· Summarize the entire essay as if you you were explaining it to someone–provide details so it is evident you read it.
· How important do you think it is to be aware of your cultural identity when communicating with someone else?
· Give an example from the essay of being aware of your cultural identity.
· Summarize the entire essay as if you you were explaining it to someone–provide details so it is evident you read it.
· How important do you think it is to know about the beliefs and customs (the cultural identity) of another when communicating with someone from that culture and WHY?
· Give an example from the essay.
· Summarize the entire essay as if you were explaining it to someone–provide details so it is evident you read it.
· Do you agree with the author when she says it is imperative to not only know about the other culture, but to also be motivated to put that knowledge to use?
· Explain what she means by this statement.
My Name Is…
Mei Lin Swanson Kroll
My name is Yoon, Chang Hee—Yoon is my last name—and my name is Mei Lin
Swanson Kroll. There’s obviously a story here, and also a metaphor for my life. I
was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was named Yoon, Chang Hee in an
orphanage. I was then transracially adopted at the age of five months, and my
parents changed my name to Mei Lin Swanson Kroll.
Mei Lin is actually a Chinese name, but my parents thought it sounded Asian and
would be easy for non-Asians to say: what they didn’t realize that Koreans wouldn’t
name their children with Chinese names. Swanson was my mother’s name; she’s
Swedish and Norwegian. Kroll is my father’s name; he’s Slovenian, British and
maybe German or Polish. I know my parents were trying to be culturally sensitive
when thy named me Mei Lin, but they didn’t realize how difficult in fact it would be
for people to say my name properly. I still don’t see why some people have such
a hard time trying to pronounce it. You say it just like it looks. Mei Lin. It’s two
words: the first like the month of May, and the second like the American name,
Lynn. But people have a tendency to add a “g” at the end of my name, because
they think all Asian names have g’s. They also call me My Lin, Mee Lynn, My Ling,
Mia Lim, Mee Ling, Marylyn, Elle, and my own favorite, Melon. So I’ve found the
name to be a bit of trouble.
When I was experiencing an identity crisis in my first year of college, I came across
my naturalization papers while I was getting ready to apply for a passport. I saw
my orphanage-given name and suddenly had a very strong emotional reaction.
That was really all I had when I came to this country: that name. And my parents
overlooked it and chose another one. So I began to use Yoon, Chang Hee in writing
and in speaking. I’ve thought about changing my name legally and I still may do it.
I want to tell you more about myself, about how I’ve arrived at these names, and
about my sense of identity in a world with competent intercultural communication.
When I was young, I knew that I was adopted and was Korean. I also knew other
adopted Koreans and other families with adopted kids, so I thought I was pretty
normal. In fact, when I was about three or four I cam home one day to tell my
mother a big secret—something I’d just figured out. I asked her, very confidentially,
“Did you know there are some families who don’t have adopted kids?” She said
she did know that. I said, “You know, they’re just plain white.”
When I was in junior high my parents sent me to a preteen Korean group. I went
for several years, enjoying the food and joining in discussions about Korean
culture, activities, groups, and (especially) Korean food. But as I got older, I got
tired of it. I told my parents I was tired of the same old questions over and over:
“How does it feel to be Korean?” “How does it feel to be adopted?” My parents
reluctantly let me quit. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of my turning
my back on my Korean identity and culture.
Ever since I was little there was always some kind of teasing going on because I
was Korean and didn’t look like everyone else. My mother tells me that on the first
day of public school I came home indignant because dome kid had called me
Chinese. My parents were very concerned and asked me how I felt and what I did.
I said, “Well, I hit him.” They thought that ended that; I learned to stand up for
myself. They didn’t know that the teasing went on all the time and that I was storing
up some negative reactions about being different. Once some friends and I were
talking about stupid things we had done. I was telling a story about jumping and
flipping on my parents’ bed. While I was jumping up and down and having the time
of my life, I decided to flip over forward. I accidentally over rotated, fell off the bed,
hit my mouth on the wall, and started to bleed. My friend then said. “Oh, is that why
your face is so flat?” She and another girl just laughed. I just sat there embarrassed
and acted as if I didn’t hear a thing. Some have even asked if I could see out of
my eyes. The list goes on and on, but I began in junior high and throughout high
school to let people make those comments and pretend I didn’t hear or they didn’t
say what they said. I think that subconsciously I decided to drop the Korean side
of myself and try to fix the other side—the reasons I was teased. I decided to “fix”
it by wanting to be “just like everyone else.”
I also felt like an outsider at times within my own family, especially my extended
family. It wasn’t as direct or as deliberate as the incidents in school, but it happened
nevertheless. Once one of my cousins was diddling with her fingers and
discovered that when she put her two index fingers together, they parted from each
other at the tips. I knew exactly where this was going. I put my fingers together
under the table, where no one could see. When I put my two fingers together, it
looked like someone put crazy glue on them—straight together at the end. There
was no separation, not even slightly. I pretended something was in my eye and got
up and left. I went to the bathroom where no one could see my tears. I often still
feel like an outsider when my extended family gets together, such as when the out-
of-town cousins come to visit. Someone always mentions that “the Krolls have a
distinct look.” Last I checked I was a Kroll too. But they start to point out similarities:
who has what eyes, lips, smile, hair thickness, and so on. If someone doesn’t fit
that mold, it is for some peculiar reason. I never fit. But we don’t talk about it—like
I’m not there or I don’t count. But I feel it—I don’t fit, the oddball even in my own
When kids get to high school they become concerned with fitting in. I went to a
high school that was racially diverse, but I spent my time with a kid of “in” athletic
crowd, mostly from my neighborhood, and mostly white. I didn’t want to spend time
with people who looked like me. I didn’t want to spend time with other Asians—I
acted like they were foreigners—even other adopted Koreans. An adopted Korean
boy asked me to a dance; I said no and avoided him like the plague. I even tired
to avoid talking to other Asians. I was self-conscious and thought that everyone
else was looking at us, lumping us together, when I was determined to be like
everyone else—not Asian.
In the summer after high school and before college this assimilation plan of mine
started to come apart. First it changed because of something positive; then my first
year of college demolished it completely. When I finished high school, I was
introduced to a group of Koreans by a former high school friend who was Korean.
I wouldn’t have given him the time of day in high school, but he came often into the
Chinese restaurant where I worked so I agreed one night to go with him to
somebody’s house after work. What I found was so intriguing and amazing—I
didn’t have to explain or adjust myself to fit in. We all shared this invisible bond.
We all had gone through similar experiences in school—and I had thought I was
the only one feeling this way because I was adopted. I realized this was a race
issue, not just an adoption issue. People pick out differences in how we look. But
now I felt like I belonged. I opened up to Koreans, and to Korean culture and to
other Asians. I had a whole new appreciation for being Korean and for Korean
culture. I had a new set of friends and they were like me!
In the fall I went away to a college about 70 miles from my home. I went with a
group of kids from my high school, but I looked forward to meeting other people. I
didn’t expect what I found: a new level of stereotyping and racism, beyond teasing.
One of my classes was taught by a professor who talked about cultural sensitivity
in her classes. On the very first day of class, she asked a Japanese man in the
front row if he had a camera. She then looked around the room and at the four
Asians in the room—including me—and asked, “I mean, come on, all you
Japanese people have nice cameras, right?” All of a sudden she began to laugh,
a signal for the rest of the class to laugh too. I just kept looking down at my
notebook, while everyone else waited for more jokes. I realized this was just the
Winter break was coming up and everyone was getting restless. One of my
professors handed out something to several of us; at first I thought it was our
grades. Then I saw it was a map. It was an invitation to come to her house for
Thanksgiving. I was going up to thank her but decline after class, when I realized
only Asian students received these invitations. She commented to a white student
who looked curious that she was inviting the Japanese students because they
couldn’t afford to fly all the way home for Thanksgiving. The ironic thing was that
on the first day of class she had us fill out cards telling her where we came from,
our name, address, and why we wanted to take the class. My name is Kroll—my
address was 70 miles away, I don’t have a Korean or a Japanese accent. But she
couldn’t see me as a person—just a stereotype—and what she automatically
assumed about all Asians was applied to us, though only one of the four Asians in
that class was Japanese.
I began to go home every weekend and to spend my free time with Korean friends.
They understood me, so I didn’t have to explain anything. It began to hit me that
all the effort I had put into being European American wasn’t worth it, and of course
it didn’t work. Wow! Like a ton of bricks! I had other choices. I knew I had to get off
that campus and go to the people who could help me be myself. That would be a
better way to get through college. As the year was coming to a close I began
hauling my stuff back home, nearly three to four weeks before school actually
ended. I just couldn’t wait to get off that campus and I looked forward to not ever
seeing those people again.
The following year I transferred to a college nearer my home. I got to know more
Koreans and spent more of my time, in fact almost all my free time, with other
Koreans. I took Korean language classes, as well as classes in Asian history, race
and gender relations, and intercultural communication. Things were much better—
not because the transfer meant that I would avoid all prejudice, racism, and
discrimination. But I was better able to face it because I had my family and friends
who are my support network.
I do still encounter incidents and people who don’t understand Koreans or Korean
culture. At work I was hanging out in the kitchen tossing French fries back and
forth with a cook who is African American. He said, “Hey, don’t be doing any of the
Kung-fu stuff on me! I know you Chinese people!” I said, “Um, I’m not Chinese.
I’m Korean.” He said, “What’s the difference?” like it was unimportant. I said, “It’s
a big difference. What’s the difference between a Jamaican and a Nigerian?” He
said, “I don’t know.” “The difference is culture! Different languages, food, values,
beliefs, traditions, music, ways of life!” I’ve found ways to respond and not just be
silent and keep my feelings bottled up inside.
I’m also reminded that people know so little when they expect me to know
everything Asian and every aspect of Asian cultures. I was talking to another
student who was telling me how amazed he was by the dinner an Asian woman
had made for him recently. I asked him what she made. He started to describe it,
because he didn’t know the name. He was describing it as chicken with red, sweet
sauce all over it. I immediately said, “Oh, that’s got to be sweet and sour chicken.”
He said, “Wow! How did you know? Do your parents own a Chinese restaurant?”
I said, “Uh, not quite, but I did work in a Chinese restaurant.” Then he moved on
to the next dish. He described this soup with all kinds of greens and said it was
Japanese soup. I said, “Well, you got me there. I don’t know what kind of soup that
is.” “He had an unsettled look on his face and insisted that I must know. He said,
“This soup is Japanese, though. What do you mean, you don’t know?” And I said
back, loudly, “I don’t know means I don’t know. I’m Korean and I worked in a
Chinese restaurant. How does that make me a Japanese authority?”
My Korean friends understood and have similar experiences all the time. We are
all pretty “Americanized,” but there are times when we hated to be Korean,
because we looked so differently. I identify more strongly with my Korean heritage
and culture, which makes me actually feel in place, comfortable with who I am. All
of these experiences that I’ve written about have made me a stronger person and
determined to succeed—to prove wrong the people who underestimated me.
My mother and I were talking once and she told me that when she went to Norway
to visit her relatives she could feel that bond, not so much because her relatives
were Scandinavian, but because this was who she was. She felt at home and
understood herself better by seeing them and learning which parts of Scandinavian
culture had become part of her. I could relate because that’s how I feel about being
But being Korean is only part of me. When you get to the bottom of it, I really am
a Korean by birth who grew up living in America, with European parents. Try finding
this location on a map. I am a little of each of these cultures and knowing that and
accepting that took a long time.
My advice to anyone who reads this essay is that you understand how pervasive
culture is in people. You may not recognize it because everyone around you may
be culturally similar to you, but that could change and the things you once took-
for-granted are gone. Suddenly you are confronted with a new culture—new beliefs
and new ways of doing things. How would you react?
Some of the things that have been said to me over the years have been said out
of ignorance and some of it out of hatred. Being able to confidently and correctly
communicate with cultural diverse others is the challenge we all face. There is so
much I could have offered my friends, my classmates and my co-workers if they
had only suspended their stereotypes, prejudices and ethnocentric ideologies.
Cultural sensitivity is a buzzword that is thrown around a lot today, but sensitivity
is not enough. If you want to succeed in this multi-cultural world, it is going to take
knowledge of other cultures and motivation by you to try and understand other
cultures. Other cultures may not make sense to you, but let’s face it; there are so
many things about American culture that do not make sense either—when one
really analyzes it.
I know my identity and who I am because I know who I am not. The issue of culture
is a delicate one. Ask yourself what is most important in determining the culture to
which one belongs. Is it the genetic influence of one’s physical features? One’s
learned patterns of behavior? The categories into which people are place by a
seemly omniscient society?
Communicating across cultural identity boundaries is often full of challenges as it
provokes questions about our taken-for-granted cultural premises, yet it is these
precise challenges that offer us openings for new cultural learning, self-awareness,
and personal growth.
My Name Is Essay
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