← Back to all stories

Photo ofundefined

“Today class, we have a new student joining us," the teacher announced as I entered this new world classroom hoping that no one would notice the anxious beads of sweat forming on my forehead. Unexpectedly, booming sounds of laughter and teasing quickly filled the room that was once silent turning this hopeful space into an agonizing one. I attributed the whispers and piercing eyes of my new classmates to my dress style. As I stood there paralyzed in shame with time ticking by painfully slowly, I endured the first traumatizing moment in a school space that should have been safe in Middle School. However, this ultimately became the most challenging year of my life but also the most rewarding because it led to a moment of self-discovery where I gained the epiphany that continues to guide me and has led to my successful transition to understanding myself and what it means to truly be a third culture kid.

Before I explain what a third culture kid is, it is important for you to know who I am because this title does not totally define me. My mom is Taiwanese and my dad is Korean. That makes me half Korean and half Taiwanese, but the curious thing is that I was born in Walnut Creek, California. I’m an expat, and here is where the journey of this third culture kid begins. A third culture kid is a kid who lives and grows up in several countries often attending schools different from their original culture and country and learning to adapt. I have lived in the major cities of California and Seattle and the countries of India, Korea, and recently Taiwan. For you see, my dad’s job leads our family to different places and different countries upon the completion of diverse assignments.

Seoul changed my soul. For four months, I sat alone in the library, sneaking and eating my lunch alone. No one wanted to eat with me, alliances and clicks already formed. When kids tried to speak to me in Korean, I was faced with embarrassment as I couldn’t speak Korean even though I am half Korean and look Korean. Rumors spread throughout the grade about me. It seemed “pure blood” was a requirement to be accepted in certain circles. Additionally, I was constantly faced with pondering my identity while dealing with the anxiety of fitting into “Korea’s social norm." When I tried to make friends with the American students, they judged me because “I didn’t look like them." I was heartbroken. Kids from my own country were not accepting me. Being foreign instantly eliminates your chances of being included in their social circle. A Korean, Taiwanese, American was foreign to them. I simply did not fit into any group. Additionally, trying to balance my newfound rigorous workload while connecting with students increased my stress and anxiety.

I repeatedly locked myself in my room and sobbed myself to sleep countlessly questioning my persona and begging my parents to move. Nevertheless, I evolved a positive mindset. Despite the challenges I encountered, I am truly thankful because they broadened my integrity and comprehension on expanding perspectives and strengthened my insecurities.

My unique and uncommon experiences moving around the globe has shaped my mindset about life. And while I continue adding perspectives from each new special moment, I take my past experiences with me to reflect upon who I am becoming today. And despite being born and living for a short time in San Francisco and not being able to speak Korean or Taiwanese, I realize that every experience resonates with who I am today and makes me “whole." Every day I am excitedly awaiting new opportunities to grow and grasp what the world has to offer. You can too.​​ At some point in all our lives we may experience traumatizing unsettling events. You can either let the experience defeat you or let it grow you. Make the choice to reflect and grow into the ONE you are meant to be.

© Sarah Yeo. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.