When I was 7, my family suddenly moved from Hong Kong to South Korea, and I was unceremoniously thrust into an unfamiliar culture. Until I memorized all the basic phrases, I feared going anywhere alone: My mom became my translator at taekwondo classes, my spokesperson at family gatherings and my tour guide around Seoul.
As I grew older, I still felt like a foreigner in my own country. My parents insisted they accompany me on all errands including passport renewals, bank visits and haircuts, where my mom would tell the hairdresser what I wanted, and they would always get it wrong. These experiences led to a sense of resentment that I didn’t quite know how to place.
As I got ready to leave for Northwestern last fall, I knew that my life plans did not include calling Korea home; I made my peace with that. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I felt the weight of Seoul lift off my shoulders when I landed in America.
With an unexpected 10 months at home, I have the chance to make amends with Seoul. As my 19th birthday approaches, I can now drive to destinations myself. Taxi drivers don’t ask where I’m from, and I tell the hairdresser exactly what style I want. I spent the summer ordering wine in restaurants where I used to sip orange juice and realizing that just because I entered this city feeling helpless, that doesn’t mean I have to leave it that way.