Divisions exist, even if we look the sameMy suburban L.A. high school was the most ethnically diverse school in America, yet during class, we were all good friends since most of us grew up together. But outside of class, especially during lunch, one could easily see the racial segregation.
Among Caucasian kids, dark clothing with dark eye makeup, the staples of the goth look, were big. More typical was the Quiksilver or Roxy surfer style.
Black kids sported braided hair and dressed in hip-hop styles. The big, bald guys with white socks pulled up to their knees were Mexican, and the girls wearing eyeliner as thick as their eyes were Korean.
Unspoken rules forbade us from copying other groups. For example, Asians didn’t wear Fubu, no matter how much they loved hip-hop.
Despite all these groups’ differences, they shared a common desire for individualism and independence.
After graduating, I came to Korea for college. As a homogeneous society, Korea opened a whole new world for me. I couldn’t find a single trace of individualism. It seemed like everybody was trying to keep a low profile.
Then I realized that big cultural divisions existed according to financial backgrounds. Koreans were more into brand-name clothing and accessories even though they couldn’t afford them. A lot of college kids were still living with their parents, whose financial status influenced their children’s.
In the summer, Korean college students who didn’t need extra money headed to hagwon to boost their TOEFL score. In L.A., the competition for jobs at hagwon, stores and theaters was fierce among college kids.
When American college kids find good-paying jobs, they move out of their parents’ house, but that is very unlikely in Korea. Moving out means starting off poor. If your parents are willing to provide luxury goods and a nice house, why leave?
Moving out means even more for girls. Those who leave are considered “bad girls,” and that limits their opportunities to find a good husband. At least that’s what my relatives are saying.
Even my parents encourage me to build a good reputation and find a good husband. Instead of moving out, they tell me to save money for the future.
In L.A., I had to act as a Korean girl in a society that was divided by skin color. In Korea, do I have to be the typical Korean girl to fit in?
Cultural divisions and society’s expectations of Korean women prevent them from thinking freely and being themselves. We need to just believe in ourselves and show our own colors.
by Stella Kim
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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