As I mentally prepare myself for study abroad at NUS, I reflect back on my first study abroad experience – to here, America, 10 years ago. I entered America feeling both excited and nervous, and, while those feelings have now all but faded away, I still struggle to call America home. In fact, I feel as though I never had a home, just places I dwelt in and a vague specter of my culture that haunts me.
Experiences like mine aren’t new to diasporic communities, and children of diaspora take on many strategies different to navigate their own struggles. Personally, I find it liberating to double down on the fact that I don’t have a place where I can trace my roots or feel nostalgic about. Since I don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere (I think many of us who struggle to give a straightforward answer when someone asks them “Where are you from?” can relate), I’m more comfortable entering new environments. It’s what I’ve been doing for the most of my life.
In that spirit, I want my time abroad at Singapore to be a personal journey as much as an academic one. Significantly, Singapore presents me with opportunities to rediscover my Korean identity outside of American contexts. I’m no longer forcefully tied to my citizenship under liberal multiculturalism (“We’re all equal, proud Americans under the same flag!”) but at the same time I’m faced with new challenges such as confronting my East Asian privilege in Southeast Asia (as a Singaporean friend jokingly advised me, “Don’t tell them you’re American. Just present yourself as Korean and you’ll quickly make friends with the locals”). Just preparing for study abroad has made me realize that there’s no neutral choice when it comes to presenting my identity – there are only different extents to which I can choose to acknowledge this fact.
Above all, I have to be conscious of glorifying or criticizing Singapore as an outsider. As much as I am interested in Singaporean politics, society, culture, and language (if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have applied to this program), I shouldn’t suddenly be pretending to be an anthropologist, assuming the guise of an apolitical participant-observer. I will still blog about my experiences, but I will commit myself to refrain from making any statements beyond my own personal thoughts (if at any point I am overreaching, please call me out!).
**On a tangential note, registration has so far been a very difficult process for an unorganized person like me. Word of advice for future exchange students to NUS: start getting into contact with other exchange students early (NUS makes Facebook groups for exchange students about a while after admissions are out), because it’s better to struggle together than alone. Most importantly, stay calm if something goes wrong because literally anything can happen, including accidentally getting sent a rejection letter when you, in fact, got into the program.