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Finding Home in Asian American Studies
Seung-Hyun | January 30, 2018

Penn fits in an alternative definition of home for me. This home offers both challenges and moments of connection. More than anything, Penn has been a place of growing pain and constant change. I’ve had my share of angst, fear, and failure these past three and a half years, but equally I recall moments of curiosity, creativity, and belonging that have so deeply changed me for the better.

At Penn, I engaged for the first time in the study of my own identity and history as an Asian American through the Asian American Studies Program (ASAM). Growing up, I had seldom seen my own identity reflected in the history and literature I studied in school. It’s funny to look back at my freshman self. I initially scoffed at this discipline and thought of it as such an impractical study, unhelpful to my shallow obsession to improve my resume.

As a senior now, however, I realize how much the Asian American Studies Program has shaped my identity and sense of home here at Penn. This Program gave me the representational belonging that I’d never experienced during my twelve years of American public school. It gave me access to professors and mentors who consistently validated my stories and introduced me to the resistant capacities of knowledge-making. I had grown up being silent toward the subtle and blatant forms of racism and discrimination I’ve experienced throughout my life; this Program, for the first time, offered the intellectual and emotional space to finally speak on those experiences and discover my own voice in relation to the larger histories overlooked within the mainstream American narrative. ASAM lies at the core of my current self as an activist and intellectual.

Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies in general are crucial to correcting the public narratives that fail to engage the realities of white supremacy, structural inequality, and racial discrimination. Asian American Studies has not only given me the ability to diagnose the social, cultural, and political facets of racialized identities, but also imagine hopeful spaces for storytelling and activism. I know that I’ve become conscious of what has been always unconscious thanks to ASAM. The Program has developed my capacity to care for vulnerable communities and to fundamentally question the inequalities pervading our history, culture, and the current political moment.

Asian American Studies is of course not just for Asian Americans; it’s for students who wish to know the unwritten histories we often don’t read in high school textbooks and the narratives that re-imagine what is possible in our increasingly diverse and global society. Home takes time to build and grow; even ASAM had to be fought for by students and activists in order to find its place here at Penn. I hope that future students also find home in ASAM and to not take for granted what home is and could be. Penn is a place of both uncertainty and belonging, a time to discover ourselves through spaces that we would’ve never imagined to be in.

About the author

I'm majoring in English with minors in Asian American Studies and Theatre Arts. As an aspiring multidisciplinary scholar and artist, I love to theorize and philosophize - basically overthinking too much about anything and everything. I am strongly passionate about civil and human rights, social and environmental justice, and just about anything that involves helping people and empathizing beyond boundaries. I hope to combine my activist/scholarly interests with my artistic practice in theater, film, and storytelling! 

I was born in Busan, South Korea, but moved to the flat suburbs of Southern California when I was six. I decided to come to Penn partially because I needed public transport and hated driving. Living in Philly has been full of new discoveries and growths, and I'm so glad to have called this place my home for the past three years. I've also traveled extensively during my time at Penn, interning in Israel and India and studying abroad in London. Hoping to wander some more this year and after graduation!

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