“You aren’t having the right college experience.”
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this comment or the number of times I’ve turned down spontaneous offers from my friends. After saying “no thanks” one too many times to weekend getaways and parties, I often receive looks of disappointment, judgmental glances or mockery in return.
I don’t get mad because I completely understand where they are coming from. Just because I understand the criticism, though, doesn’t mean I agree with it.
I go home every weekend. I get why this can be seen as unusual, weird even. For most Americans born and raised in the United States, priorities in life circle around independence: acquiring a driver’s license at 16, moving out as far away as possible from your family at 18, finding financial independence as soon as possible … the list goes on. These are just some of the goals, I’ve noticed, that people around my age are obsessed with and stressed over. While it took some time and numerous collisions between my cultural identities — growing up traveling back and forth between South Korea and the United States — for my Korean self to wrap her head around more individualistic American values, I have come to terms with the ways of living here over the past few years.
So, I understand where the “you’re such a baby” looks are coming from whenever I say I’m going home again. In their eyes, maybe I am merely an immature, dependent child who can’t bear a single month of the adulting alone at college. This might be true to some extent — I would not, in fact, call myself an adult just yet. I still have so much to experience and figure out. However, achieving independence by putting distance between myself and my home is not, and will never be, my definition of becoming an “adult.”
In South Korea, the small country that it is, we value togetherness and sharing: giving back to the adults who raised you, giving back to the community you live in, respecting elders, protecting children and helping the weak. No matter how physically far I was away from Korea, my family has always represented these values to me. They still do.
My dad drives an hour from our home in San Jose on Friday nights to pick me up from my dorm steps. Although I tell him I can just use the BART, he is afraid of me getting lost. My mom never lets me go back to my dorm without an ice box full of her Korean side dishes, as if my roommate and I can’t solve meals on our own. I guess I’m still a child — at least to my mom and dad. As I dutifully finish my mother’s food over the week, and as I doze off listening to my dad’s same old playlist in the car at the end of it, I think about their efforts to keep our family “together.” I’m determined, once again, that I will go home this weekend, too. I will show up and spend time with the people that hold me close; the more I think about it, the more I realize this is the best I can do to repay their unconditional love.
As I dutifully finish my mother’s food over the week, and as I doze off listening to my dad’s same old playlist in the car at the end of it, I think about their efforts to keep our family “together.”
Spending time with the people you’ve already spent your whole life with might not seem as much of an investment as making new friends or getting involved in different activities to build new connections for the future. But have you ever thought of how little time you actually have left to “live” with your family? We’re already guests in our childhood homes. After college, what’s next? Graduate school? A job? Marriage? In the end, separation from our families is unavoidable. Why rush it?
I’m not ready to grow up if that kind of separation is the future our society inflicts upon us. For now, I’m just grateful for the privilege of living close enough to my home to visit almost every weekend. I’m grateful for being able to incorporate my family’s warm presence into my developing individual identity.
I’m realizing, day by day, that growing up does not mean being fine on my own. Instead, I am growing up by learning to have the courage to be vulnerable: to objectively see my strengths and weaknesses, to express my emotions and boundaries in a healthy manner, to actively seek the help I need and to put in extra effort in showing love to the people I truly care for.
I am growing up by learning to have the courage to be vulnerable.
Hence, the “right” college experience for me is the one I have right now. Just like everyone else, I’m trying my best to balance my academic life and social life. And if things go wrong? When I’m overwhelmed with social anxiety, when I’m unsure if I’m actually interested in my majors, when I’m dipping in and out of toxic relationships and when I’m alone in the feeling that every choice I make as an adult will somehow turn out wrong — well, at least I can always go home to the right people.
Contact Jiwoo Kim at [email protected].