Korean, but America

By , Inverness, IL
A girl was born in Daeguk, South Korea on December 31, 1964. A boy was born in Seoul, South Korea on September 17, 1964. While in South Korea, they did not know anything about each other nor did they have much in common. She was born in the country-side, while he was born in the capital city of South Korea. The only thing they had in common was that at 13 years old, their families packed their belongings and made their way to America.

I was born on July 16, 1995 at a hospital. As a child, I only spoke Korean although my parents were fluent in speaking both English and Korean. My parents had plans for me. I would go to school, easily learn English, get good grades, make it to a good university, and become successful. My dad was a dentist, and he would soon begin his own practice with the help of my mom at the front desk. They were already starting college funds. My parents never felt that they were given many opportunities. Their parents couldn’t afford college for them so they were still trying to pay off student loans, and school was always difficult for them. Because they came in junior high, they had to pick up English quickly. They had a hard time in school because of the language barrier and culture differences. They didn’t want this for me. They wanted to shower me with all these opportunities that they never had. They wanted me to succeed in ways that they feel that they couldn’t. They had thought that my life would be easier, but for me, it wasn’t as easy. As soon as I started school, I began to attend a private school that started to teach students how to read in pre-school.

Once I started pre-school, I faced my first hardship. Although my parents spoke English, I grew up speaking Korean so when I first started school, my English was not where it should be. I distinctively remember a day at the playground when my friend fell. Her knee was bleeding, and I wanted to notify the teacher. I looked at her and said, “Teacher, Sunny pee.” In Korean, bleeding is “pee,” but I didn’t think about what that meant in English. I assumed my teacher would know, but she looked back at me with a confused look. She replied, “Sunny needs to use the bathroom?” I looked back at her, and said “No, Sunny pee!” She again asked me if Sunny had to use the bathroom. By this point, I got frustrated. After about two or three minutes of me saying “Sunny pee” and my teacher asking me if Sunny had to use the bathroom, I finally gave up. I brought my teacher to Sunny, who by now, was sitting against the fence crying. She looks at me and goes, “Oh yes, Sunny fell. I know.” All this time, she knew that Sunny had fell and was now bleeding. Pretty soon, I learned to speak English fluently. I am now a lot more comfortable speaking English, and Korean doesn’t come as easily. I grew up receiving A’s in all my classes. My parents began to expect more and more from me. My uncle, who had attended the University of Chicago and Harvard, instilled the idea of prepping me for college in my parents’ minds. In the sixth grade, I had to start memorizing my SAT vocabulary. I went through junior high and high school taking honors classes and working hard for my A’s, although at times, I received B’s. My parents began to trust me more, but they always left a mark on me. No matter what, I always try to push myself and take advantages of the opportunities I have.

Schoolwork, though, is something most people struggle with. On top of being an American, I was Korean. I grew up in my Korean household. My grandparents were not great at English, and the Korean culture was important to them. A lot of Korean grandparents picture their grandchildren as a straight A student, tall, skinny, and of course, good at Korean. I was put into Korean school when I was little so I would be able to retain my language. My parents and grandparents always said, “It look stupid to not even know the language of your own culture.” In the United States, it would be ideal for me to find a perfect balance between the American and Korean culture. I should be able to speak both Korean and English fluently, but as I grew up, little by little, I began to forget Korean. It’s not as bad as people perceive it to be. There are people in the United States that are Korean, but only speak English. Communicating with Koreans who speak only Korean is as tough for them as it is for a person who has never heard Korean in their whole entire lives. I can still speak Korean and understand it, but I am not the best at it. If I am asked what I am more comfortable with, I say English without any hesitation.

When my friends look at me, they say I am a “twinkie.” They see me as yellow on the outside, but white on the inside, but in reality, I am a Korean in America. I was born in America, and therefore, I am an American. At the same time, I am Korean. I cannot pick one and say that that is what I am because my Korean culture is still inside of me, but I grew up in America. In Korea, students eat Korean food for all three meals. In America, families eat “American” food for all three meals. For me, it changes on a daily basis. I’ll have cereal for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and a Korean meal prepared by my mom for dinner. Yes, I was raised differently and the morals of my parents were different than the morals of my friend’s parents, but I love who I am and where I am at. I love having the two cultures around me. It makes me who I am today: A hard-working student who tries not to take the opportunities I have in America for granted, and a girl who loves kimchichigae (a Korean dish) and hot dogs just as equally. Although I grew up telling my teachers that my friend had “pee,” I speak fluent English today, while knowing what “pee” is in Korean. I am American, but Korean.





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