Identity crisis is something many suffer from. It occurs when a person experiences psychosocial conflict that occurs in the process of developing their identity. Although it is a term often associated with adolescence, identity crisis can happen to anyone, of any age, at any point in their life. Despite the broad spectrum of people who experience this phenomenon, I am certain that there is only one specific group in which all members underwent identity crisis. It is people who have lived abroad.
I’ve spent nearly half my life abroad. I was born in Korea and flew to Canada at the age of four. I spent a good five years there before coming back to Korea, only to move to Australia two years later. After spending another four years in Australia, I finally moved back to Korea and have lived here since. All my life I’ve been tossed back and forth between countries, which (don’t get me wrong) was an invaluable experience, but also a continuation of building, destroying, and reconstructing identities.
The first time I remember experiencing identity crisis was on my first few days of elementary school in Australia. I was the new kid on the block and was sitting with some of my classmates that the teacher assigned to “show me around.” I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t speak English as fluently as I had hoped, because my speaking skills had deteriorated during the two- year void. The group was interested in what snacks I brought for recess. It was Postick, a potato flavored snack shaped like French fries. When the group asked what it was, I couldn’t think of a better explanation and said, “It’s like seasoned French fries.”
“Seasoned French fries? Eww,” was their answer.
Obviously, I didn’t talk to this group of girls after this incident. I felt embarrassed for bringing Korean snacks to a Western country and remember throwing a tantrum when I went home. The next day my mom packed me a Turkey sandwich and some apples instead.
Despite the bad first impression, my days in Australia became bearable as I met friends with basic manners, and even enjoyable as I entered my own clique. Highschool offered me a chance to start afresh, and I met some great friends that accepted me for myself. But there were new problems.
My conservative Asian parents were over-protective of me. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with my friends at the mall and couldn’t go to slumber parties. I felt embarrassed that I had to repeatedly tell my friends “no.” Well for the better or for the worse, they gradually stopped asking. I could feel the rest of the group bonding, creating special memories without me, and I started to question whether I was actually “fitting in.” Then I became scared that I couldn’t fit in anywhere.
After much persuasion, I was allowed the luxury of becoming closer with my friends. But my days in Australia was numbered. In Australia, I had several identities. I was the “smart Asian,” “slightly weird but funny kid,” and even “aspiring writer.” Afraid to suddenly lose these traits, I even sent an email to the Prime Minister, begging for a permanent residency, but the only thing permanent was the “unread” email status.
In Korea, like my fears, I lost all those identities. Thrown into the competitive Korean education cycle for the first time, I had trouble catching up with Korean grammar, history, geography... basically everything. My grades were rock bottom, and even English, the one thing I was confident in, betrayed me as I didn’t memorize the class material by heart like my other classmates. I developed a habit of talking to myself during this period, because there was no one I could speak to in English. My various identities were reduced to “the girl who used to live abroad,” and I once more faced difficulty fitting in.
However, after a hurricane, was a rainbow. I entered university, and my major, Division of International Studies, allowed me to meet countless people who went, and are still going through the same hardships. Although I’m way past my adolescence, I feel that I’m only now starting to constructively shape my identity.
So to those who are going through this conflict of identification, I want to say you’re not alone. Cherish all experiences whether good or bad, and you will definitely be reincarnated, stronger than ever.