Changing Places

June 14, 2010 | Apple Delight
By Blake Weaver

Third Culture Kids are individuals who have spent many of their early years of development in one or more foreign countries…

Elements of both the foreign culture(s) mixed with elements of the individual’s homeland create a third culture which sets the individual apart so that they do not feel complete “belonging” to any particular culture.

Life as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is not easy.  Being raised as a TCK, I know firsthand what it feels like.  I certainly do not claim to be a TCK expert, but from my own experience I have learned to cope well with change.  After all, a TCK must learn to cope in order to survive.  Some TCK’s not only learn how to survive through difficult transitional changes, but they indeed learn to thrive.  The story of Katherine Sooah Cho epitomizes the notion of thriving in the midst of change, major change that is.  Sooah was born and raised in California until she and her parents moved to Seoul, Korea, when she was 9 years old.  Sooah’s parents chose to place her in a Korean national school right away.  Sooah explains:

I attended a Korean elementary school (3rd-6th grade), a Korean middle school, and a Korean foreign language high school until I transferred to the Yongsan International School of Seoul (a NICS School) in 10th grade.  The transitions back and forth between the American education system and the Korean education system was quite challenging in the beginning, but I learned to adapt to new environments and new cultures through this experience.

From her own words, it is clearly evident that these changes significantly impacted her.  However, her story suggests that these difficult years opened her eyes to new environments and cultures.  Furthermore, she learned more through this than just to cope well with change.  When I asked Sooah the question, “What impacted you the most while you were at YISS?” she responded:

My teachers at YISS are some of the people that have had the greatest impact in my life.  They are the ones who opened my eyes to look beyond my immediate surroundings and my everyday life.  My mission trip to Bangkok, Thailand (Spring Break of my sophomore year), is an experience that I will never forget.  It broadened my perspective on global injustices such as the vast economic inequality and human trafficking.  This trip is what inspired me and my friends to start the Community Service Club back at YISS.

As she noted, this missions trip coupled with her overall experience at YISS ignited in her a burning passion to be involved in making a positive difference in social injustice.  Additionally, the remainder of Sooah’s high school years at YISS was filled with high achievement.  She was the Salutatorian of her class, Student Government President, participated in Model United Nations, edited for the high school newspaper, and she founded the school’s Community Service Club.  When asked about how well YISS prepared her for college, she said:

I believe YISS prepared me very well for College.  I was taught how to think critically and creatively, which provided a good foundation for me to come to Wellesley College and explore various subjects.

After graduating from YISS in 2006, Sooah moved back to the United States to attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts.  Although she relocated to the U.S. for her college studies, she certainly carried with her the desire to help bring positive change to various global affairs.  While at Wellesley, she was selected as one of only 40 Albright Fellows for the inaugural year of the Albright Institute.  This would turn out to be a major event in her life.  In one of the application essays that she wrote for the Albright program, she noted:

I lived in Seoul for half of my life, but I had never cared much about North Korea until I actually met a girl who risked her life escaping from North Korea for food, money, and freedom that she never knew existed.  Her life threatening escape story was what made the crisis in North Korea become more than something I hear about on the evening news for me.  Concentration camps, gas chambers, torture, starvation, mass murder, sexual trafficking, and complete allegiance to a deified communist dictator…the whole time she was talking to me, all I could imagine was a North Korean Holocaust.  It simply did not seem real to me that a girl my age could have possibly seen or experienced all of these things.  Yet, it was indeed her story and unfortunately remains to be the story of 23 million more North Koreans at this moment.

In regard to the Albright Program, she comments:

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Secretary Albright’s graduation, Wellesley College established the Madeleine Korbel Institute for Global Affairs, which focuses on developing future global leaders with a multidisciplinary approach to global issues…[the Albright Fellowship] has broadened my perspective on some of the greatest challenges that our world faces today.  It has been by far the most rewarding and inspiring experience that I have had as a student at Wellesley College. 

Sooah’s resume includes establishing the Advocates for North Korean Human Rights (ANKHR) as well as intern at the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.  She also served as a Research Assistant at the Center for International Cooperation for North Korean Development.  Her involvement in these organizations makes it obvious that she has a heart for the North Korean people.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” It appears that Sooah is deeply committed to seeing an end to the injustice of the North Korean people.

On May 28 of this year, Sooah will achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with a Minor in Psychology from Wellesley College.  She will then intern at the U.N. headquarters in New York for the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Office this summer.  Sooah will be helping to coordinate both relief efforts and long term development strategies for the recent devastation in Haiti.  Her hope is that her experience this summer will help her establish new insights and ideas for the rebuilding of North Korea in the future.  Based on her life story, changing places now takes on a new meaning- that is, she now has the possibility to change places…for the better!

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