Lessons from my immigrant experience in navigating change

Much like living, being an immigrant is a chronic condition

Image for post
Image for post
Me and my parents in Korea before we immigrated to Canada.

To be an immigrant is to live inside a poignant sitcom

Like when my mom really misses these cookies she used to eat in Korea, so she parts with too many of the precious pennies she saves from tearfully scrubbing bathrooms to buy her favorite sweets. She presents them proudly to me and my father after Sunday night dinner a couple of months into our new lives in Toronto, Canada.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

To be an immigrant is to be a fierce survivor

My mom was a chemistry major at Ewha, “the oldest women’s university in Asia,” she always says every single time she mentions her alma mater. She had wanted to study medicine when she immigrated to Canada, but her “Manpower” immigration officer told her that Canada was letting in immigrants to work hard, not to take the spot of real Canadians in medical school. So even though she was a Canadian citizen, she thought immigrants couldn’t apply for educational opportunities. She only found out decades later that this was a lie. Imagine making such big decisions based on such a careless, cruel falsehood. Imagine not tearing everything apart in bitterness when you found out the truth. To be an immigrant is to be a fierce survivor.

To be an immigrant is to constantly rename yourself

When you are an immigrant, these memories bubble up sporadically and unexpectedly, like after you have just signed up to go on your first cruise with your church group, and your friend decides that you all have to take on English names because you want to fit in. Everyone picks an English name, but the problem is that no one can remember anyone else’s new name. So you gather to try to memorize the new names of your old friends by sitting in a circle like kindergartners and playing a clapping name game.

To be an immigrant is to have your most important conversations delivered in punchline form

To be the child of an immigrant is to find yourself as a supporting character in your parent’s sitcom at the most unexpected times. Like when I turned thirteen, and my mom sat me down on the corner of my bed.

To be an immigrant is to never fully leave your old world and never fully arrive in the new one

Throughout my childhood, my parents insist that we continue rituals that define what it means to be Korean. Like bowing to your elders when you come back from a long trip. Like coming to the door to greet your parents when they come home from work. Like not saying the words “times” and “equals” when you say your times tables, so you go: “two-two-four, two-three-six” instead of the less efficient “two times two equals four, two times three equals six” and your parents time you to compete against your cousin.

Image for post
Image for post
My mom cried when I came home with this short hair cut and a perm because she wanted to go back to Korea and show all her siblings how beautiful her daughters were. But instead, I looked like the future Kim Jung-On.

CEO of sustainable gifting company: https://tokki.com/. Speaker, writer: https://www.seejanewonder.com. Addicted to making meaning.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store