I don’t usually write about myself but someone told me that it would be interesting to blog about my background. Besides, some of my blabbering makes sense when you read the argument later down in the post.

What am I?

As you may read in the little blurb below this post, I am an American Korean adoptee. To give a little more information, I was adopted when I was 6 months old from Daegu, South Korea. My parents are of mixed heritage but are mostly Polish, Irish, and Swedish. Most holidays with my mother’s side of the family were spent at my Nana’s house where we ate more-or-less traditional Polish food. Golumpkis, pirogues, kielbasa, and buckwheat were all staples.

The main ingredients in these dishes are meat, potatoes, cheese, and rice. Comfort food, really. So I grew up experiencing a culture that was not the one to which I biologically belonged.

Pierogis | Source: poradnikrestauratora.com.pl

But I have never had a problem with this. My ethnicity does not define my definition of family and culture. My mother was always honest and transparent with my origins. I suppose that this helped me understand and “cope” with being different. On the other hand, psychiatrists, strangers, church leaders, etc. have all tried to convince me that I have issues with being adopted. They tell me that I “need” to meet my biological family in order to “find closure.” Apparently until I do, a large part of myself will remain empty and angry. This may or may not be true but I’d really like to think that it doesn’t matter. I live by the principles that my mother has taught me and that is how I define myself.

Besides, I went to Korean culture camps! That must count for something, right?

Which comes first — the chicken or the egg?

My mother and father divorced when I was quite young, I believe that I was two years old. The marriage and divorce were more than small disasters and my mother ended up with nothing to her name but the car she drove. We lived with my Aunt, Uncle, and younger cousin Jonas for the majority of my youth. My mother worked full time, commuting about four hours a day, so that I could play the violin, do ballet, do figure skating, and so that I could sustain an active and engaging childhood. She has continued to work tirelessly for my education as well; she has had to pay for much of my secondary school and university tuition.

However, I am also a recipient of need-based financial aid for my entire academic career. Due to the fact that my mother and I do not possess a lot of money, nor do we have assets (i.e. we don’t own a house), schools have discerned that I cannot pay for an education and have thusly given me money so that I may access one. Most of the money that I receive is in the form of grants, with some money coming from loans. This concept is a strange one in Malaysia. Affirmative action policies and scholarships have never been strictly need-based in their aims. But that’s for another discussion.

Financial Aid Application | Source: utsa.edu

Anyway, I was talking with a friend this past morning about access and education. He said something that resonated with me. “People often think that education leads to wealth, but actually it is wealth that leads to education.” He may have been quoting someone else.

But it is true that you need a base level of wealth and financial stability to even use education as a platform to gain wealth. For example, I have a few friends who had to leave secondary school for a period of time, or forever, so that they could take up a third job in order to help put food on the table and pay the bills. Does education really allow these people to gain more wealth? I mean, if you cannot even make it through the week, what use is the rubbish that you’re learning in school?

Using myself as an example, if it were not for family and need-based financial aid, I could have never attended the secondary school that I did, nor would I be in college. Money gave me access to an education, which may give me the tools to access more money. But without the first step, I would not have been able to access the second and third.

So, when people say that we really just need to give people an education or show them that they have options, I tend to disagree. The choice will be between sustaining life and family or going to class for 6-8 hours a day. And frankly, if they are truly in need, I think they might find option B not to be worthwhile. I think that we forget this. Or perhaps we are not invested enough to look into the details. In any case, education and empowerment for poorer communities or persons clearly require more thought and research if we are to effectively realize our goal.

Looking at my own experiences, I have started to question a few things. These are things that I think we should seriously ask ourselves.

  1. Are we privileged? What constitutes being privileged?
  2. Do we label ourselves? If so, why is it necessary to do so?
  3. Can we truly be our own creations or are we products of our parents?

Annah Kim is a Korean adoptee from the United States. She received funding from her university to come to Kuala Lumpur to conduct independent research. Her research project focused on the reaction of...

6 replies on “Ethnicity, Economics, Education”

  1. This is a great article. I am pretty much impressed with your good work. You put really very helpful information. Many thanks for taking into consideration readers at all like me, and I wish you the best of achievements as being a professional domain.

  2. I just cant stop reading this. Its so cool, so full of information that I just didn't know. I'm glad to see that people are actually writing about this issue in such a smart way, showing us all different sides to it. You're a great blogger. Please keep it up.

  3. My two cents on education: Equality of opportunity is only a starting point. Kids who have to go hungry or suffer from lack of nutrients because their parents can't afford as much food can never compete on an equal basis as kids who are well-fed (perhaps too well-fed). Education can be a level-playing field if there is some equality of opportunity in the previous generation – rich kids will be able to afford more private tuition and middle class kids can arguably receive some time with their parents if help is needed with work. On average, poor kids do not have this opportunity – their parents will be less able to help them with schoolwork.

  4. I see your point on education as being the key to poverty eradication – but my mother, and others, have had the privilege of being able to send me/their own children to school. My mother worked tirelessly but we were able to stay with family and thus avoid paying for housing. Not everyone has this luxury.

    In regards to your comment on people who "expect handouts and blame government…" I have heard this argument many times before. I'm sure that these people exist in the system. However, I have yet to meet any. The people who I have met who have been on Welfare (U.S. welfare) have done so out of absolute necessity and have continued to work until they were able to bring themselves out of it.

    And I haven't really seen those houses that are "flashier" either. Yes, many people have flat-screen televisions, whether or not they seem to have the money to do so. However, I don't think that makes their houses, cars, or lives flashier – if they are – they're clearly not just on Welfare! And do you think that some of that may be a result of the housing bubble?

    The U.S. government was hoping to get everyone to own homes. I'm going to skip a lot of the details but a lot of loans for homes were made irresponsibly – due to this government program. There were loans called NINJA loans – "no income, no job, no asset." Blah, blah, blah – when they could not pay back their loans and continued to take out loans to pay back the old ones, they defaulted on their houses.

    However, before they defaulted, they had come to live somewhat of an American dream, owning a house with a little white picket fence…

    And education isn't a level playing ground. If you look at the education you receive in government schools in rural areas of Malaysia versus the education you receive in those schools in KL, you'll see that the same level of education is not accessible to everyone. This is another problem that we need to amend. Programs like Teach for Malaysia are trying to do so but are rather new.

    And thank you for your thoughts!

  5. But many in developed countries including one that I am living in now, people expect handouts and blame government for not helping the poor and blame government not helping poors in education despite they are living off their welfare benefits or doles. These are excuses, these people just don't want to work hard and earn a place in education and life. I am in middle-high income group, my live is less lavish than these welfare dependent people. My house is less flash than the state houses they live in, my car is old junk to them, I don't have pay TV at home. Yet I have to pay high taxes to support their welfare. Education is and should be a level playing ground for all.

  6. I do not agree entirely with Kim. It is true you need finance to get education but not all education has to be expensive. One can always work and study, it may be taking longer to achieve but still achievable. I read a book titled the boy who harnest wind telling story of a Malawi boy who struggled to have even one decent meal a day and whose family and entire village starved during the famine, how he went on to build a windmill to generate electricity without having enough money to continue school. Education is key to poverty eradication. Parents of Kim and many others see it, thus they will do anything to put their kids to school.

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