Class of 2021
University of Georgia
Jenny Kim’s AAA Essay:
The faint sound of Korean from the Kitchen piqued my interest. My parents were talking to family-friends who had come by to visit. I understood all that they were saying, and they have known me since I was young. But I dreaded their company. Sooner or later they would talk to me, expecting me to reply back in Korean. A language I had no grasp or proficiency in. I felt nervous and wary; how would I answer them?
America has traditionally been referred to as a “melting pot,” welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities, and a better way of life, and I was in the mix. I was born and raised in the United States, a great country that I am proud to be a citizen of. My parents are from South Korea who moved to America to pursue a better life. When asked what ethnicity I am, I would answer “Asian” or “Korean”, but what about my American background? Facing an identity crisis, I was a vagabond seeking a place to settle. I was left with conflicting identities.
Two different cultures from vastly different hemispheres clashed, and I was in the middle of it all. When I walked out of my house, I was an American, speaking English and eating American cuisines, and when I walked back in, I was Korean. My parents instilled the Korean morals, disciplines and culture. But it wasn’t enough. My small town of Brunswick did not have the vibrant Korean community, and I had no contact with the culture and language outside of the confines of my home. My Korean heritage was endangered.
Born in America, I spoke English, but my parents tried to incorporate their mother-tongue into my life. However, their efforts were futile. Assimilated to the American culture, I spoke, wrote, thought, read, and dreamed in English.
My siblings and I conversed in English, and even in my dreams, I spoke English. Though my parents would speak to me in Korean, I would reply in English. Knowing English was enough, right?
However, my perspective changed, when I was asked to speak Korean by others. Most people assumed I was fluent in Korean and that I was a non-native, but it was the exact opposite. I became more aware of the language barrier that existed. An impediment between trying to be part of two worlds that I was not completely compatible with; I didn’t have the skin color to be considered “American,” and I didn’t know the language to be Korean. But America was not about assimilation, it was moving toward the trend of multiculturalism.
After this revelation, I was determined to get my roots back and for the past five years, I have learned to understand, read, and speak Korean to fluency. By doing so, I was able to keep a part of my cultural identity and a sense of community with other, older Koreans who did not speak English or speak it well. My determination to understand and embrace my ancestry has helped me to develop a closer relationship with my parents.
My most memorable moment was when I embraced both my identities as a “Korean-American”. I may have started off as ignorant, but through the realization of being part of two different cultures, I was able to interconnect them. I am proud to be bilingual and represent two countries at the same time. The “melting pot” didn’t apply to me, but it was more of a “mosaic” that included mixtures of various ingredients that keep their individual characteristics, a multicultural mosaic.
Ultimately, this has allowed me to hold onto my dual heritage, gain confidence, and feel a sense of acceptance in both the American and Korean community. It was not just about learning the language but also about finding contentment with who I am. It has taught me the significance of holding onto one’s roots because that’s what makes you unique.