah. Or, it wasn’t that big. But it was pretty big, because it was a public school. I forget my first high school, but PHS—Princeton High School in New Jersey—I mean, you probably know—I forget…
N: Three thousand?
J: Oh! Probably not that big! Maybe, like, fifteen hundred? Maybe, maybe I should look it up. Or, look up West Windsor South.
N: Yeah, you’re right, fifteen hundred.
And so, yeah, I went to West Windsor South, and then, I just remember just going into the cafeteria filled with people and then not really knowing anyone during lunch. Um, so it was just a constant feeling of that. Like, always being in an environment where everyone else already knows each other, and you kind of have to be on a lookout for, “Oh, who do I even marginally know that I can go up and start a conversation?” even though I was the shyest person? Yeah, not having a comfort zone at all, that was it. And then! After one quarter, I felt like I had adjusted enough that I had people that I could like at least hang out with or eat lunch with.
And then my parents wanted me to move to another high school, because it was better! And objectively, it was better, and I’m glad I moved. But I just… that was really rough. I had a so much harder time adjusting because I already had that mentality that they had extra time to get to know each other, and I just felt, like, so… alone. And it was even worse because in PHS people didn’t really eat in the cafeteria, people just ate, like, on the hallway, in front of their lockers, so it’s not like I could just go in the cafeteria, spot someone from my English class, and be like, “Hey! I met you in English!” and sit down with them. I can’t constantly go around the whole school looking for people to sit down with. So… I remember early high school, very lonely, scary, always nervous.
N: So you switched schools in the middle of your freshman year?
J: Yeah, after one quarter. I didn’t join any clubs first year. Always feeling inadequate, left out, not fitting in. Incompetent. Very self-conscious about my accent. Resentful. Yeah. And honestly in hindsight, even after I had a solid friend group, I always felt very inferior. To, like, the white kids.
N: Why was that?
J: And even Asian kids.
N: Because you were international?
J: Mm… I don’t know. They were just so… I don’t know, I was just always—I was never in the “in” group, you know.
N: Why was that?
J: What do you mean, why wasn’t I in the “in” group?
N: Yeah, and why does that mean you felt yourself inferior?
J: I felt inferior in so many ways. Everyone else just was just too cool, and they were, like, having fun. And, like, pretty, and popular, and skinny.
N: So when you said you said you felt inferior, you said “white,” and “also Asians.”
J: Oh, Asians were just too smart. I would do Science Olympiad and people were just way too smart. I think in high school I always thought of it as survival. The metaphors I would use were all about survival. Very like… I would use ecology metaphors. Actually, don’t put that part in!
N: I’m definitely going to put that part in.
J: No, you’re not! I would, like, always use the word “niche.” I need to find my “niche,” because it was about survival. Otherwise I was going to… yeah. Because it was a competition. Not just for college but just… yeah. In hindsight, I don’t even know how I managed to go to… like, I had such good attendance first year. How do you manage to get every day and, like, go to class on time and endure such a long amount of time when you don’t have any friends? And when you’re always nervous or anxious or on edge… how? That’s pretty impressive of my past self.
N: Was your mental health okay at the time?
J: At this point, I think I was. [laughs] That’s why I feel like, um, yeah. That’s why I relied on my family, on my parents a lot, and that’s why we were so tight. At that point they knew everything I was going through. We would pray together. It was either the second or third day at the new high school, the second high school, and in the morning, we were praying and crying in the morning before I had to go to school. Which is very rare, like, first of all, my parents weren’t that religious, especially my dad. And my dad didn’t show that much emotion. But I remember I was crying because I dreaded going to school so much, and then my parents just, like, extra. They just started crying too. [laughs] It was a very good bonding experience per se. [laughs] Yeah.
Hmm. I don’t know why my mental health was good. I was sad, I was angry, and it’s hard to determine or gauge mental health. But being sad and having depression are different things, and at that point, I might have been sad and lonely, but mentally, I was okay.
N: Okay! Next topic: So as you know, Negative Space is specifically for Asian Americans and Asian American topics. So going back to what you said before about how you felt about being inferior to white people, and then added “and also to Asian people.” You said that was because for Asians they were “too smart.” And for white people you meant… their social life?
J: And sports. I’ve always admired athletes so much. Even now! But not as much. Like, in high school, so much. The way like… how tight they were, like, each sports team, and how they would sit together during lunch. And how they had the… psych? Or when they dress up as the same thing. Ah, shoot. Is that not a thing? I need to do more research on this. But for example, one day they would all dress up as… I don’t even know. Like, Hawaiian, or the next day zoo, or things like that. The strongest image I have is them clogging up the hallway and taking pictures and stuff.
N: What about your friend group at the time?
J: I really like my friend group. We were kind of lowkey. Maybe half Asian, but still pretty diverse. We were on the quiet side and had fun in wholesome and lowkey ways.
N: Can you explain a little bit of that?
J: We only started hanging out regularly in the second semester of senior year. I also joined that friend group really late. I first got close to my best friend, and then I got slowly integrated into the friend group.
N: Can you talk about the demographics of your school?
J: I don’t know the exact numbers. Many whites, many Asians. Yeah. Maybe 50% white, 50% nonwhite. Now, we definitely have more Asians. When I was there, with the new first-years, and of course now. They were just always loud, taking up a lot of space. There were the cool Asians and the smart Asians.
N: And you were both the cool Asian and the smart Asian, right? [laughs]
J: No, I was neither. I just kind of did my own thing. Um. Also, I just didn’t feel comfortable in the school as a whole. Or felt like I belonged. Or fit in. Yeah. But people are very smart, and actually hardworking. Even the athletes, to a certain extent! Yeah. Not a lot of Koreans.
Oh, I remember what I was going to say. Because I lived in Princeton, there would occasionally be a lot of new students, professors’ kids and stuff. And white people would adjust so much quicker. They would be absorbed into cliques. And I remember being very resentful about that. But also, it’s not totally their fault, because I was shy and never reached out to anyone. But I just remember having, uh. Oh my god, I’m not…
N: Resent towards white people?
J: Just towards the situation. And the fact that I couldn’t be as hip.
N: Okay! And how about now? What’s your friend group now?
J: Oh my god! Dude, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this being posted on the website!
N: Just say what you want, and we can edit it later.
J: It’s mostly Asian. And I don’t know if I’m being… it’s Christian, Asian American.
N: Do you think Yale has more Asians, percentage-wise?
J: Oh… I don’t know, but Yale’s so big, I don’t think that matters. I think it’s very diverse that, interaction-wise… I don’t know, it’s just diverse. In high school, we had a very small Hispanic population and I never, ever interacted with them. And the Black population, too. But also… mm… sometimes I do wonder if I’m being too complacent and not having enough diverse friends? But also like, I don’t know. One thing I can say is, I’m more involved with my heritage. I don’t know. That didn’t make any sense. Oh my God, and this “subtle Asian traits” [Facebook meme group] too. Like, I feel like that’s such a… the, the way it expanded so quickly and so much and how like everyone unites, that’s, like, the underdog! That’s what we’re overlooking!
N: That we do have culture?
J: Not just culture! The size, the population, the similarities and connections, the potential it has, and how it’s always considered as an invisible, how it doesn’t have a big voice. I mean, it’s a meme page.
N: Yeah, if SAT is still around in my senior year, it would be a great topic for a senior thesis in sociology. That would be, like, the weirdest thing ever.
J: Yeah, and it’s a reflection of how invisible we usually are and how… representation-wise. In college, I’m thinking more about my identity in terms of my heritage, doing more things Korea-related and Asian American-related. Definitely having more conversations about my identity.
N: Going back to what you were talking about before, how your friend group’s mostly Asian American, versus in high school when it was a little more mixed. It’s a little related to how you’re exploring your identity, no?
J: Hmm. I think it was that in high school, I was Korean, and I was a foreigner. But here I feel comfortable. And I feel very American, too! It’s so weird, because as much as I pride myself in being Korean, I secretly rejoice when people tell me I don’t have an accent. When they’re like, “Oh my god, you’re so American, I didn’t realize you came here five years ago!” And I’m like, “Oh no, stop it, you!” and the Korean virtue for being humble or whatever. But I really like it.
Recently someone told me that, “Oh you don’t quite have an accent, but I can tell that you had an accent, it’s weird.” And I was secretly offended! I said, “Oh yeah! I came here recently,” but inside I would be hurt. Which is weird because I am Korean! Not even Korean American. I am Korean.
Or when someone says KASY board is super Korean. Like, why am I getting offended, if that’s who I am? Mmm. Guess I think even now, or even… it came up in one of my readings for my religion and culture class—how Asian Americans were—I’ll find it, but something to the effect of “forever foreigners” or “forever immigrants.” Basically saying Asians are always seen as immigrants, even the fourth generation. People are going to ask where you’re “really” from, or if they don’t blatantly ask, they’re going to wonder. Whereas white Europeans… if you’re second, third, fourth, they’ll fit right in. Don’t include that because other people can say that in a much more eloquent way and that’s not a personal experience. Yeah. Whatever. Ah, so many insecurities.
It was weird, because coming to America meant so much freedom in terms of appearance. In Korea, they are outwardly judgmental, and they will say things to you about how you look. So in America, I could wear whatever I wanted to, kind of accept diversity. But at the same time, per my genes, I look different from white people. White superiority is so ingrained in me from Korean culture that I admire the big eyes, double eyelids, long skinny legs, yeah. Those two things coexisting. Even now, America is so much free in that sense. Which is also why Korea doesn’t feel like home anymore.
I was talking to my mom, and she was trying to explain how she was accepting and everything. She was trying to comfort me, saying, “It’s okay, because in America everyone’s kind of chubby. You, per American standards, it’s okay.” The way I took it was, like, “Oh, so I guess I’ll never be able to go back—be able to just, like, live in Korea.”
I asked her, “What happens when I go back to Korea during breaks and stuff?” And she said, “You’re just seeing your family, it’s fine.” And I was just thinking about, like, that I can’t even see… yeah. When I’m in Korea I’m super… so I can’t imagine myself being a part of Korean society without losing weight. Isn’t that crazy? I’m sure there’s a way to just tough it out and live, but if I want to live in Korea…
Oh my god, do you want to hear about my plastic surgery? Well, l didn’t get a plastic surgery, but do you want to hear about… no, it’s getting too long and it’s not really relevant to your interview.
N: It’s kind of relevant! But before you tell your story, answer one question first. You said in Korea, you had white superiority ideas because of your time in Korea. And when you came to America, you said it was more freeing. Was there less white superiority ideas in America?
J: No. But that was a part of how I saw people and how I saw myself. It was freeing when I came to America because there was so much more diversity naturally, and people are so much more accepting. You do whatever you want, you wear whatever you want. People aren’t as judgmental as they are in Korea, or if they are, they keep it to themselves. Whereas in Korea, they would say, “You have so many pimples!” or, “Oh my god, you’re so fat!” or, “Oh my god, you’re so skinny!” or, “Oh my god, you gained so much weight, why are you so lazy?” So it was freeing because in America, I didn’t have to worry about how others viewed me as much. Does that make sense?
N: Mmhmm! Now your story about plastic surgery!
J: Actually, that kind of ties into it. I was so shocked to go back to Korea during breaks, because all of the major advertisements—it’s all plastic surgery, and then you go to certain areas, and all of the businesses and buildings and signs are plastic surgery. Oh my god, my story was… am I comfortable sharing this? Probably. Ah, um, before I came to college, my mom wanted me to get it. I said no, and she was okay with that. We went to Korea the summer before we came to college, and I went to a lot of different free consultation sessions. They try to make you feel so bad about yourself so that you buy their product and get the surgery. They take a picture of your eyes…
N: So it was for the double eyelids?
J: Yeah. In Korea it’s so common, it’s not even considered a surgery. It’s not a big deal, and everyone gets it. They take a picture of your eye, and describe it almost like a medical condition, and the way they describe it, you feel like it’s going to get worse and worse and when you’re old you’re not going to have eyes, because it’s just going to come down.
So they just make the situation sound really bad, and make you sound so ugly. Which is their point, because they want you to get the surgery, right? But just imagine what that did to my self-confidence. I don’t know why I agreed to that. And they can’t understand, because in their mind, if your mom agrees and she wants to pay for it, why would you say no? I just had such a hard time explaining why I didn’t want it. Because people just didn’t get it. After a one-hour consultation where they describe how awful your eyes are and how you should fix it right away, they’re like, “Okay! Should we do tomorrow? Next week? Do you want to do right now?” And they want to get that appointment in right away. But I’m like, “Woah woah woah!”
They just make you feel really awful about yourself. Which is, I guess, their job. In hindsight I can’t believe I went to them.
N: Did you know that was going to happen?
J: Yeah, I did. I just don’t know why I went. One guy said, “If anything, it would be a plus, not a minus.” Does that make sense? “If anything, you’re going to gain out of this, you’re not going to lose anything.” I don’t know why that specific quote was so hurtful.
But it’s like, every time I come to… when I’m in America, I think, “That’s ridiculous,” and can’t even imagine that I even thought about getting plastic surgery. But in Korea, that’s what everyone does! Everyone’s wearing makeup, everyone’s super thin and super fashionable. So that’s why… that’s my very abridged plastic surgery. It doesn’t affect me as much now.
Also! Another thing! I went to many different hospitals for the consultations, like, at least five.
N: Was it your own choice?
J: I guess? That’s another thing. I didn’t realize how much of the things I was doing just because my mom told me to. She didn’t drag me, I just agreed to going.
They were so successful, business-wise, which I knew, but because we went to the good ones or whatever, the whole building was just plastic surgery! One floor is, like, for… they had all different kinds of plastic surgery, and they had, like, their recovery wards and like, everything. It was a huge building and every time I went in, I would see people with bandages and stuff. It’s just so normal, in Korea, getting plastic surgeries. I guess now it’s just crazy that, that, I don’t know.
N: So after those five consultations, why was there no sixth one? Why’d you decide not to do it?
J: I still don’t really know. Maybe a part of me was open to the idea of doing it, but for me to make a decision right after… like, they were like, “Why would you not?” They just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to do it. And I’m like, this is such a big decision, the way you’re artificially changing, artificially doing a surgery just to change how you look. Like appearance-wise, not medical-wise. I don’t know. It’s more permanent even than a tattoo, and they approached it like it was even a smaller decision than a tattoo.
To be honest, I don’t exactly remember. But I remember still carrying a lot of that hurt last year during women’s retreat [an event with the United Church of Westville, a fellowship community] when I shared this, and that time I got super emotional.
So I’m guessing, now, I’m more or less over it—or not fully over it, but it doesn’t impact me as much. I tried to laugh it off, like, “Wow, this is such a foreign experience,” and that I could write about it someday. I was really into the New York Times Sunday Review or something, and the personal essays, and thought I could write something like that, because I’m pretty sure not everyone has like… yeah.
My mom was saying it was because I had lived in America that I was “brainwashed.” She didn’t use those words, but basically, like, “You’re too American now. Now you think you’re an American. If you were in Korea, you would definitely get it.”
N: Do you think she’s right?
J: Yeah. Actually, I can’t imagine who I would be if I stayed in Korea. A different person. A very, very different person.
N: What does that mean?
J: Like I wouldn’t be who I am now if I stayed in Korea. I would be so much more shy, not self-confident, probably smarter, more hardworking, super introverted, shy, not able to take initiatives or take risks. It’s hard to imagine those things. Maybe… more fashionable, skinny for sure, put on more makeup, maybe had a double eyelid surgery, and I would be closer to my parents. Other things are unimaginable.
N: Do you think your disillusionment with what you were seeing with Confucianism and patriarchal beliefs… that’s because you lived in America?
J: Yeah! Of course. Small things like going back one break and just being so shocked at how my grandpa was treating my grandma, or common practices like 제사, so those are, like, ceremonies commemorating your ancestors’ death or something. Or even during the major Korean holidays—it’s the women who work. I’m close to my maternal grandmother, and my maternal grandpa is the first of his siblings, so that means everything happens at his house. Which means my grandma does all the work, and she looks over all the preparations. So she just… It was so stressful for her, but that’s just something that she had to do. Only the women are in the kitchen, preparing this crazy amount of food, very specific types of food prepared in a very specific and very laborious way, and presented in a very particular way too, on this table, 제사상.
But when you’re actually doing the ceremonies, only the guys do it. Only the guys get to bow in the front. And after that, everyone eats together. Guys sat at their own big table, while women had their own small table. We couldn’t even sit with them. And that was just so natural, I didn’t even question it until I got to America and realized, “Wow, that was so messed up!”
Even the fact that I thought it was very oppressive to men that women look certain ways, like in Korean, if you’re fat or not skinny, that means you’re lazy. Being skinny is part of self-care. If you’re not skinny, you’re not taking care of yourself. Things like that, I didn’t see a problem with that. I didn’t really think about it before.
And I just start to see these things and it troubles me, makes me uncomfortable, yeah. I still thought of Korea as a home until the body image issue and what my mom said very recently. That’s when I seriously began considering, “Is Korea even home?”
N: Would you say your values right now line up more with American values or Korean values?
J: Yeah, American. But also, is that just my age? My dad was also super radically liberal during college years. Maybe it’s just my age. But I think so. Honestly, probably the most defining values come from my faith and come from Christianity and not from the fact that I’m in America. But probably that too, compared to Korean.
N: Okay! Topic number three: Yale. What were you most apprehensive about when coming to Yale? Were any of your concerns related to race?
J: It wasn’t related to race. During Bulldog Days, I stayed in Branford, and the shower was so small and the basement was so scary, and I thought that’s how all dorms looked. So I was worried about the showers, actually.
N: Haha, I stayed in Ben Frank[lin].
J: But you’re lucky, because then you actually lived in Murray! For me, I went into Ben Frank bathroom and the shower was huge—three times the size of the Branford shower I had to use. So I was like, this is great! Yeah. That was it.
N: That was your only concern when coming to Yale?
J: Yeah. That’s my biggest one.
N: What about your other ones?
J: That was honestly the biggest one. I think because I had such a hard time in high school, I thought, “It can’t be worse.” And it wasn’t.
N: Was it better?
N: Can you explain a little bit about that?
J: Just because after that high school experience, I can reach out to people first, much more actively, and start conversations. And the comfort of knowing that all of the other first-years were on the same boat, whereas in high school, I thought, “All of the other people already know each other from middle school.” Here, everyone was starting fresh. And such a diverse population too! I didn’t feel that nervous—a natural nervousness coming to college, but I found a lot of comfort knowing for everyone it was the same. Maybe not for like, I don’t know, boarding school kids. Mostly everyone.
N: Has there been a period in these two, or, one-and-something years where change was most radical?
J: Change? Oh, change of myself. That’s so hard. Oh my god, I had so many formative experiences, I don’t know where to start. I think one of them is me being involved with the Christian community for the first time.
N: Tell that story! Tell the story of how you got involved with UCW [United Church of Westville]!
J: That’s a super random story that you’re probably not going to include, but I’m going to tell it again, because whatever. So YSC, Yale Students of Christ—
N: You were in YSC?
J: Not exactly, but I signed up for their panlist because I was so confused about all ten different Christian groups. The descriptions are very vague and they’re not going to say “predominantly Asian” or “predominantly white,” like, they’re not going to say that! So I was like, “Wow they all sound the same and I have no idea.” So I signed up for a bunch, and I signed up for YSC panlist. They actually gave goodie bags to first-years who signed up, so two people—George and Nick—came to my suite with goodie bags.
N: Nick Chang?
N: He’s in YSC?
J: Yeah! Or, he was. He gave me a super nice goodie bag with homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies and a nice, sweet, personalized note. Nick just looked so kind and his smile. [laughs] I haven’t seen that smile in a while. I was just so touched, and it was great that I was actually in the suite when that happened. I felt so touched by God. And just that note was so sweet, so I went to some of their Old Campus events and stuff. I knew Nick from that.
I met him again at a non-Christian science event, and he was wearing a UCW shirt. It says, “To know God and to make him known.” So I asked, “What’s that?” And he said, “Oh, it’s a church thing, we have a Thursday night thing, and I’m leading! Do you want to come?” And I went. And that was crazy, because high school freshman me, I would never have had the guts to show up to something where I know only one person and I don’t even know what it is. I just showed up. Wow. I’ve come a long way. Anyway!
The icebreaker activity was so appropriate because it was like, “Pair up with someone that you don’t know that well,” and it was something about having a deep conversation or getting to know them.
N: For perspective, was this during Camp Yale [Yale’s Freshman Orientation]? Or later?
J: No, no. It was later in the year. Maybe October, before women’s retreat, but not that long. Definitely not September. Yeah. The people who reached out to me were Jen Chen, Sarah, and Rebekah, who are, like, the best people to talk to, right? And I was just telling them my life story in two minutes. It was so crazy because, like, at Yale, I’ve been meeting and interacting with so many new people, but this was the first time I felt like I was having a real conversation. Before, I met so many people, but I was being so superficial. But anyways! Maybe I’ll try to find my journal, if I have one. Yeah, it was like the first time, like, wow, these strangers, I met them for the first time, like, five minutes ago, and I’ve never felt like someone was listening to me more and cared. Even after, they were like, “I want to hear the rest! Want to grab breakfast and stuff?”
I felt so cared for. That’s why I started to come out to UCW.
For a while, I didn’t feel like I really belonged, and it wasn’t as good as that large group for a long time, and I felt super awkward for a long time. But that encounter was what kept me going, and then women’s retreat was what really locked me in.
But in terms of change, faith is really integral to my change. Just in my lifestyle, my values, my motivation, my purpose, my vision, my personality, my friendships, relationships, hopes, my strength… just, everything came from faith. In terms of change in college.
But also mental health! Big change in college. Relationship with parents! Big change in college. I don’t know. College is just all about change.
N: Can you talk a little more specifically about your faith? About how it changed?
J: Oh my god, you’re not going to be able to transcribe all of this. You won’t have time for this! Um. My faith, oh my god. Dude, we’re just talking about life. How many interviews do you have to do? Are there other interviews online that I could read? I should have done that. How honest are they? How relevant are they?
J: Do you guys have Facebook? You guys should be posting these there to get more attraction. Like Humans of New York. Why don’t you do Facebook?
N: Um, I don’t know.
J: You should bring it up! Oh, John Lee! [scrolling through the website] Oh, Alice Park! Oh, you go through the whole thing? You transcribe the whole thing? And post the whole thing?
N: Yeah, you dingus! The whole point is to give the whole picture!
J: Who’s going to read all of this?
N: That’s not the point! We have to give a complete picture!
J: This is crazy! You post everything but I’m so not—I stammered so many times! Ugh. But my faith. Are people going to read this?
N: You said you wanted us to post it on Facebook!
J: Not mine!
N: Whose but yours?
J: This would be really convenient though, because I’d be like, “If you want to grab a meal with me, read this first.” [laughs] Free homework. Pre-meal homework right there. That’s why you have to transcribe everything! I thought you were doing excerpts.
N: No, that’s lame! We can’t pick and choose.
J: That’s so crazy, that’s crazy. I feel like I shared too much.
N: I’ll send you the transcript and you can take out whatever you want.
J: [laughs] Um. My faith. I wasn’t really a part of a huge faith community before. My parents weren’t super religious. Oh, that’s why you made those fake comments, like, “Wow that was really insightful!”
N: No, I really meant that!
J: [laughs] I’m dead. Anyways.
N: [looks at Jiyoung’s shirt] What’s Camp Carysbrook?
J: Oh, it’s some kind of camp I went to. This is where I got the fake, fake expectations for America, because it was beautiful. I was the only Asian. Now that I look back at it, it was sort of racist, or some people were racist, but…
N: Wait, what?
J: I was the only Asian at this camp, and…
N: When was this?
J: Middle school.
N: So you were in Korea?
J: Yeah, and then I went here for summer.
N: So for one summer camp?
J: Yeah, and my uncle lived in Virginia. Don’t include this, I’ll tell you some later time. But that created false ideas about America being…
N: This is relevant, though!
J: But it’s getting into too much. Faith. In Korea I went to some megachurch, only Sunday service, also adult service, so I didn’t get much out of it. This is a very long story, so I don’t think you should include it. Because I met God in elementary school, in fifth grade, because I joined this Christian club. But also I went to a Christian elementary school. The teachers—some of the teachers I still talk to, and they’re some of my biggest role models in life. I feel like you should take out the part about faith, because it’s too long.
J: I don’t feel like talking about it. It’s too long. 귀찮아 [it’s annoying].
J: [laughs] Ah, okay, fine. I’ll start from the beginning. My parents weren’t too religious. I went to a Christian elementary school, which was really amazing. Probably one of the most formative experiences in my life. Just because they were so different from other Korean schools. Their focus wasn’t on grades. They really wanted us to grow us as a person, and just core values and stuff, you know? But I didn’t really believe in God.
N: Can you give a little more detail about the school?
J: It was a private school, wasn’t that big. Maybe, like, a hundred kids per grade. We had four classes per grade. And the teachers were all Christian. Or at least, I think they were. Yeah, it was just so amazing. So good.
See, now I’m not organizing my thoughts, I’m just rambling! How are you going to put it out there?
N: What do you mean, how?
J: Wow, I don’t know why I said yes, I thought this would be like a YDN [Yale Daily News] interview [laughs].
N: Excuse me! [laughs] I’m sorry I’m not from the YDN.
J: [laughs] No, I prefer this to the YDN.
But anyways, what was I saying? Oh yeah, fifth grade. Every year, every semester or something, there was a designated activity time. So we have to choose one activity to get in. But they have quotas for each class. So everyone wanted to get into this super popular science experiment fun club, but I lost rock-paper-scissors, so I had to pick something else. And then we had this new “세빛” (세상의 빛) 선교부—the light of the world mission?—I don’t know. A Christian club.
And then, after we joined, they told us that we were going on an outreach trip to Cambodia at the end of the year. So we spent the whole year preparing for that, spiritually and physically. I was too young, so I don’t remember one moment when I thought, “Wow, I’m making this conscious choice to accept Jesus Christ.” It just happened naturally. And at one point I was like, “Wow, I definitely remember not believing in God before, but now I do.” And those two years, fifth grade and sixth grade, were… you know, like in the Bible, how they describe children and their innocent faith? That’s kind of what it looked like. I was so passionate, probably on my brain level didn’t understand a lot of the Bible verses or the songs that we were singing, but I just had such pure passion for God, just that innocent love, all-consuming love. Those were really great times.
As I said, I still talk to the teachers. And they’re, like, the first people, and for a long time the only people, who I felt were… I could sense they were God’s people and they were living for God. Yeah. So I loved them. And after that I went to megachurch.
N: Talk about the mission trip!
J: It was amazing, but in hindsight, it’s like, we were in fifth grade. How much could we have done for them? The Cambodian children. Just because it was our first year, situations weren’t that great. Our bus broke down, we didn’t really have electricity when we were doing worships and stuff. We bonded a lot through the hardship. I wouldn’t take credit for—our elementary school built a sister school for Cambodian children there. And I know there’s a lot of criticism for short-term mission trips and stuff, and it’s a cliché to say I gained a lot out of it than what we gave to them. But on a selfish note, it was a great experience spiritually. Not just the trip itself, the whole year leading up to it.
But I think… I was still too young. We were too young. I remember later years regretting… because for a long time, I didn’t have a faith community, so I assumed that those years—the elementary school years, the fifth and sixth grade years—were, like, the highlight of my faith, the peak of my faith, and I would never be able to be that passionate about God anymore. And I would regret that I couldn’t do more for the children there, that I wasn’t as—that I wasn’t putting myself out there as much. I heard that they’re still doing it now, but it’s more streamlined and not as serving-focused.
N: Not as serving-focused?
J: Like, the students aren’t as… the students aren’t going in with as much of a sacrificial mindset. They’re doing it for the resume or because they think it’s a cool thing, you know?
N: Still better than math and science club, am I right?
J: I don’t even know.
N: [laughs] Talk about your megachurch!
J: I don’t have much to talk about it. I only went to adult service.
N: Even from fifth grade?
J: Even from fifth grade, probably, because back then when I was in the club we would do morning QTs and would read the Bible and stuff. After that, no one told me how to do it or that I had to do it. I think I still believed in God, but I just didn’t know how to—I missed the elementary school times and that emotional high state. I thought I would never be able to just love God more than I did back then. I was kind of nostalgic about that.
In New Jersey, I started going to a small Korean American church. Now that I know you’re writing down everything, um… which I didn’t… I’m afraid they’re going to read this.
N: Don’t be afraid!
J: They’re really scary people. Oops. I’m going to delete that from your transcript. Basically, Korean American church, I didn’t open up as much. They didn’t open up to me as much. Um… Okay, I’ll just, like, tell you. I don’t know if I’m going to delete this later, but I didn’t have a good time there. They were super mean. Um, but I just never knew what a Christian community should look like, what a church should look like, what a Christian should look like. So I didn’t—it didn’t really hit me that…
N: What do you mean when you say that you didn’t know what a good Christian should look like?
J: Not in terms of abiding laws, but I just didn’t feel God's love there. And I didn’t know that that wasn’t supposed to be happening.
N: You didn’t, but did you think about your elementary school? Or how it was different?
J: Yeah, I guess, but that was also different because it wasn’t a church, you know? And I honestly don’t—in hindsight, I don’t know why we kept going there for four freaking years when they’ve hurt me and my family so much.
N: Can you talk a little bit about that?
J: It’s like, they’re very—because they’ve grown up with each for a long time, so they’re super close, so they were not really trying to let me in, but also I didn’t open up, and it was just this weird mix. That’s when, like, I kind of started to not like Korean Americans as a group, because our family or my parents would tell me that… so our church was super conservative and, like, the parents are very Korean, but also the kids reject Korean culture because they think they’re too cool for it, and I kind of looked down upon that, but they also looked down upon me. And what happens?
They were super judgmental, and because it’s so small, everyone’s up in the business of each other. Very competitive. This, like, Korean 아줌마 [auntie] gossip mentality. Always gossips, always hurtful, always rejoicing in each other’s failures. I remember always thinking that my non-Korean friends, non-Christian friends were so much kinder than my Christian friends.
N: Was this in public?
N: All the, the like, you said rejoicing in others’ failures, like… was it bitter or open?
J: So I went back for Thanksgiving, my first year, and people, like, loved it that I gained so much weight. And they were, like, pointing it out in the most—trying to point that out in the most hurtful way possible, while trying to maintaining—like, while trying to pretend like they’re not. Yeah. Which is so annoying. Yeah, so that’s that. Or even, they didn’t like it when I did well. They probably didn’t want me to go to a good college and were very bitter or jealous of the fact that I got into Yale. And they were always in the front always pretending, like, “Oh yeah, like, we’re not doing anything,” and then in the back, like, doing everything to get into college and always, like, comparing each other. I don’t know, it was just, like, very toxic, and I thought that’s what it meant to be Korean American.
Because my parents would say, like, “Oh, like, the way, the reason why they’re like that is because they—the parent generation or the first generation whoever—they moved from Korea and they didn’t get fully integrated into the American society. But then Korea has also been modernized on its own timeline, but then they’re kind of still in the old Korean state because they’re kind of living with each other.
But now I don’t agree because, like, hello, all my Korean friends are Korean Americans and I love them and they’re not super old fashioned, or their parents aren’t all super old fashioned, but that’s kind of…
N: So you disagree with your mother or your parents saying that?
J: Yeah, now, but I think now they would say, like, “Never marry a 교포 [Korean American].” But I’m like, “Mom, literally all my friends are 교포.” [laughs] Yeah. That’s that.
N: I’m still a little confused about that. So you say that church culture—do you think it’s unique, that church?
J: I don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t speak for all the other churches.
N: But like, like, I don’t know. Do you think it represents any, like, fundamental values of Korean culture that just might be not be in other—?
J: I don’t know. I just don’t know. Oh, also, like, a lot of problems I had was how they were so sexist, too. I would always fight with the Bible study teacher. Oh my god.
N: I know what that feels like.
J: Yeah. And what else? Oh yeah. Because I was so small, like, the Bible study teachers, too, like, they were just like college people who could not care less. One day they were just, like, giggling at racist jokes.
N: The teachers? The parents?
J: No, the teacher and the other kids in my group. From that—so actually, it’s very different worshipping God in Korean and in English. For the longest time I had a lot of trauma, not trauma, but I felt insecure about praying or reading the Bible out loud because I would always mispronounce things. Always felt inferior in church, too. About my faith.
N: In that church?
J: Yeah. And it was always so contradictory because they were “bad” people, but they were better Christians than I am. Or that’s what I—that’s how I thought. So I never really experienced God’s people, actually seeing God through so-called God’s people until college. And the elementary school teachers.
N: Good segue. Talk about college! You said a little about how you found UCW.
J: I love UCW.
N: Mmhmm. You said, “Seeing God through God’s people…”
J: Yeah, because you see them, and as you get closer to them, you realize that everybody’s broken and imperfect. But in that you see God working through all of them. And you just experience so much of God’s love and grace. Those are the people that He’s placed in your life.
N: Can you explain a little bit about that?
J: I might actually cut out this whole portion because I’m too lazy to paint the full picture. [laughs] Do you want to include it?
N: Yes. I want to include everything, even the uncomfortable parts!
J: Let’s include this part. So the reason I feel very inadequate to talk about this right now is because—or actually, this conversation has been good. But at this point in my life, I’ve been very—I’m very numb. About my relationships and my faith, and my life. And very unmotivated, and confused, and lost? I guess that’s part of the whole picture that we’re going to paint. That’s that. Anyways, faith… yeah, I think… hmm. Yeah, maybe not in the current—right now—not for the past week or two, but I’ve never felt this close to God before.
N: So you’re not feeling close to God right now?
J: I just feel really numb right now. It’s just been really… good. It’s the center of my life. Or I’m trying to make it. And UCW is very integral… not integral… these are, like, my best friends. But also, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
N: So a very different experience from your time in high school?
J: Oh, yeah! Or just, like, relationships in general, I’ve never been this close to people. In terms of friendships. It’s a whole ‘nother dimension because the highs are higher and the lows are lower. It’s true in college experience in general. I just experience things in a whole different level. And especially in terms of friendships. It’s like, in high school, it’s not that I wasn’t close to them. I thought I was close to my friends. As close as I could get. But when your life is in three dimensions, you don’t really know what a fifth dimensions really is, right? Does that make sense? So that’s kind of what it is. College friendship is just, like, a whole different dimension. So now, I look at high school friendship and realize that it wasn’t as intimate.
N: You know Nick is our Froshpod [first-year Bible study group for UCW] leader, right? On our first day we were talking about something like why sin exists, and he said, like, “Imagine you’re living in a red room your whole life. Then, not only do you not know the color blue, you also don’t know the color red.” Do you think that’s related? Because you didn’t have that intimacy with your friends before.
J: Oh… but also, some of it was that I just feel like it was a simpler time. Now, friendship gives me trouble—not trouble, but it also makes me experience a lot of pain or sufferings in different ways. So that’s why I said highs are higher and lows are lower. And especially at hard times like this, I just wonder if I never experienced this. Even related to faith too, if I’ve never experienced… sorry, I don’t know what I’m trying to say. But once you taste it, it’s like you can’t… oh, that sounds like drugs, never mind.
I meant it in the most wholesome way possible. But once you taste the truth, you can’t forget it.
N: I’m definitely including this.
J: For the record, I’ve never done drugs. That was a big culture shock when I came to America. Anyways. Just because I experienced such a different level of vulnerability and intimacy with friends, that’s probably why it feels okay to be separated from your family. Wow, I did not realize.
N: I don’t feel like we’ve exhausted this topic yet, so let me ask one more question! Why is the community at Yale and UCW so different from your community at your church in high school? What makes it different?
J: Dude, I might cross out the whole thing with my high school church, because what if they see this? Actually, I don’t care. I want to say something.
N: Say it! Say it for the record. Why is this different? If you say that they were just as Christian… what are the fundamental parts that were different? The end result is, you hated that church and you’re in love with UCW.
J: You know, I didn’t even realize I hated it. Actually, that’s more relevant to the red and blue room. Because that’s just all I experienced—red.
N: But what was the cause?
J: I don’t know. I think we weren’t being real Christians there. It shouldn’t be about going to service every week—it’s not about your actions; it’s about your heart. Your impacts do matter, too, but intention-wise… people, I don’t want to put it all on them, because I was pretty… I didn’t do anything right. But.
N: So earlier you said they were more Christian than you were. Did that mean going to church every Sunday?
J: Yeah, and just knowing the Bible. I don’t think that now. Now, I’m even questioning whether you can quantify and compare one’s faith to another’s. Like, I don’t think, the way you were saying, someone’s very Christian. What does that mean, you know? Faith isn’t something you can control. It’s by grace that I believe. Does that make sense? I’ve been actually thinking about grace a lot. Grace is something that’s unearned, that we don’t deserve, so it’s by faith—not by faith—it’s only by grace that we have faith. So we can’t even boast in our faith or how strong your faith is.
N: That wouldn’t change that your faith might be stronger than someone else’s.
J: But how do you know? What does it mean, to have your faith be stronger?
N: Well if someone doesn’t believe, then…
J: Oh, that’s true, that’s true. If you don’t believe at all. But I also think there are different types of believers, because for some people they’re going to go through more ups and downs and doubts and stuff. And I think that’s okay. And that doesn’t make you a bad Christian. And more obvious is your actions, following the rules or laws or whatever, that won’t make you a good Christian. Why did we get to this point? Oh, you were asking about my high school church. Oh, what’s different! Oh, I don’t know. The people?
N: So what’s the fundamental reason? Why were the people different?
J: I don’t think in my previous church, they and me, we weren’t thinking about God enough. We weren’t thinking about, “Is saying this Biblical? Am I following God’s heart?” I don’t think in high school church that we were concerned about following God’s ways. It was just, like, a community, a Korean community.
Which is fair. Even for my mom, I feel like why she kept going for four years was because she didn’t have many other friends. She abandoned everything to come here, and at least the Korean church provides a community. They help you in practical ways sometimes.
N: It’s PHS and that area, right? I’m sure there are a lot of Korean churches.
J: Yeah, I don’t know why we ended up in that one, but it just happened, and once you settle in, like, you know people. And there were definitely nice people there that we received a lot of help from, and I’m grateful for that, even now, too. And also just, like, being graceful and realizing not everybody’s perfect.
N: Do you think your parents have the same thoughts as you?
J: I recently called them and confronted them about it. I was like, “Why did we go to that church for four years?”
N: Did they like going to that church?
J: My dad was mostly not there, because he was going back and forth from Korea. My mom, I think she once had the same thoughts as me, because usually it’s the adults that are more cruel.
N: If your mom believed in that system, the same way she believes in plastic surgery, then she would take that and…
N: Maybe not thrive, but definitely not criticize.
J: Yeah, because I feel like for us, I definitely take part in the blame, because we would also talk about them. But, oh, I think it’s also very big for my parents that they think they’re different from the rest of the Koreans and Korean Americans. And they think they’re better. That they’re not like other Asian parents, and they give me freedom, don’t care about grades as much, things like that. They don’t pressure me, they don’t send me to 학원 [Korean test-prep or academic enrichment academies] all the time. And I think they take a lot of pride in that still, pride in the fact that I didn’t follow any one specific route and just “succeeded” in my own way. I didn’t try to do something that would get me into college, or be like, “Oh, someone else got into Harvard doing this so I should do it too!”
I don’t know how, I did something that interested me and then ended up here. They always take pride in it, but I think now, in college, I realize in subtle ways they were actually giving me a lot of pressure. Just like, no one really acknowledged it. Or, the ways in which I wasn’t that special, or our family wasn’t that special or unique.
They would just say, like, “Remember how we always like do our own thing.” But then I’m like, I don’t think that’s really relevant anymore. I think they always expect me to end up doing well. And I’m like, “Do you have any idea how much effort I have to put into that to get to that point?” But for them, they take it for granted that I work hard and I get good results.
N: This is getting pretty long, so I’ll wrap it up. Last question!
J: Yeah… sorry! I didn’t know, I didn’t know! Ah, I didn’t know that this was like, everything. Anyhow, go ahead.
N: How would you want others to describe you? And how would you describe yourself?
J: Oh my god, that’s a hard question! How would I want others to describe me? Okay, I’m not saying this is how I am now, but I would love other people to describe me as a God-fearing woman, a faithful servant of God. [into the microphone] God-fearing woman! Faithful servant of God!
And also… let’s see. A good friend. I want people to think of me as a good friend. And… what else? And competent. I’m just so vulnerable to my friends, or to others, and I just show my weakness really easily, and in the back of my mind I’m worried that people will think of me as super incompetent. And inadequate. Which sometimes I feel like I am. But I don’t really want people to think that. Oh, and I also want people to think of me as… trustworthy. I think for me, it means it lot—or something I realized in college is that it means a lot for me to be able to share things with people and for people to be able to share things with me. And I thrive off of intimacy and vulnerability, so it really means a lot when people trust me or open up to me. Yeah. And what was the second part?
N: How would you describe yourself?
J: I am very—oh, I also want people to describe me as cool [laughs].
N: You’re very cool!
J: I would describe myself as… lost. But not in a bad way. And unexpectedly resilient. And… work in progress. And… yes. And a child of God! [laughs]
N: Yeah boyz!
J: Do I have what?
N: I said, “Yeah boyz.”
N: You’ve never heard that? When people are like, “Yeah boyz?”
J: You said that? [laughs] I didn’t hear that, I just heard, “Do you have boyz?” For the record, I don’t have boyz.
[Nathan and Jiyoung laugh]
J: Thank you.
N: Thank YOU!