I live in Singapore, but I’ve lived in Korea, England and Pakistan, too. If somebody asks me: “Where do you come from?” What do I say?
I was born in South Korea. When I was five years old, we moved to England, where I started preschool. The experience was a nightmare. Despite my best efforts, I barely understood the language and I felt alone.
Moving around was hard, but returning to South Korea wasn’t easy either. I attended a local school for the first three years of elementary school and then moved to an international school in Pakistan where all the classes were in English. I then moved back to a local middle school in Korea where I struggled to adapt to the competitive culture. Classmates treated me more like a competitor than a companion. Eventually, I became this way too. Looking back, I don’t like remembering myself that way.
I felt uncomfortable everywhere I went, knowing I’d be uprooted again as soon as I’d settled down and I felt lost.
In 2013, we relocated to Singapore and, three months ago, I embarked on the IB Diploma Programme at the United World College. The school’s culture differs from other places I had been – not as formal and so much friendlier. The orientation day was a great chance to get to know my mentor and I liked the fact I could make friends before I started. I felt relieved.
Choosing my Diploma Programme courses was difficult, as I didn’t know which language to choose as my first language. Korean and English are equally important to me. By speaking Korean, I maintained a bond with my birth country. But, by speaking English, I felt like I had gained access to the rest of the world.
I had an epiphany: “Take both of them as my first language,” I thought. My mind was instantly made up. This has helped me look at the advantages of being bilingual. Instead of thinking that I’m losing my link to my home country, I now realize that I can connect with any part of the world. I’m not a citizen of one country – I’m an international citizen.
Travelling the world has its advantages, too. I’ve been able to interact with different people, experience different cultures and, of course, learn different languages. Whenever I speak to a new person, I discover something else about them, about the world and about myself. This has had a positive impact on how I see the world.
I would like to become a doctor in the future. Because of globalization, many people have immigrated to Korea and I dream of one day founding a hospital there where the medical staff is multilingual and the patients feel confident that they can communicate in their own language and receive the help they need.
The IB Diploma Programme inspired me to write about my experiences. As part of my English Language and Literature class, we studied ‘Mother Tongue’, a personal essay by Chinese-American author Amy Tan. As I read about how Tan’s mother tongue had helped her develop her own cultural identity, I felt inspired to share my own story.
When I graduate, I suspect I’ll move to a new country for university. But, thanks to my IB experiences, this thought doesn’t worry or unnerve me. It inspires me, for I belong to the world.