- From Chicago to Seoul: Exploring my Identity at Yonsei as a Female Asian Artist April 21, 2020
Korean Language & Literature major Carmen Zhao
Name: Carmen Zhao
College: College of Liberal Arts
Major: Korean Language & Literature (entering class of ’18)
“'Every individual connects with their space' is a quotation I remember delivered by Korean architect Seo Do-ho during his visit to my previous alma mater, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was an art student then, majoring in Visual Arts and Critical Studies. Seo’s discourse was what sparked an epiphany in me, ultimately guiding me in coming to Korea for studies. He claimed that to understand art, one must deeply understand and connect with its context. I thought that this also applies to the artists themselves; to fully comprehend one’s identity, they must explore their roots, delving into their historical and cultural backgrounds.
As an artist with mixed backgrounds - a Chinese who grew up in different parts of the world and holds Korean roots - I realized that I did not know much about my Asian heritage. My studies in the U.S. was limited in opportunities to learn about my culture and engage with people who share my values and origins. As an Asian and female art student, I realized that I had to understand my identity first to cope with stereotypes that surround my identity, especially those around my status as a mixed Asian. Around this time of confusion and conflict, my friend introduced me to Yonsei University; I ultimately applied as an undergraduate student, and I am very satisfied with my studies here.
At Yonsei, I can learn not only courses related to my major but also touch on subjects in science and technology fields. I remember in my first semester, my Intro to Economics professor advised us to take many forms of introductory classes in a variety of areas of study. And that’s what I have been doing - Yonsei truly is the right place for interdisciplinary learning. There is an integrated chain between departments, and through this, I am growing as a versatile thinker and learner.
Korea is a melting pot: it adopts a multitude of foreign cultures, yet it never fails to preserve its own. Korea’s unique culture of bonding is reflected, especially at Yonsei University, with its traditions of club activities, sports matches, and school festivals. Even as an international student, I certainly enjoy a sense of belonging - I feel welcome, and again, I feel like I understand my identity better. Korea, and more specifically, Yonsei, is the place to experience ‘home outside of home’ and grow as an individual.
As a Korean Language and Literature major, taking classes related to Asian studies, learning about Korean culture and the cultures of its neighboring countries, and studying amongst many Asian colleagues, I was able to perceive and understand my roots better. This was my initial goal when I first stepped foot on Korea, and I am satisfied to be reading and learning about the arts, history, and culture of this beautiful country and how it is deeply related to my origins. I believe that geography can have a significant influence on your way of thinking, and such further crystallizes your identity.”
Interview by The Yonsei Annals reporter Kyu-ri Kim
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