In order to create an environment in my classroom that embraces diversity – a place where students can learn to appreciate other cultures – I must revisit the events of my own childhood and analyze the formative experiences that shaped the way I view myself and others. I hope this self-reflection will help me to become more sensitive in my interactions with my own students and force me question my own belief system as we are all guilty of holding biases about others at one point in our lives.
To start at the beginning, I was born in a Korean Seventh-Day Adventist orphanage. The photo above resembles a concentration camp, no? My parents were in-house professionals so we lived here. Keep in mind that for post-war digs, this was better than most places. My father was a teacher at the orphanage and my mother worked as the resident nurse. For many orphans, my folks were their only parent figures. My family (father, mother, older sister and me) lived in the quarters facing the living barracks where you can see part of the tile roof on the lower right hand corner of the photo. Shortly after, the church built a larger, more comfortable building for the orphans and that is the place I remember most. Here is a view of the perimeter fence and mountains. How rural the city looks in those days!
Although we left the orphanage to make our journey to America when I was four, I still remember many of the children I grew up with and feel fortunate to have had so many little companions growing up. Many of the orphans were love children fathered by American soldiers stationed in Korea. There were half African-American Asian and Caucasian-Asian children at the orphanage and a few kids with special needs. But aside from their physical differences, it is their personalities or situations I recall..like the chubby, dark-skinned orphan boy who always passed gas during prayer, a pretty girl named Tiffany who had uncharacteristically curly hair, sharp chin and alway wore a shirt with a checkered giraffe. There was a boy named Timmy who always sang a Korean airplane song, “Ta Ta Ta Ta Bee En Gi!”
I also remember two older girls who babysat my sister and I when my parents had to work. One was named Eun Hee who had glasses and was very kind to us. Somehow I always got stuck with the other girl, Baik Sul Hee who always scowled under her bangs and was not very nice to me. Recently, Eun Hee visited my parents around the Christmas holidays. When I held her hands and looked at pictures from the orphanage, I got a little choked up. It was as if I had been reunited with my long-lost sister. She was still the kind girl who took such good care of us. I wondered what had happened to Baik Sul Hee. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t hate her so much now for the mean things she did like pinching me super hard when I was four. It couldn’t have been a picnic walking in her shoes.