The first day in the United States was a step into the bigger world

Jae Kim (left) with loved ones. (Courtesy photo)

Jae Kim, 21, was born Jaehyeon Kim. Born in 1998, he lived with his parents in Seoul, South Korea, until 2012 when he first came to the United States to study abroad. He was only 14 years old, and he came by himself.

Kim first arrived in Syracuse, New York after a 14 hours flight away from home, through a study abroad agency in South Korea.

Everything, from being apart from his parents to the commonly spoken language of English, was new to him. It was a long journey from home to his new home and host family, but he was never welcomed.

Kim was uncertain about the sense of community and belongingness in the United States.

“I tried to never talk in Korean, or talk to Koreans,” he said. “I considered myself figurative to others, but that’s how I survived.”

In his recollection of his first days in the United States, he spoke about being teased by classmates, struggling through teaching himself English and ultimately persevering.

“It was rough back then, but embarrassing to think about it today,” he said.

Jim is currently attending University of California San Diego, pursuing his degree in neuroscience as a second-year international student.

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This story was produced in partnership with the First Days Project.