Life in a Suitcase: Christina
“Life in a Suitcase” is a series focused on sharing the stories of immigrant students, staff and faculty members at Brandeis, with the hope that it will encourage people to adopt a different perspective on a controversial issue.
Christina’s parents met in Australia while attending an English learning program. Shortly after, they moved to Korea, where they “dated a bit and then got married,” Christina explained. In an attempt to maintain and improve the language skills that he had gained abroad, her father chose to attend Ohio State University a few years later. Christina’s mother moved with him, and in January of 2001, Christina was born at the Ohio State University Hospital, where she received a lot of attention from the nurses for being the only Asian baby. Two years later, her father decided to attend Columbia University to pursue his master’s degree, and her family settled in New Jersey where they remained until Christina finished fifth grade.
Christina recounted that during their time in New Jersey, her parents faced racial discrimination for being Asian, which made their everyday interactions with others difficult. Her mother also deeply missed her family and Korean culture. In 2011, when Christina was 10, her family decided to return to Korea. Christina struggled with the anxiety that often accompanies the moving process and recalled that it was hard to “leave [her] friends and [her] school.” Upon their arrival, her family was faced with a difficult choice: should they, despite financial concerns, enroll Christina in an international school, or would it be better for her to attend a public school? Her parents were worried that she would forget how to speak English, a common occurrence among others who had moved to Korea at a young age. They ultimately decided to send her to an international school, where she would be instructed in English.
While her parents were anxious about choosing the right school for her, Christina’s difficulties centered around adjusting to Korean culture. She remembers struggling because she only knew “very basic” Korean, and strangers often looked down on her for not being able to speak at the level that other children her age could. Christina mentioned that, as a result, she “lost a lot of confidence” because every time she “would try to talk, people would pick up on the fact that [she] didn’t speak Korean properly.”
Eventually, Christina adjusted to her new life. She spent her teenage years in Korea, getting to know the culture that she had previously only seen from afar. During her senior year of high school, she decided to attend a university in the United States, disliking how “test oriented” the Korean education system is. Once again, Christina faced the stress of moving to a new place. Upon her arrival, she recalled not being able to “speak English, even though [she] knew the language.” During those first few days, she abstained from speaking, letting her father do most of the talking in her place.
Asked about the most surprising elements she has encountered so far at Brandeis, Christina jokingly discussed the lack of seasoning in the dining hall food, how tall most people are and the abundance of dogs around campus. In a more serious tone, Christina mentioned how much she loves being able to “start off a conversation with strangers without them thinking that [she is] trying to sell something to them, or convert them to a different religion.” She also enjoys being able to interact with people of varying ethnicities and nationalities, especially because “the presence of foreigners in Korea is not prominent.” Furthermore, because, according to Christina, Korea is “very conservative in terms of sexual matters,” she had only been exposed to the concept of LGBTQ+ people through social media. She said that initially, it was overwhelming and shocking to see how prevalent and accepted the LGBTQ+ community was on campus and to realize that she didn’t need to “fit into a box to be considered normal.”
It’s been a couple of months since Christina moved to the United States. She mentioned that she was “really homesick the first few weeks” and “called [her] parents every day and spoke to them for several hours.” She added that “the friends [she] made in International Orientation have made [her] transition easier” and have allowed her to “learn a lot about different cultures,” something she would have “never been exposed to in Korea.” Interacting and spending time with other Korean students has also helped her adjust. Speaking Korean and eating Korean food, she said, have allowed her to feel “at home.”
In the future, Christina plans to work in the United States or any other English-speaking country because, while her speaking skills have greatly improved, she does not know how to read or write well in Korean, something that would greatly affect her professional performance if she were to work there. Christina also hopes that her parents will move to the United States once they retire, so they can all live together again. In the meantime, she will continue to pursue a degree in Computer Science in the hopes of becoming a data analyst.
This week’s story:
Name: Christina Kim
Current position: Member of the Class of 2023
Year of immigration: 2011, 2019
Country of origin: South Korea
Languages spoken: Korean and English