Where are you from?
I moved to the US along with my mom, dad, and sister from South Korea in 1991 when I was 8 or 9.
What was your childhood like?
When we were living in Korea, we lived in the back of a shoes/clothing/accessories store that my parents owned (like a very small department store or even a small “Footlocker” with more variety) on a busy market street, or at least that’s how I remember it. I have no idea how I’m still alive because I distinctly remember almost getting hit by or hitting cars with my poor beat up bicycle on at least 3 separate occasions, and I have a pretty spotty memory of my childhood so there were probably quite a few more similar incidents. Other than playing in traffic, there were lots of kids in the neighborhood and we ran wild on the streets which was amazing compared to how things seem to be nowadays. I also remember summers in the country/farm part of Korea (which there was a lot more of back then) staying with my extended family for summer break. Outside of summer breaks in the countryside, schooling was strict and intense, and I distinctly remember thinking how much easier the homework load was comparatively when I started school in the US, and when the math teacher tested me here, they found that I was somewhere around a grade or two higher than the grade I entered. I started school knowing less than a handful of words in English, and I remember they would have me pick out lunches with picture cards. There was also the joy of my friends getting me to say swear words with the pretense of teaching me the language. All in all, I integrated fairly quickly and by summer break of my first school year, I was speaking English at a close to fluent level and I think I had a fairly average childhood from then on.
What brought you to Cleveland?
I didn’t have much say in the matter, but my parents decided they wanted to move here after building up some savings in Korea to explore the opportunities in the States. The first few years were pretty painful for everyone in the family.
What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States? Did those change?
I felt excited, happy, sometimes sad and angry, and very very lost. I’m a lot more comfortable now, and after having traveled a fair bit for work and play, Cleveland is deep in my heart as is the US in general.
What challenges did you face as transitioning here?
The language was the beginning. Luckily for my sister and me, we learned the language quickly as kids… but going from a country of almost complete Korean homogeneity (I personally saw maybe a half dozen white or black faces while in Korea) to the inverse (when my sister and I got to our elementary school in the states, we doubled the number of Asian kids in a school of around a thousand kids), the sense of that huge loss in community is fairly striking, even if you are just a kid. Other than that, there’s the normal stuff like the occasional racist outburst from strangers, some mild attempts at bullying (I was lucky to have many friends who offset this behavior), and just not being able to naturally fit into a new crowd. The typical challenges of an immigrant or minority, I think. At the time, I didn’t think much of it… I just wanted to have fun. More of these feelings and memories hit me as I look back, but all in all, I was a happy kid.
What is your occupation?
I own a small CNC machining firm, specializing in defense and aerospace. I’m also a full time dad to my adorable not-quite 3 year old daughter, Mina and just turned 4 months son, Ren and husband to my ageless wonder of a wife, Denise.
How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?
I have found that Clevelanders are generally the warmest, most sincere and have a habit of giving off that “good at the core” vibe in a way that I think is rare in many places on this planet. I’m a bit of an introvert and socially painful on my off days, and even with all my efforts at being socially terrible, I find that I’m welcomed in by strangers with a smile and generosity and that is probably one of those intangibles things that keep me around.
What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?
Our family was never one for tradition or customs much, but we have little things like the whole shoes off inside the house; I almost always converse in Korean with my folks (though not with my sister, unless we’re scheming against unwitting english-only speakers); and other things that are more cultural than anything like being a bit more reverent of our parents than most of our friends. I’m sure there are things that my friends could easily point out, but I can’t think of it since I think it’s just “normal”.
What do you love about Cleveland?
The balance of loud and quiet, the absolutely fantastic gaggle of restaurants that I would happily put up against just about any in the US; the quick and easy access to a great downtown scene without the non-stop insane traffic of bigger cities; the generally good-at-the-core variety of people who seem to be a midwest trademark that is still strong in Cleveland and Ohio in general. And I love that we as a city are underdogs, but are on our way up.
Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?
It is so important to have fresh blood and fresh perspective. Let’s be honest… we still have a lot of room for improvement. And ultimately, it is what America is about: open, welcoming, diverse.
Why is it important to travel abroad?
Same as above. You can only glean so much from reading about a place… but you’ll never get that sense of living and breathing it and truly understanding what things are like in another life and society.