Disconnected Identities This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

July 23, 2012
July 14th, 2006. The monumental day is still sharp and clear in my head. As the first day of a new beginning, it was the day my family and I moved to Maine. The smoky, dust-filled city air and looming skyscrapers of Seoul would be replaced by rocky beaches and lighthouses. At just seven years old, my question of identity was blatant. Was I American? Was I Korean? Was I American-Korean or Korean-American?

Back then, my sister would always ask me, “If South Korea and the U.S. got into a competition, who would you root for?” My answers were always vague. Spending seven years of your life one place and another seven in a different place can be bewildering and confusing. On the inside, I felt like an American. But on the outside, I never looked like one.

In the early years of my life, I often studied my visage in the mirror. The creature staring back at me was often startling, if not disappointing. The flat, dull nose. Those slit eyes of black. Why did I look this way? I'm certain that I was not the only one with this question in my head.

On my first day of attending second grade, many kids stared at me, with innocence and curiosity. Maine is not known for its diversity, and moving to a 95% white state as an Asian student had its difficulties. Golden, brunette, and copper locks harshly discorded with my charcoal hair. Striking emerald, soft hazel, and pale blue eyes gazed at me with interest. Suddenly, I was an ugly duckling in the presence of a thousand beautiful swans.

I was always afraid. I grew scared of being different and weird, and hid my self-consciousness in a veil of artificial confidence. I believed that if I acted like an American, my eyes would become rounder, my nose would become sharper, and my lips would become fuller. Trying harder each day to become “americanized”, I became obsessed with imitating how my friends spoke and acted.

Everyone always tells me I’m lucky. Coming to America at an early age ridded me of a thick accent. Entering a new school at just second grade made it easier to fit in and have friends. But it wasn’t all luck. Years ago there was a time when I would never look into a mirror. I tortured myself for being ugly. I hated myself for not looking “normal”. I dreamt long and hard about waking up one day and being the all-American, blonde cheerleader all my friends were going to grow up to be.

As I matured, I let go of those dreams. Slowly, my differences were accepted as unique; my friends often marveled at my stick-straight, sleek hair and my math skills usually astounded my teachers. I developed a sense of nonchalance at those who continued to gape at the way I looked; I focused on mastering English and most importantly, having fun. The ability to make new friends quickly gained on me, and on top of that, I am bilingual. I carry my Korean ethnicity with pride, but my American side is also a huge part of my life. Being comfortable in an environment is good, but pushing yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in an unfamiliar situation takes true courage.

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