Sae-Young Bak, a Rutgers University-Newark Braven Fellow, shares how she explored her personal identity and came to embrace her Korean roots through her Braven experience. Congratulations to Sae-Young and our other Rutgers University-Newark Fellows who graduate tomorrow!
I was scared, timid, and a bit speechless. I went into ESL on the first day of kindergarten. Even though I was born in the U.S., my first language for the first few years of my life was Korean. I still remember pledging allegiance to the large American flag at the front of my classroom and trying to mumble the words while looking nervously at my classmates. From elementary school to high school and even now as I am just a day away from my undergraduate commencement, I have struggled with my identity. Growing up, I treated my Asian identity as a double-edged sword and I would exclude myself from certain conversations or situations because I was sometimes uncomfortable being associated with the “Asian” stereotype.
As I am now a young adult, my Asian American identity is one of my proudest traits. This is because I have come to realize that my Korean heritage comes with a rich culture and a strong orientation toward persevering in challenging situations. It also comes with strong family bonds and over the years, I have developed the utmost respect for my parents who immigrated to a foreign country in order to give their children a better life filled with opportunities.
When I first joined Braven in my junior year of college, I felt confused by my own personal ambitions and how they conflicted with my parent’s expectations. I had a limited understanding of the career paths available to me since I was brought up to believe that wearing a doctor’s white coat meant that I was successful. Going through the rigorous 11 week fellowship with Braven almost felt like a boot camp for my mind, helping me to realign my thinking and broaden my horizons to all different kinds of career paths that I was excited to venture into through internships and networking opportunities. I left Braven with my professional ambitions refreshed and my personal identity renewed, and I was able to embrace my identity as an Asian American without thinking that I was only going to be successful if I became a doctor.
Some people might think that finding who you are is absolute and that there is only one path, but that is certainly not true at all. I am personally still on the path of finding out who I am and I am proud of that. As I head off to study abroad this summer and then return back to the NY/NJ area to a full-time role in the marketing/advertising field, I am excited to continue my personal and professional journey and learn more about my strengths and passions. I am learning to embrace the journey and I feel incredibly inspired to challenge others to do the same as well. Everyone’s path of identity is idiosyncratic, but what matters is that the person going through the journey is able to make the most of it and is able to appreciate those who have paved the path before them.