Growing up in multiple cultures can sometimes be hard. For third culture kids from societies where conformity is valued much more than individuality, it can be harder. More so if they don’t have an outlet to speak about the experience.
That’s why it was great to see Juliet Yi’s video, “Finding Home,” a documentary on Korean TCKs. The clip, lasting just over 12 minutes — and filmed entirely on an iPhone! — presents the stories of five Korean TCKs whose homes have spanned countries from Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to Canada, the United States, the Philippines and Germany.
This is not your everyday Youtube video. Juliet was nominated for best film at the iPhone Film Festival this year. I am totally impressed by what she has managed to do with just her iPhone 4 and Adobe Premiere Pro.
The people Juliet interviews shed light on just what it’s like being a Korean TCK. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out now.
I recently caught up with Juliet, who herself bounced around several countries during her childhood. Now based in Soeul, the 24-year-old is studying for a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies and working toward becoming a documentary film-maker and photojournalist. I for one hope she produces more work like this clip.
CXC: What are your thoughts on Korean TCKs? Are there any issues that you think are specific to them?
Juliet: I think it’s particularly difficult as a Korean TCK, because Korea is a very monocultural and collectivistic society where everyone is required to act inside the social norm.
In fact, in a research conducted by Uehara, he found that Japanese children who had been overseas experienced more problems when returning to Japan than their American peers who returned to the U.S. This is because for the Japanese, conformity to the group is important so the returnees are viewed negatively. Being different is not a virtue in collectivistic societies. The same result can apply to Korea.
There is an unspoken list of things to follow to be inside this social norm: to be a good student at school, to get into a good university, get a good job, get married at a certain age. Social norms exist everywhere but it is highly emphasized in Korea. Everything, even beauty and your appearance, seems to be standardized in Korea and female Korean TCKs may feel the pressure to fit in.
CXC: What is your background? Yes, please give us the long version of your “I come from…, but” introduction.
Juliet: I’m originally from South Korea, but our family moved to the Philippines when I was seven. My father’s project there was supposed to last one year, but it ended up lasting seven years. Almost every year, he’d tell us: “We might move to a different country soon.” But it wasn’t until I was 14 that we actually did, and that country happened to be the United Arab Emirates. This experience was probably the first time I felt culture shock in terms of the culture, religion, and language. I had to relearn the social faux pas and what was considered culturally taboo. I came back to Korea when I was 17, and got into university here. After a while I found myself feeling restless so I took a year off and went back to Abu Dhabi to learn Arabic. Determined to finish off my studies and hopefully stay in one country as long as I could, I came back to Korea, but soon enough, the restlessness kicked in again. I moved to Egypt and spent another year traveling. I am currently living in Seoul.
CXC: What prompted you to make video?
Juliet: First of all, I wanted to tell people what TCKs actually had to go through both in their host and home countries, because I have met many non-TCK Koreans who hold prejudices about Koreans who’ve lived abroad. Some of the biases that they may have of us in Korea is that we all come wealthy families or we all speak many languages fluently, so we all land ourselves good jobs with no effort, but that’s not always the case.
Also, even among TCK friends in Korea, we hardly talk about our TCK experience from an emotional point of view, so the emotional aspect is something that I really wanted to focus on. Physically it only takes a couple of hours on a plane to move to a different country but to move emotionally — to detach yourself emotionally from the country and the people you were living in, and to attach yourself to the country that you have just moved to — I think that takes years.
I wanted to share with other TCKs who were in any way struggling with the same issues, and I’ve actually received emails from many TCKs around the world who felt that something was wrong with them but that they no longer feel alone after watching the video. Before I learned about the term TCK, I thought the restlessness and the rootless identity was limited to myself, as if it was some kind of a personal defect I had. But as I started reading up about TCKs and found out that these were actually common traits among TCKs, it was reassuring to hear that I wasn’t alone, so I wanted to share this with the audience.
CXC: Why on an iPhone?
Juliet: It just seemed easy. I did have a DSLR camera, but I didn’t want any fancy camera effects. I wanted the tone of the video to be as honest and emotionally deep as possible, while not making it a sob story. I also wanted it to be amusing and bright at the same time while getting the message across.
I tried very hard not to make this a “sob story”. In fact, some people have told me that they felt like the video was nothing more than sob stories. They were either non-TCKs or Korean Americans.
Find out more about Juliet’s work!