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.
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.
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.