Living in the World They’ve Never Experienced

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A friend of mine – let’s just call her Jane – is a so-called “international student” in America, working on her MA and PhD degree at U-Penn.  Recently she finished her MA and went back to America to work on her PhD.  As Jane’s mom drover her to the airport, they started chatting.  The topic soon went to her MA graduation:

Jane’s Mom: You see, the professors’ gowns were really pretty.  I guess Harvard is actually a better school than Columbia or U-Penn, indeed.  Like, the Columbia and U-Penn gowns were all strange blue and not as pretty as I thought.

Then Jane started to cry, saying

Jane: What, are you ashamed of me because I went to U-Penn, not THE Harvard?  Did you want me to go to better school?  I could have gone to Harvard, and I picked U-Penn because you talked about tuition all the time!!!

Her mom is not very sure what she did wrong (or, I suspect she thinks her daughter is being sensitive).

As someone who went to boarding school away from parents for many years, I can totally see why Jane was so hurt.  Living away from family and going to school bring lot of stress.  All the other kids can just call up their parents, and they will be there in a day or so.  Not us, though.  Our family is 13+ hour flight away from school, so you are pretty much on your own.  There’s no safety net and we know it.  On the top of that, non-citizens constantly have to update and care about all the regulations and stuff, especially because it is getting so much tighter and tighter (all thanks to Bush and Islamic extremists – go to hell, all of you).  Of course the local kids don’t have that.  After all it’s their country.  This goes on every single day.

On the top of that, the Korean culture is all about connecting their kids’ school name with keeping the family’s face up, and indirect communication.  Parents complimenting or supporting their kids’ choice is scarce, when compared to western countries.  I don’t know for how long my mom pestered me for not going well-known (in Korea) Ivy schools and choosing a lesser-known (in Korea), mid-sized college.  I had to repeat that I want to be where I like for four long years, and I want to do what I want in college.  Well, if it worked at one shot, I didn’t have to repeat myself, right? And honestly, I can’t really think of times when my mom complimented me.  I can think of so many times of her screaming at me, though.  Which I will blog in detail later on…

Long story short, parents, please keep in mind that your kids know how Korean culture is all about school names and keeping up to the family expectation.  And also do keep in mind your kids are living in a world that you have never experienced and will never know every day, with great amount of stress, knowing that they don’t have safety net like other kids around them.  Please do not think they are all fine.  Just let them be and let them relax in peace.

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3 responses »

  1. I use to hate when my fellow classmates could just hop in a car and be to their parents house in a couple of hours. Where as I only got to go “home’ every summer and Christmas. I had to wait hours upon hours in airports, just wishing that the plane wouldn’t get delayed or have some other sort of malfunction (which was not the case on one my last flights overseas). I remember my folks changed my plane ticket to come home sooner than expected and I had to go through ALL kinds of security and the TSA people kept looking at me asking, why are you in this high risk security line….haha!

    It must be difficult to feel the pressure of going to the most prestigious schools or being in with the right crowds. It reminds me aristocracy and being in “high society”. Do you think as we become more globalized that parents of different cultures will start understanding the pressure their putting their kids under? Or do you think culture and traditions will win out?

    • So you do know what it feels like! 🙂 When local kids are in some kind of trouble, they can just call up there mom/dad, and their parents will be at school, ready to have a talk with the faculty. Well, my parents would have taken 2 days!! Or their parents always helping kids moving in and out, while I had to battle with boxes after boxes on my own…

      Well, to begin with, Jane was always academically smart. She has been a straight A student. I think her mom just said it, but unfortunately Jane was so stressed out – academics and also the stress of living on your own in a foreign country. But usually parents don’t really know this.

      I think eventually this will change, since nowadays school names don’t really guarantee anyhting in massive, unprecedented recessions like this. I am sure you know about Asian parents, but Asian people tend to put a lot of emphasis on academics, and also thinks family as a whole, not as a group of individuals (thus the “family shame” comes). But the change will take so much longer in Asia than Asian communities in western hemisphere. In Asia, school connection stretches every single corners of the society – which is also one of the reasons of my employment difficulty here. So basically which school you go to determines a lot of the kinds of people you will hang out and the kind of job you will have. If you are Korean living in Korea, you can’t give that up.

  2. One of the last classes I had before I graduated was with an American professor who had the opportunity to live and teach in Korea. He said that Koreans will choose a path (as far as study/career) and never change their minds throughout the course of study. I know that concept would be incredibly foreign to a lot of westerners.
    I have read and heard a lot about Asian culture being that they are a collectivistic culture. Whatever one person does, it affects the group as a whole. I can imagine it would be difficult if not impossible to change the mindset of Asian culture. That’s like saying change an entire culture of a race to think and be different. However, Asian communities in the western hemisphere may integrate the culture of their current location and start to shift the way they do things. It’s the majority that have “issues” with change. Do you feel your parents fall into traditional Korean or have the adapted some Western traits at all?

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