Name: Jennifer Lee
Country of Origin: South Korea
Please describe aspects of your culture that are different from here:
Korea bases much of its culture on Confucian teachings, which emphasize the importance of respecting elders. Showing respect is embedded within the Korean language, so there are different verb tenses and vocabulary used depending on you're talking to. For this reason, people within similar age groups introduce themselves by saying their birth year first (1995, 1998, etc.). This establishes clear distinctions in age from the start and allows people to begin orienting themselves with how they should address one another.
This aspect of Korean culture causes confusion among Korean students with regards to student-teacher relationships and conversations between upper- and lower-classmen. In the United States, I find that relationships are more flexible among people of different age groups. There is an ease about these relationships compared to those in Korea.
What do you miss from home?
I miss my family the most. Although I can easily reach them through social media and video calls, being physically removed from them for months on end is the biggest challenge in my overall college experience. I also miss Korean cuisine. Everything from ox-bone soup to seafood pancakes and blood sausages (as gross as it sounds, it’s delicious. Trust me), there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to eat a home-cooked meal back home.
What do you feel Calvin College and its student body do well with being inclusive and culturally respectful?
Calvin does a great job in welcoming international students and making their transition to the U.S. as smooth as possible. It starts with a separate orientation for international students. There are also various events that happen throughout the school year that introduce a variety of cultures to all the students on campus. It’s always great to see students engaging with cultures that they are unfamiliar with through these events, so I think Calvin is being very intentional with finding ways to incorporate multicultural perspectives into student life.
What do you feel Calvin College and its student body do poorly about being inclusive and culturally respectful?
In the process of trying to incorporate different cultures together, I sometimes feel that the distinctions between “international students” and “American students” are a bit too strong. Although the overall message is that we all need to respect and learn about different cultures, in constantly saying this message, it creates a larger separation among cultures and makes it more difficult for non-international students to get involved with international events. I don’t think this is something that Calvin specifically is doing wrong. It’s just a part of the process of introducing new cultures to the general public.
Have you ever felt left out or not included based on your culture?
Nope, I don’t think so.
What are some things you want people at Calvin to know about your culture and the life of an international student?
Learning and sharing about different cultures and perspectives is a two-way exchange. You need to stay open to having conversations with different types of people. You never know what you might learn about someone from the experience. In turn, we’ll do our best to reach out and speak of our experiences abroad, while learning more about the wonderful aspects of American culture. It’ll be great!