Immigration: providing special life to individuals


Photo Credit: Hailey Kim

Hailey and her friends are posing in the gymnasium who are from Japan, Korea, and Slovakia. Hailey met her friends when she first moved to Glen Rock and became close friends with them.

A girl who had lived more than 16 years in her country is now living in the foreign country with completely different lifestyle.

Section 1- Living different style of life in different countries

Inside of School

Hailey Kim had lived a different style of life as a high school student in Korea. The school that she attended in Korea was called Changwon Girls High School which is a public female school in the region called Changwon.

The school is located among many educational buildings such as an elementary school, middle school, high school, university, and local broadcast station. There are 743 students currently in her school and there are three buildings.

Unlike in the United States where grades nine through 12 attend high school, there are three grades in Korean high school (10, 11, 12) and each grade uses each building. In front of the main building, there is a field. Sand, which is for sporting events, is located in the middle of the field and around it, there is a track. To the left of the field, there is a gymnasium. To the right of the field, there is a building for 11th grade which is connected with a main building. Behind the main building, there are building for 12th grade and cafeteria. Inside Kim’s homeroom, there was a big blackboard in front of the class and next to the board, there was a television (for educational purposes). There were many tables and chairs in the room and lockers were located at the back of the room.

Relationships with teachers was a major difference that Kim experienced. In Korea, she used to call her teachers as “teacher” not by their names. Since there is a big difference between formal and informal language in Korean, she had to show her respect to her teachers by using formal languages. For example, there are two ways to say hello in Korean: formal and informal way. Korean cannot use informal language to older people such as teachers.

However, when she first came to America, Kim heard students calling their teachers by their names. “I was so surprised,” Kim said. She thinks that students in America have friendlier relationships with their teachers. Since she is not yet fluent in English, she receives a lot of help from her teachers.

In Korea, students spend their whole school day in their homerooms, so it is usual to be close friends with classmates. In Changwon Girls High School, there are approximately 25-30 students per homeroom, and they all have same schedule for a year.

Since her schedule was filled with required subjects, there was no opportunity for Kim to choose her electives. When she first came to America, she was happy to have an opportunity to choose electives. Since she is interested in art and design, Kim chose art classes for her electives including drawing and painting for last year, sculpture and graphic design for this year.

In Korea, Kim attended school everyday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. For most of the time in the school, Kim studied. But during break time, she either spent it with her friends or slept.

During regular class times, Kim usually had lectures that didn’t require much class participation. The regular classes ended at 5:30 and Kim had dinner for an hour. After dinner, it was time for Kim to study individually. During that time, Kim studied by herself and asked questions to teachers.

It was 9 pm. Kim went to the academy (she went to English and Math academy) to study for school work especially for midterms and finals and also to study for the test that is provided to every high school student in Korea every three months (subjects included in the test are Korean, English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Korean History). When she finally went back to her home, it was already 11:00 pm. Then from that time, Kim had to do her homework so she usually slept at 2:00 am. As she continued sleeping at 2:00 am and waking up at 6:00 am, Kim often suffered from the lack of sleep.

The biggest stress that Kim had in Korea was maintaining high grade. Grading system in Korea is different that of America: grade on a curve. Since Kim’s grade was affected by how other students did on the test, she always felt comparing and competing with her friends. Also, it was hard for her to improve and maintain high score even she studied hard and tried her best. Compare to this, the biggest stress that Kim has in America is speaking English. Since speaking and communicating with people in English is challenging for her, she put it a lot of time and effort when she first moved to America and she is still working on it.

Outside of school

In Korea, students usually spend lots of time in their schools and extracurricular academies. Since they more focus on studying, there are not many after school activities available to them. Students usually don’t have enough time to play sports or spend time on their hobbies. Also, most students don’t have part-time jobs. When Kim first came to America, she was glad to have time to spend on her hobbies after school and enough time to sleep. She likes to draw during her free time.

Students in Korea are not allowed to have a driver license due to their age. They have to be 18 years old in order to take driver license test, so students mostly walk or use public transportations. Also, since most of the schools in Korea prohibit students from bringing their cars to the school, it is not likely to see students’ cars in Korea’s schools. Right now in America, since Kim cannot drive, most of the time when she wants to go far away, she needs her dad to drive her.

After big tests such as midterms and final exams, Kim spent lots of time with her friends. Frequently, she went to restaurants and cafes to try some delicious food and desserts. Kim and her friends also enjoyed going to karaoke. Kim liked to spend time with her friends and chatting with them.

Photo Credit: Hailey Kim
Hailey and her friend,Eunjin Lee, are posing in front of the mirror. They were really close friends and spent lots of times together. Eunjin felt sad when she first knew that Kim will move to America.

Once a year in Korea, Kim went on a school trip for three days. She mostly went to Seoul, which is a capital city of Korea by bus, and she mostly went to educational places such as museums. She traveled with her teachers and her friends, so it was a good opportunity to spend time with her friends.

Section 2- Language barrier

As experiencing completely different lifestyle, there were some stresses and obstacles that Kim had to handle. The biggest stress that Kim had to handle was the language barrier.

 As a Korean who had never lived in a foreign country, the language barrier was the biggest obstacle in front of her. Even she had learned English in Korea since she was an elementary school student, she had more focused on learning English grammar since it was her second language. She has not practiced speaking English in front of native speakers so attending a school where she has to use English in order to communicate with people and to learn required lots of practices and efforts to her.

Kim decided to solve the problem that she had so that she can adapt to school life in America. It was 3pm after school. Kim went straight to the Glen Rock Public Library. As she entered the library, lots of books in the bookshelves greeted her. Among lots of chairs and tables, Kim chose the long table where people can charge their electronic devices. Kim opened the books and binders to review what she had learned in the school. She especially focused on studying US History which was the hardest subject to her because she didn’t have much background knowledge about the subject, and it required lots of reading and understanding the textbook in English. She read the US History book which was written in Korean so that she can more easily understand it. She also used same method when she had to read the novel in English class. She then memorized vocabularies that helped to improve her English.

Photo Credit: Nah Lee
Hailey is studying in the Glen Rock Public Library. The library is the place where Hailey spent lots of times for studying when she first moved to America.

After spending a couple of hours in the library, Kim then went to her house. Entering the room with two desks, one with a computer and one without it, she chose the one with a computer and turned on it. She then went to YouTube and watched videos that taught her about speaking English in daily life. She also watched TED talks and American television shows to improve her listening skill.

 Kim also tried to speak English as much as possible in her daily life. When she went to  restaurant or cafe with her family or with her friends, she was the one who often ordered so that she can practice speaking English.

Kim also tried hard to do well in her classes. Whenever Kim had to present something in her class, she made a script and memorized it so that she could do her presentation successfully. Since Kim wasn’t comfortable with speaking English fluently in front of her classmates, using a script helped her a lot.

For first several months in her junior year, Kim took an ESL class. Since she was speaking English as her second language, she had to take a state ESL test, the test provided for the students in America who are speaking English not as their first language. Students can pass the test by getting 4.5 or higher score. She took the test and passed it so she was not anymore fitted to the ESL program. According to Ms. Yu, who was her ESL teacher, passing the test just several months after a person first came to America is unusual thing. Yu was impressed by how fast and talented Kim was at learning her second language.

When Kim first came to America, it was challenging and stressful for her to speak English fluently in her daily life, but the efforts that she made to improve her English gave power to fight against the language barrier. By improving her English, Kim eventually adapted better in America as a high school student.

Section 3-How Kim is doing right now and other people’s thoughts about her changes

As she adapted to life in America, Kim had changed in many ways.

The most important and biggest change that Kim is experiencing is an improvement of her English skills. Since she was not fluent in English, she investigated lots of efforts and times to improve her English. By watching TED talks and American television shows, she was able to improve her listening skills. By using English as much as she can in her daily life, she was able to improve her speaking skills.

Other people were also impressed about how much Kim had improved her English just after few years  when she first came to the United States. Especially her dad was surprised at her improvement. “I think she made great efforts to improve her speaking skill,” he said.

Photo Credit: Nah Lee
Hailey and her dad are posing at her house. Mr. Kim is proud of how much Hailey had improved her English.

However, Kim also said that her English is not yet perfect so she is still working on it. “But it’s still challenging to me and I think after one year later maybe I can overcome it,” she said.

Kim not only adapted to her new school life but also actively got involved into it. She even made a new club called Fashion Club. According to Kim. the purpose of the fashion club is to raise students’ interest on fashion and to show that fashion is not hard. Also since it is not an educational club, students can just enjoy themselves and have fun time in this club.

Since making a new club is not an easy thing to do especially for a student like Kim, her teacher, friends, and dad felt proud of her. They were all surprised at her courage and how well she adapted to America school life. “I’m really impressed and hope that she’ll have very successful future based on that in that area like fashion,” said Ms. Yu, Kim’s ESL teacher and the adviser of the Fashion Club.

The fashion club was also helpful on Kim’s relationship with her friends. Since students in the club were asking her questions about the club, she was able to talk more with her friends.

Compared to when she lived in Korea, Kim was able to meet more various people (for example, people who were vegans or people whose families were from different countries). By meeting and knowing those people, whom she was not likely to meet in Korea, she was able to develop broader thoughts and perspectives toward the world. It is important to experience various cultures and meet various people and Kim is happy to experience those changes in her life.

Kim was first worried about moving to another country and adapting to a new environment because she had never done it before. However, her efforts and the time she invested in order to adapt as a high school student in America caused her to change in many ways and gave her the courage to even create her own club.

Section 4- Maintaining identity as a Korean

Photo Credit: Hanbyul Kim
Hailey and her family are posing at New York City next to the World Trade Center. Kim was happy to be with her family, speaking Korean and eating Korean foods with them.

Besides adapting to life in America, Kim is also maintaining her identity as a Korean in various ways.

It’s 3pm after school and Kim goes to her house. When her dad also returns to the house from his work, she speaks Korean with him. By speaking Korean at her house with her dad, she can keep using her native language which reminds her that she is a Korean.

Kim visited Korea last summer by herself. After a 13 hour flight, she arrived in Korea. In Korea, she met her brother who is living in Seoul. She lived in his house for the entire summer.  

She rode the bus and went to the TOEFL academy from her brother house, the academy that teaches the strategies that are needed to take TOEFL. TOEFL is the test provided mostly for international students, who speak English as their second language in order to get to American (English-speaking) colleges. Kim is taking TOEFL in order to go to college in America, where she plans to major in art. Since TOEFL is an important test to her which can be compared as SAT to other students, she has to spend lots of time preparing for it. She spent most of her weekdays in the academy.

However during weekends, she met her friends, went to Korean restaurant and cafe, watched Korean movies, went to the concert of her favorite Korean singer. Especially, she met Jade Kim, another Korean student in Glen Rock High School. By spending summer in Korea, Hailey was able to experience life that she used to live in Korea.

Since there are not many Koreans in Glen Rock High School, there are many students who don’t know much about Korea. Kim talked about Korea with her friends so that they can become more familiar with. For example, she talked about K-Pop or school life in Korea. Since they are different with America in many ways, students usually become interested about those topics. She also gave Korean snacks to try such as candies and cookies. By doing those things, Kim is not only maintaining her identity as a Korean but also introducing Korean culture to American students.

Kim keeps in touch with her friends living in Korea almost every day. She and her friends usually talk about their daily life. By doing that, they can be aware of what each other are doing in their school or in daily life even they are living far away. Especially for Kim, by keeping in touch with her friends, she can know what is going on and what is famous in Korea right now.

Kim often goes to Koreatown with her family and friends, which is mostly located in the region where there are lots of Koreans living in America. With her friends, she goes to Korean restaurant and cafe. When Kim goes to the restaurant or cafe in Koreatown, she feels comfortable as she is in Korea because she can speak Korean to order food. Twice a month, she goes to H Mart, which is a market that sells Korean products. She buys some Korean food from there.

Kim also does some cultural activities, such as reading Korean books, watching Korean movies or television shows, and listening to Korean music. There are some Korean books in the library, so Kim can read those and also borrow them. Kim goes to the AMC theater in Ridgefield to watch Korean movies, and she enjoys listening to the music of her favorite K-Pop group, a boys group called Seventeen.

Photo Credit: Nah Lee
Jade and Hailey are listening to Korean music. It is one of the way that they maintain identity as Korean.

Section 5 Her perspective toward immigration

Although Kim finds relief in Korean music and literature, she still must adapt to a new American lifestyle. As living as an immigrant, there were many obstacles and difficulties that Kim had to overcome such as the language barrier and adapting to the new environment. However as time passed, she was able to adapt better to a life in America and found advantages that she got from immigration. Therefore, despite the stresses that she had to handle, Kim is glad to have the opportunity of living in America.

Most specifically, what Kim likes about the grading system is that it all just depends on herself and is not affected by how other people performed. The biggest stress that Kim had to handle in Korea was mostly studying. The huge amount of time that she had to spend on studying everyday often led to lack of sleep. Right now, Kim is happy to have enough time to sleep, an average of 8 hours per day.

Kim is glad to have an opportunity to study in the United States, something that many Koreans are willing to do. Since the world is becoming more globalized, it is becoming more important to learn English. By living in America, Kim is having a good opportunity to learn English  fluently.

Not only is learning English important in today’s society, but so is knowing various cultures. By living in America, Kim was able to experience many things that she was not able to experience in her country and by that, she was able to learn and change. “I think it changed my thoughts of my life and like for me it’s really interesting to know other cultures customs that things,” Kim said.

Kim wants to be a designer in the future. There are many good museums in New York City, such as Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, and Kim enjoys visiting those museums. She can see various artwork that is created by different artists who had lived in different time periods. Visiting the museums and looking at famous artists’ artworks will definitely help Kim in her future, so she is happy to have that opportunity.

Section 6 Living as immigrants

As is shown by Kim’s life, living a life as an immigrant is not easy at first. Language barriers and adapting to the new environment are the most challenging part for the immigrants according to Kim, her friend Jade, and Kim’s dad. When they first came to America, they all felt really nervous because of those obstacles.

Getting far away from people whom they used to get along with is the hardness that immigrants have to suffer from. Kim’s old friend, Eunjin Lee, said that she first felt sad when she heard that Kim is moving to America. Kim and Lee are still contacting each other. Contacting with their friends who live in their country are what students in the school who came from different countries are mostly doing.

Even immigrants live in America, they can still preserve their identity of their own country by continuing the country’s cultural activities. Thanks to the development of technology, immigrants can facetime with people who live in their country, listen to the country’s music, and watch the country’s television shows or movies.

Visiting their country during summer is what many immigrants living in Glen Rock do. Not only Kim but also other students who came from Japan, Korea, and Slovakia all visited their countries during the summer. Some spent their entire summer in their country, and some only spent part of the summer.

Experiencing various cultures is a benefit that immigrants have. Since all countries have different cultures and different lifestyles, it’s good to know them so that they can develop broader perspective toward the world. Ms. Yu said one of the biggest advantage that Kim has it is that she knows various cultures and have experienced them.

Asian club’s purpose is to prepare for the multi-cultural festival. The multicultural festival is a good opportunity not only for immigrants but also for American students to experience and learn various cultures from all over the world. For example, they can try some food from different countries.                                   

Having an opportunity to learn English in the United States is also a benefit that immigrants have. Even though they can learn English in their country, in America, they can especially have an opportunity to speak English in front of native speakers. The ability to speak two languages (English and their native language) will remain as an advantage for rest of their lives in today’s world.    

Living as immigrants at first requires lots of efforts and time to individuals. However, as time passes and as they adapt better, they can find some benefits that they have because of immigration. It’s a special opportunity for individuals to have which gives long-term benefits to them.

“I think it’s really good experience because it’s really unusual experience,” Kim said.