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  Caroline's Bio Page

This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class. 
Maybe this will provide a little bit of insight into who I am…

Places I Call Home

            “Where is your hometown?  Where are you from?”  It’s a question I answer with a laugh and a slightly thoughtful look but one that I secretly dread.  For many this is a simple question that requires a single pronoun, perhaps two, but for me where do I begin?  To simplify things I usually blurt out “Los Angeles” which is where I go to school, but that’s not a satisfying answer.  Los Angeles is my current residence and perhaps it is home for now but my life stretches across many more cities and even another continent. So ask me again and I’ll give you the whole picture.  Where is my hometown? 

            Atlanta, Georgia is the first place I remember.  It is the place where I was born, of which I have a couple of sketchy memories of my younger self.   The place of coloring books, dim lights during nap times, birthday parties with small red-headed twins, ducks with shades of brown and white geese chasing the trail of bread crumbs.  The place of pink, orange and green flower garlands, black robes, my father with his PhD diploma in hand, and my mother’s proud smile.  The place of Sunday school retreats, trampolines, and sing-along-songs.  The place where I learned that taking colored paper from the classroom without asking is not okay. 

Atlanta was where I formed a sense of being.  I remember being confused when my preschool teacher first called me “Caroline.”  I had been called “Eun-young” my entire young life and I did not even hear her call out the foreign name until she pointed at me and firmly said, “Caroline.”  Then I understood that I was Caroline, that the name was me.  One day in the first grade my parents told my sister and me that we would be moving to a different place.  My father had secured a job as an assistant professor in Tennessee.  A couple of days before we moved I caught the chicken pox from a fellow student in class.  Pock marked, itchy and red, my life transitioned from Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 And just like that, the city of Chattanooga became the second home in my young life.  It became the place of a happy childhood untainted by the worries and burdens soon to come.  It was the place of piñatas, pet rabbits and hamsters, two wheeled bicycles, the place where I fell in love with Mrs. Smith, my beautiful second grade teacher, who introduced me to the wonderful world of books.  The place of the Little House on the Prairie series, Scholastic catalogs, summer days with swim meets, jolly slumber parties, and the BBC Narnia movies.  The place where my imagination ran wild without constraint, the place where I became best friends with a dog named “Shelty” who lived next door.  The place of violin lessons, metronomes, concerts and talent shows where the yellow spotlight flooded upon me in my poofy polka dotted dress and my squeaking instrument in the school auditorium.  

Chattanooga provided me with a carefree childhood.  I loved my family’s pink painted house and the neighborhood pool down the lane.  I always rode my bicycle along the streets as fast as I could without holding the handlebars and believed it to be a major accomplishment.  During summers my skin became ten shades darker from swim meets and pool parties and in winter, while my skin normalized into its original color, I piled on layers and layers of clothes to play outside in the snow, rolling snow men, snow women, and little snow children.  My favorite time of the year was when my father brought out the family Christmas tree from the attic and we had our yearly ritual of decorating the tree with Bing Cosby belting out “Silver Bells” from the stereo.

Then suddenly my world changed…  Unsatisfied with his job in Tennessee, my father had an urge to go back to the country he had left 12 years ago.  He left one winter day to seek a teaching position in the country of his own parents but a country that I, his daughter, knew nothing about.  He came back two months later, excited with the future prospects of our family.  He had gotten a job at a university and that February, our family of four packed up for a new life.  So Korea became home for six years and it was there that I grew from a child to a teenager.  It was the place where I met curious eyes and questions such as “how do you say yonpil in English?”  It was where fuzzy yellow baby chicks were sold at the school gate, where daily “national” morning exercises were held in the school sports field, where high school students lived and died under the weight su’neung—the yearly college exams.  The place of school picnics, dance contests, and senior trips to Kyongju.  The place of uniform skirts, black stockings, countless multiple choice tests, giggles at Pizza Hut, playing hooky, and karaoke nights.  

The first few years in Korea were a thoroughly confusing time.  While my classmates ploughed on through science and Korean poetry, I spent each night with my father doggedly practicing my Korean letters.  When my teacher asked me a question in class, I had to rely on my jjak—my seat buddy—to answer for me.  The tradition of capital punishment terrified me the first year until I became accustomed to the slap of the ruler upon tender palms.  Despite the group of classmates that rallied around me in school—being from America made me automatically cool, although I had to put up with the boys’ relentless teasing—I cried for weeks at night from loneliness and homesickness for my life back in Tennessee.  But it was here that I learned that the world is a much bigger place than I had ever known.  In Korea, my little world burst and I had to learn to cope with the challenges of a foreign language and a foreign culture.  But before long, because I was young, within two years I conformed and became Korean.  My American identity was gradually put aside.

Just as I thought I had found my place as a Korean teenager, my world shifted yet again.  When I was halfway done with my second year in high school, my parents decided to send my sister and me back to the U.S. to continue our education there.  And that’s how the city of Davis in California became my home.  It is a place where downtown streets are named from A to G and 1st to 5th and the most popular hangout is the local In-and-Out.  It is the place of sweet chocolate boxes on Valentine’s Day and naïve puppy love.  The place of spunky, snobby cheerleaders, Norwegian friends, badminton matches, darkrooms, and yearbooks.  The place where I found God and sin.  The place that has a bicycle for its city symbol, where the smell of cow manure floated afar on windy hot summer days. 

In Davis, I had to partly shed my Korean-ness, rediscover my American identity and forge a dual one.  It was there I learned to become Korean-American.  It was tough knowing I wasn’t one or the other but slowly I learned that I could be both and learned to love both parts that made up me.  Davis was home for three years and it was there that I learned responsibility, consequences, and readied to become an independent college student. 

So currently my home is in Westwood, Los Angeles.  It has been for the past three years and will be for at least another. 

All these places, all these cities, each of them have a part in my answer to where my hometown is.  My childhood, my adolescence, my memories, my joys, my tears, my heartaches are spread far and wide in all of these places.  To me “hometown” is not really a single place like most people make it out to be.  In this ever changing world, the old words “home is where the heart is” rings truer than any other truth.  All these places have a special part of my heart and they are my hometowns.  These are the places that I call home.


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