by Tyler West
Most children look forward to watching their favorite television shows after school, going to sleepovers at their friends houses and what they’re having for dinner.
Things were a little bit different for a child who growing up in South Korea.
Hyunji Jang was born in Seoul, South Korea. Her early days consisted of studying for midterms, finals, and partaking in numerous extracurricular activities including piano, ping pong, tae kwon doe, golf, and even getting tutored in time management.
At five years old Jang was working towards getting to the top of an academic list required by her school system. Teachers would rank their students by number based on their midterm and final grades.
This was something that Jang’s parents did not agree with.
“My parents were like no- they didn’t want that for me. They wanted me to have more freedom and to have time to do things. Kids in South Korea don’t have free time. They’re always studying and like competing with each other to get the highest grades and be the best at their extracurriculars. Getting into college there is so competitive and everybody wants to get in,” said Jang. “But they decide based off one test. My parents knew I wasn’t going to make it to college.”
Jang began learning English as her second language in kindergarten, which would aid her when her parents eventually decided to immigrate to the United States.
There was 6,552 miles of distance between Jang’s old life and her new one. A 15 hour and 55 minute flight would change her life forever.
Pittsford, NY was a whole different world for Jang and her family. Hyunji adopted her American name, Hannah, and quickly began to learn how different the culture was in the U.S.
Between learning how to make friends and solve word problems in math, Jang had a lot of adapting to do.
One of the biggest things that she noticed was the difference in the freedom of self-expression and the change of beauty standards.
“Back in [South] Korea, everyone would look at you funny if you did something different. It was like New York City, but everyone was the same race. They all acted the same and tried to look the same. Like big eyes, skinny skinny and pale. If you looked different they would tell you to get plastic surgery to fit that standard and norm everyone wanted to fit into. But no one could,” said Jang.
With the memories of how strict and limiting South Korean culture could be, Jang says she never takes for granted the freedom that she experiences today.