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Staring out at the rain pouring down onto the sidewalk beside the airport exit, I thought one thing. This is foreign territory. Just moments before, I had found myself facing down a horde of about 60 squealing EXO (a Kpop idol group) fangirls. This was my first impression of Korea. Reeling with shock, I labeled this event in my head as something that “Did Not Fit” in my carefully kept box titled “My Identity.” Everything was neatly organized and filed away in my metaphorical box. I quietly played the flute in concert band. Check. I maintained steady good grades, and always completed work on time. Check. I knew a little Korean, but not enough to alienate me from my American friends. Check. This version of myself was all that I had ever known – and I had no desire to venture outside the box. However, now that I had moved, I had no choice. I had officially gone rogue.
Although a South Korean citizen, I had never visited my mother country in all my 16 years of living in America. I was now permanently living here. I ached for Seattle in a way that I felt nobody could understand. I vowed to never call my new apartment home. I realized just how much I didn’t fit in either country. As a full-blooded Korean, I look as if I should speak Korean fluently. However, I was raised as an American. I stood in class every day and recited the Pledge of Allegiance with my fellow classmates. Remembering this as I stepped out into the rain, I felt like an imposter. Who was I? I had no idea.
At first, I was horrified that my new life was so insolent as to not recognize the rules of “My Identity.” I had always been the student that teachers knew they could trust to study and turn in work before the due date. Now, I was a student with no reputation. Not only that, but there was no concert band where I could stay invisible, and my new friends spoke limited English. Just like that, my carefully kept box fell apart. For the first time in my life, I was doing things without planning them.
I may not have needed to be invisible, but I did miss the community that came along with being in a musical group. One day, I decided to start an orchestra at my school, and gathered up a group of people with the help of a friend. We received permission, and thus the first completely student run club at our school was born. At my counselor’s urging, I applied for student council. To my surprise, I was admitted. During class, I began to raise my hand without obsessively planning my answer to absolutely make sure I was right. It was okay to be wrong, I found, as long as I kept trying. It was at my school where I found people exactly like me, people who were also caught between two cultures. My classmates understood me, and I found that my two cultures didn’t have to be separate. I joined Model UN, where I realized that I actually love talking and debating with people. Once, a friend told me that I was the most outgoing and confident girl in our grade. I was taken aback, but I realized that I had truly changed a lot.
Now, I don’t categorize things in my mind’s box. A person cannot be filed away neatly in categories and checklists. I have started calling my new apartment “home,” and I’ve found the fragile balance between my two cultures. I have grown up. I am free of the box.
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