My study abroad trip to Handong Global University in South Korea this past spring semester was an unforgettable adventure. It was an incredible blessing to have this opportunity and every preparation that went into it was worth the investment. This experience is especially special to me and hits a little closer to home because of my background.
I am a United States citizen who was born and raised in the US despite my Korean physical features, which could lead people to think otherwise. My parents have immigrated to the US almost 30 years ago and when they did, they also brought with them some Korean culture, which we practice in our house to this day. Therefore, growing up, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in two different yet beautiful worlds while learning how to find a balance between the two. However, I didn’t know I was blessed having two cultures in my life right off the bat. In the past, I used to hate being a piece both cultures because I could never figure out where I truly belong. I could never be “fully American” or “fully Korean.” But through this study abroad experience, I was better able to understand myself and my cultural identity.
I fall into the “TCK,” label which stands for “Third Culture Kid.” Generically speaking, TCKs are individuals who spent a significant portion of their developmental years in a culture that differs from their parents and have grown to develop a relationship to both. As a Korean-American TCK, it was an incredible opportunity to be able to study abroad in South Korea because I got an authentic experience of Korean culture through the lens of average Korean college students.
For example, during our late-night study sessions in Korea, my friends and I would often study together, order fried chicken, eat together, and then resume studying together. We also had fixed meal appointments where we’d meet a person or a group of people to eat on the same day each week. These norms show that Koreans really enjoy a community atmosphere over spending time alone in their daily activities. It roots back to their collectivistic culture versus western individualistic culture, where in western culture, individuals appreciate time alone and seek to be independent. Since I’ve grown up in the US, I too appreciate being independent, so while I was in Korea, there would be times where I would just have to detach from the group and find myself some time and place to be alone.
There are much more examples like this where I found dissonance between American and Korean culture. There were certain things I liked “the American way” and certain things I liked “the Korean way.” Whether it be my thoughts on things, my approach to conflict, or my position on values, I realized that for me, the root of it all comes from a blend of the two different cultures. The more I realized this, the more I became free because I was not tied down to one culture over another. I had the freedom to utilize both and to gain a better understanding of where I stand between the two. I began to embrace the differences and realize that it was by God’s grace I am able to live with two cultures.
With that in mind, the biggest takeaway I got from this study abroad trip was finding power in differences. Being different is a gift from God and it empowered me along with the other students. It was incredible. I have never met so many diverse yet compatible group of people condensed into one area. People came from all over the world and we were understanding, accepting, and respecting the differences we each brought forth. The bigger string that tied us together was our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and Savior. Empowered by His love for us, we all arrived at Handong one way or another to better equip ourselves for our future. We find refuge in His name because, despite our differences and multi-cultural identities, we all had one identity in God, who will never change no matter where we go.
Thanks to this experience, I now have a better understanding of who I am and a better appreciation for my Korean-American background. I am still learning more about myself every day, but I now find peace with my unique background. I know God has a unique future planned for me where I can utilize both of my cultures to further share His love and to bring Him glory.
Lydia Kim is a Korean-American who was born and raised in the US. Currently, She is studying at John Brown University with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. During the spring semester of 2017, she was given the unique opportunity to study abroad at Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea.