For the past few weeks, I have advised my little cousin on his college applications. I can’t help but reflect on my own experience applying to schools as he and I go through the process of meeting deadlines, editing essays, and hoping for the best outcomes.
Is it just me or do most, if not all, Korean Americans, including myself, feel at one point or another inadequate in comparison to peers of other ethnic and racial backgrounds? At times, it’s the Korean American girl who feels unpretty next to her classmate who seems to resemble the idealized standard for American beauty–one that she doesn’t feel she meets. It can be the guy who feels desexualized because he is shorter than many middle school kids. Or it’s the Korean American student, like my cousin, who clearly has accomplished academic feats within the demanding schedule of sports practices, extra-curricular clubs, and socializing to maintain relevance in his community. Yet the same student chooses to see the negative over the positive and still doubts his ability to compete for a place at the top schools.
Guilt and shame tend to rule our emotions because we feel we should not have the desire to rise above nor do we feel we should encourage that sentiment in others. The well known adage claims that education is power, and for me this was the case. I Identified some of the causes of my defeatist attitude through BC’s Korean American culture club and through Asian American courses. I began to recognize that I had tendencies to put myself down, but the realization of this helped me to combat those habits. I took hold of my psychological chains and broke them. Sometime around junior year of college, I had healed of many years of feeling inferior and lacking self-confidence. When I finally was free of these chains, I began to soar to greater heights, heights that I could only dream of before.
In the end, perhaps the curse was really a blessing: the lack of self-confidence, my cousin, I, and so many other Korean Americans have experienced can act as a catalyst through which we battle and eventually overcome our shame and guilt for wanting our piece of the American dream. But the crux of the victory is that choice–to want a different perspective, to fight for it, and to fight until it’s achieved. I hope that every person reading this article can find truth in that method. Triumph and success don’t come easy. And for some of us, there are years of telling ourselves “you can’t” that need to be uprooted. Yet, I’m optimistic.
For someone like my cousin, I believe that a victory is in the near future. My hope is that his hunger for his own success, whatever that success may look like, will grow ever more powerful. I hope that thoughts of unworthiness will transform, sooner than later, into realizations of what I’ve always seen in him–his potential to be great.