“Who am I?” This question is relevant in this paper which is a quest of defining my identity. I was born in Korea and while there, I lived with my parents in Buyeo on a dairy farm. We later immigrated to Troy in the United States of America when I was six years old and in the 1st grade. I come from a family of two, together with my brother who has been serving in the US army in Iraq, thus none of my family members had ever lived in the USA. My race and gender has made me different and contributed to most of the experiences that I have gone through, which have also helped shape my life. In addition, my unique cultural, educational, and social backgrounds have greatly influenced my life in American schools. Once we moved to Troy, the challenge was the language, new cultural norms, and different community system, which I had to overcome, just like other Korean immigrants in the U.S. Having moved with my parents when I was young, I am referred to as 1.5 generation (Choi, Cranley & Nichols 48).
I was introduced to a new environment and this presented the challenge of learning their local language together with the culture of Americans which to a great deal was different from that of Korea. The advantage that I faced was that I was introduced to the system at an age of six and, as such, I was able to learn English with ease. To this effect, I can speak both English and Korean languages fluently without mixing the accent of either. Hence, I am a bilingual and bicultural and this works well with my dream of being the best dentist. While in school, I competed in the cross-country team, track and field team, and also in the swimming team where I was able to nurture my social abilities and immerse myself into the larger society. I didn’t know at first that I was working against the forces of racial discrimination since we used to engage in various activities with non-Koreans in these activities (Lee 125).
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The dilemma of leaving the family, familiar environments, friends and own culture before being introduced to new challenges of a new language, new community system, new cultural norms, and new environment has gone a long way in shaping the person I am today. Yes, I am used to the American lifestyle given that I have grown up in it but deep inside I feel that I am a Korean obliged to the Korean community. I had a great difficulty in learning English which to me was more of an alien language since back home I was not introduced to English by my parents due to financial issues. They had to come to America to do business so that they could be able to raise enough funds for my education. Upon our arrival, we received much assistance from the Korean population to the extent that my parents were able to purchase a dry cleaning business in Troy.
My parents came to USA without any professional skills and, as such, I did not come from a well-off family. We had no family members in US and this made my new life a bit harder, as my parents had to struggle in order to at least secure my school fees. My parents’ sacrifice for my wellbeing has had a great impact on my life. I wanted to see the struggles end one day and I worked extra hard in school. Though I was naïve, young, and incapable of fully understanding what was going on in terms of challenges and hardships that we used to face, a time came that I fully experienced it. My parents used to have a dry cleaning business that supplied enough income for our sustenance and for paying for my fees. However, the dry cleaning business did not last for long and finally collapsed making my stay in America even more difficult. The struggles that I saw my parents go through for the sake of my education were a great motivation since I was able to embrace and value education, much like what the Korean culture stresses upon. Indeed, in a culture of Confucianism parents emphasize the importance of education to their children. I viewed it as my duty to achieve the greatest education possible (Choi, Cranley, & Nichols 54).
My parents were concerned with my education and that is why they were ready to sacrifice even their wealth for me. The gift of education has enabled me to achieve the desired social mobility in view of the fact that I am comfortably accommodated in the society without any sort of assimilation. The dry cleaning business didn’t collapse as a result of mismanagement, but rather due to the increased financial expenses my father had to engage in. When I was in high school, my mother developed some complications with her teeth that happened to be very painful to the extent that she had to seek medical attention. All in all, my mother was a strong woman; she used to hide the pain under her beautiful smile. The financial difficulties could not allow her to get proper medical health care and, at some point, appeared to be impossible. In all the issues we went through, she used to comfort me, but in her smile she revealed that something ought to be made right by me and this was what I embraced as my responsibility. Given that her dental condition was a bit complicated, she visited many different dentists, most of who used to reject us due to our financial constraints, thus making even the little we had to diminish but my mother was still strong and smiling.
The financial struggles that we used to go through as a family made me look for work during my junior and senior high school years. I was able to secure a job at the city pool where I worked as a lifeguard due to my good swimming skills. Although it was more of a part-time job, the pay was handy since it helped me cater for my fees. Currently, I work as a nursing assistant at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, which is a local hospital. Additionally, I work as a resident assistant at the university. All these have served a great boost to my academics, since my pay is sufficient to cover the tuition fees.
The experiences of working at an early age have fostered my professional attitude as well as helped me value money better. While working as a nursing assistant, I developed a sense of valuing other people’s health as I used to see most of them without hope, irrespective of their financial capabilities. The low-income earners, most of whom were immigrants, especially Asians with no professional skills like my parents, were the most disadvantaged in times of looking for medical care due to the lack of attention from caregivers. I want to change this and work against discrimination of this kind, which is my responsibility among other duties (Okamura 7). The experience of a resident assistant has helped me manage my time more efficiently and also made me more frugal. All my spending is wisely monitored with priority on most important things, as I am currently am pursuing my PHD.
The Korean population was instrumental for our financial support when my father approached them so that my mother might get the necessary dental health care. Fortunately, we met a generous dentist who guaranteed to attend to my mother’s dental issue at a low cost. However, my father was not into it, as he wanted her to be served by the best, albeit expensive dentist. That is when I concluded that my mother was a go-getting woman, as she forcefully opted for the generous dentist. At that time, I was out of school due to the high fees, but later managed to pay thanks to the sacrifice that my mother had made for me. She impressed on me a sense of never giving up hope despite the circumstances. In her personal example, her medical condition was managed successfully by the dentist who turned out to be a brilliant specialist, despite his low charges.
My bilingual and bicultural knowledge to which I am privy arose from my introduction into the American system at an early age and the fact that my parent inculcated the Korean culture in me. The Korean immigrants in general have a favorable reputation of being economically stable and this has accorded much respect to them. In effect, the Korean population has been keen in offering help to the low-income Korean immigrants. My parents have been supportive in my choice of career, as they wanted a career for me, that is, not only marketable but also licensed. They perceived that my education was the only way to come out of the financial struggles that they went through, as my academic excellence would guarantee future success. Furthermore, as a Korean I have been faced with an amount of discrimination, as this calls for me to work extra hard to overcome the challenges in the job market and in developing my personality and identity. In respect to my hard work in school, the White Americans considered me as a threat to their society as I competed with them for good schools and career (Okamura 13).
The presence of a distinct identity of Korean population has been fundamental in maintaining a Korean traditions and connections with other Koreans internally but expressing the American identity outwardly (Choi, Cranley, & Nichols 50). I want to be the best dentist in America so that I may offer my services to the less well-off in the society, especially the low-income immigrants who cannot access quality dental health care. I want to offer that sense of hope to the society and to inspire the undying smiles just like my mother’s. The experience of her sacrificial love has made me stronger and more determined to pursue my dreams in life. Given the support we received from the Korean fraternity, I feel obliged that one day I must pay for their generosity by assisting new immigrants and the low-income Koreans in USA.
The journey to this far has not been easy. It occurred through hard work and determination that I have been able to survive all sorts of discrimination and financial constraints and get focused on my future and my dreams, which are about to bring fruit. Some White Americans view me as a poor immigrant who is out to deplete their resources and they employ all sorts of discrimination against me. I am often treated as a second-class citizen who is pushy, hot-tempered, hungry for money, and materialistic, while the sacrifice, hard work, and efforts that I have put in fostering the American dream are disregarded. Their intent is to lower my self-esteem and self-worth so that I may give up pursuing academic excellence. What they miss out is that my determination for success in education is grounded on my parents’ financial struggles in ensuring that I get the best education. Hence, irrespective of all their efforts, my destination is defined properly.
The White America’s judgment of me is founded upon collective judgment and they fail to acknowledge that each individual has a unique and different personality. People will never understand our real identity and personality as we carry a lot in the inside, and this is what defines our life. Irrespective of what people, especially the discriminative White Americans, take me for, I know that they are very wrong since their perceptions about me are totally off base. Lastly, life has got so much to offer and the small things that one experiences in life while growing up are effectual in shaping the life of that individual (Min 102). This calls for proper care, norms, and values that will help in nurturing the best out of us. Therefore, above all, I owe my life to my parents and, most importantly, to my mother whose smile, despite of the hardship that we used to go through, was always my source of hope; and her generous sacrifice is the reason why I am who I am. I believe I can be a source of hope and a smile to the poor and hopeless through my dentist profession.
In conclusion, my mother was determined to sacrifice her health for my future despite the financial struggles that we went through. She wanted me to be the best, generous dentist willing to give back to the society. It is true that such a harsh experience that I went through has made me stronger and more determined. I take it as my responsibility to help by offering my services at a low cost that will give hope to those struggling and in dire need for a better tomorrow. I believe that a smile a day keeps the dentists away; that is why I see it as my responsibility to shine smiles to the hopeless.