For many Asian Americans there are certain shared experiences being a part of a minority group in America. For myself, being Korean and growing up in a mainly white suburban area, I quickly learned at a young age that I didn’t quite “fit in” or look like my peers at school. Not that there was necessarily outright racism preventing me from feeling like I could fit in. Instead, there was more of an unspoken acknowledgement of the clear difference in my appearance compared to those around me. This fact always seemed to sit unconsciously and uncomfortably in the back of my mind during all my social interactions. While constantly being surrounded by those dissimilar to me in both appearance and cultural background had both positives and negatives, looking back I am glad I had that crucial and maturing experience as it helped shape me into the person I am today.
What I didn't really expect was that my background would prove to be the perfect dichotomy for what I have come to experience in Seoul. Whenever I go outside into the city I can seamlessly blend in with my environment, the people, and culture. I have picked up the basics of Korean social etiquette from my parents and extended family as well as familiarized myself with the city and transportation system in past trips to Korea. Moreover, with some slight alterations to my clothing and style and just enough knowledge of Korean to get by, I can say I look like I belong in Korea. As a little kid I dreamt about living in a place where I wouldn’t catch the attention of others for looking different. However, now experiencing that childhood dream has revealed that being a part of the majority isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. It’s a rather odd feeling to observe the way Koreans here stare at foreigners or how easy it is to spot someone who may look "out of place." One of the most poignant actualizations I've had is that while it's unpleasant to feel like you don’t fit in, it is in no way better noticing the discomfort others feel from not fitting in.
Now as I enter my early 20s having been to big cities in America like New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of living in a multiethnic city. Seeing immense diversity in people and cultures all represented in one place always impresses me. Studying abroad in Korea has given me the perspective I never had, being the majority in a monoethnic community. While it can sometimes feel nice to comfortably disappear into a crowd and blend in, there is something uniquely rewarding about being part of a diverse community that both understands and celebrates differences. When you see all different kinds of people from all walks of life, it's comforting knowing there is no need to fit in. After living in Korea this is something that I am grateful to have learned to appreciate and seek out.