The Great Exchange
Almost one year ago, junior Ria Jain watched a video of some of her favorite YouTubers reacting to a music video by Korean pop (K-pop) group BTS. Jain said since then, she has seen parts of her personality change as she has become passionate about both K-pop and Korean culture.
“I was like, ‘Hmm, this looks really good. (These YouTubers are) all reacting so strongly to this, so maybe I should check (K-pop) out as well,’” Jain said. “Once I checked it out, I was like, ‘Wow, they sound really good. Their dancing is really good. The aesthetics they have in their videos (are well-done).’ I was actually kind of disappointed that I didn’t get into it earlier.”
Jain said she is now interested in numerous K-pop groups, as well as in the Korean culture in general. As an Indian American, Jain has no personal connection to Korea, but she said she began to embrace this new culture, going as far as learning both the spoken and written Korean language.
Jain is far from the only student who has embraced a culture that is not her own, and she is now a member of both Korean Club and International Food and Culture Club (IFCC), along with students who share similar interests.
Earlier this semester, Jain and Sarah Mick, IFCC member and junior, gave a presentation on Korean culture during an IFCC meeting. They discussed the Korean way of life, from popular fashion styles to the long hours which Korean students dedicate to school and studying.
For Mick, the fascination for other cultures started at a young age. She said she first learned about Japanese culture in elementary school, partially through working on her Girl Scout troop’s Bronze Award project in 2011. According to Live Science, the was the year northeastern Japan experienced a magnitude-9 earthquake, one it is still recovering from. Mick’s troop learned about the country and informed others about the natural disaster in order to raise money for northeastern Japan. Mick said the experience sparked her interest in Japanese culture and influenced her decision to take Japanese I as her foreign language at CHS. From there, Mick said she found ties with Korean culture that helped her transition into liking K-pop.
Photo by Emily Dexter
“It was the beginning of freshman year. I moved here, and I was looking for places to find connections with people because I knew absolutely no one,” Mick said. “So I went to Anime Club, and in that club, (at) one of the first meetings, this one girl was like, ‘Yo, look at this music video. You should check it out.’ And it was BTS. I saw it, and I was like, ‘Oh, this looks really interesting.’ I looked it up at home, and then it kind of spiraled from there.”
Like Mick, Jain said it is important for students to learn more about different cultures.
Photo by Emily Dexter
“I would encourage people to try to delve into a culture that isn’t their own because it can change you in ways you don’t even know,” Jain said.
Jain said IFCC has made her more
Jain said IFCC has made her more appreciative of the diversity in the world, because she said she now had a reason to learn about different cultures.
“I find it really interesting how different people can have such different ideas and such vibrancy, and can come together in such a unique way,” Jain said.
According to English teacher Elizabeth Kahl, students should go beyond merely learning about other cultures; they should also strive to have a diverse group of friends, so they can have a more personal connection with those other cultures.
“A lot of times in high school, the natural pattern is to self-segregate. It could be (based on) interest, it could be race, (or) at times you see it’s income. But I think you can walk into certain classes, especially at higher-level classes, and see that (segregation) very clearly,” Kahl said. “It’s unfortunate, but I just don’t think that a lot of times people have an outlet, or someone to talk to about that, about how we need to be not just open to cultures—because I think we’re open to cultures here—but we need to be embracing and wanting to learn more and going out of our way to become friends with people outside of your group.”
Kahl said she had her own experience with culturally diverse friendships in high school, mainly because her best friend was Jewish American.
“She was the only Jewish American person at our school, and I was the only Pakistani-slash-Asian person at our school, so we kind of had that shared culture. We had one other friend who was Ethiopian American, so we just kind of had this little shared culture that we wanted to dabble in,” Kahl said. “(My Jewish American friend would) come over and have my mom’s food and participate in some of our cultural stuff, and then the first time I went (to her home), we celebrated Hanukkah with her family. I sat down and watched them do Passover with their family. We just blended our cultures together to learn more about each other, but also because we just felt like the closer we got as friends, the more it felt like family.”
Kahl said this experience helped her to better understand different groups of people as she went into college. Overall, she said she supports the idea of people embracing cultures that are not their own, but that there is a fine line between appreciation and cultural appropriation.
Jiwon Yu, co-president of Korean Club and sophomore, said she feels the topic of cultural appropriation is sometimes misunderstood. Yu lived in Korea until she was ten years old, when she moved to Carmel, so her perspective comes from both sides of the equation.
“In Korea, a lot of people like when foreigners enjoy our culture. We think it’s fun, and we feel like our culture is spreading,” Yu said. “We actually appreciate a lot of foreigners trying to embrace the culture, but I guess where we draw the line is when they try to make it theirs, when they bring it back to America and claim it as theirs.”
Yu said she sees Korean Club, which focuses on learning about the Korean language and way of life, as a positive way for students to become involved with the culture, since CHS doesn’t offer Korean as a language.
“When I watched (the members) learn Korean, at the beginning of the year they couldn’t speak at all, but by the end, they could speak and they could communicate with each other, and that really inspired me to really let them experience the culture,” Yu said.
Despite the opportunities Korean Club, IFCC and other groups offer to students, Jain, Mick and Kahl all said there is still room for improvement in learning about and accepting other cultures at CHS.
Jain said, “There’s still quite a bit of improvement we can do in the sense that there’s some people that I’ve heard that haven’t been outside the (United States) or even Indiana, so I think it would be definitely beneficial for people to start learning about other cultures and see what’s out in the world just beyond their USA bubble.”
Despite this need for improvement, recent data shows that the United States may be on a trajectory toward a greater acceptance of other cultures. In 2016 and then again in 2017, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey to assess how Americans think increasing levels of diversity affect their country. In 2016, 58 percent of respondents stated they thought growing diversity makes the United States a better place to live, while 7 percent said they thought rising diversity makes the nation a worse place to live. The 2017 survey saw a significant shift in opinion, as 64 percent of respondents said they thought growing diversity makes the country a better place to live, and only 5 percent said diversity makes the nation a worse place.
Whether or not that trend applies to this school’s entire student body, Jain said she sees a high acceptance and appreciation of other cultures as a trend among her friends, and that she would encourage even more students to explore and accept other cultures.
Jain said, “I think people should embrace different cultures that aren’t their own because it can give people something new that can change them for the better, which from personal experience, I can say that that has happened to me.”
Graphic by Jai Sanghani
In the melting pot of America, everyone has unique cultural origins, and those origins are still important to many. Especially for many students with parents of different cultures, discovering their roots is an integral aspect of their perspective and identity.
Junior Joseph Hsu said his heritage has greatly impacted his outlook on the world.
“My mom is Indian—she is a princess from Manipur—and my father is American-born Chinese,” Hsu said. “I think that growing up in a global household, because we had guests from all over the world come and stay with us, it definitely brought a lot more perspective to my life.”
Hsu said he spent the majority of his childhood in India, and these experiences gave him a more globally oriented mindset.
“Being able to (live in India) gives me a different outlook on life here in the (United) States and the things that we have here (versus) the things that we have in India,” Hsu said. “I would say that it’s just allowed me to bring a verify different viewpoint to any kind of argument.”
Junior Sharon Prati, whose father is Italian and mother is American, said living in the United States has made it difficult for her to stay in contact with her Italian family members and to truly maintain her Italian heritage.
“I have cousins and family in Italy. We do FaceTime and all, which is pretty cool, but I don’t know them that well,” Prati said. “They’re learning English, but we are not learning Italian, so we have a hard time understanding each other when we see each other, and we don’t see each other too often.”
Photo by Apurva Manas
However, Prati said she thinks having parents of two different cultures is a rewarding experience overall.
“I think it’s better (to have parents of different cultures) because you have more opportunities to do things and you know more about both cultures,” Prati said. “I think it’s a cool experience and not everyone gets to have that experience, so it’s something to enjoy.”
Spanish teacher Kay Vazquez said her children were deeply impacted by cultural influences from both her and her Puerto Rican husband throughout their childhoods. Vazquez said many international experiences also impacted them, including living in Germany for eight years.
“They are adventurous because of this, and they’re not afraid of the rest of the world. They understand that people are people,” Vazquez said. “They understand a lot about how to look at the world. My goal for every student is to have an out-of-the-box experience because you learn about your own country, plus you learn about another part of the world.”
Vazquez said she thinks traveling abroad is an effective way to appreciate your culture.
“You’re never going to forget your roots,” Vazquez said. “When you’re over there looking at your country from the outside, looking in on how the rest of the world views us, you definitely think about that all the time. It just makes you look at yourself as an American, maybe in a more mature and a different way because you’ve had that experience.”
According to Hsu, understanding your culture is an important part of realizing your identity.
“For the longest time, I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I was ashamed of my heritage,” Hsu said. “The more I learned about it and my culture and my ancestry, the more I became interested in it. I feel like definitely, no matter who you are, your past doesn’t define you, but it’s definitely worth it to look into it. You can find a lot about yourself and where you came from, and that definitely creates more connections between people.”