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A Seoul-ful immigrant

By Sonia Rao

Sarah Kim is no stranger to the unknown.  

Ten years ago, Sarah immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea.  She remembers her family members feeling cloistered and excluded when they arrived, experiencing many cultural and linguistic differences.  Her family didn’t speak much English, so Sarah had to work to assimilate into the American culture that she is so familiar with today. 

Now a rising senior at Durham Academy Upper School, Sarah works as an English tutor for Durham’s Church World Service, a program for refugees.  She has been volunteering with the program since she was a freshman.  “I love hearing other immigrant stories, no matter where they come from,” the 17-year-old student said.

Sarah uses the field of journalism in order to share stories close to her heart, including stories that revolve around immigrants.  Recently, she published an article in her school newspaper, The Green and White, about a naturalization ceremony for new American citizens that took place at her school.  The piece, titled “What Citizenship Means to Me,” investigated the school’s intention for hosting the ceremony by interviewing those involved, such as the immigrants who were becoming naturalized, and the people who organized the ceremony.  

Sarah explained why she felt this story was important: “It just didn’t feel right to me.  I became a naturalized citizen two years ago, and I didn’t know if everyone should be watching such a personal ceremony.  The fact that they are becoming naturalized citizens is amazing, and I wanted it to be a good experience for them.”

Although Sarah loves writing about and working with immigrants from all kinds of backgrounds, she also participates in programs that keep her close to her Asian heritage.  As an active member and co-leader of Durham Academy’s Asian Affinity Group, she starts discussions within her school regarding the diversity, or lack of it, in her school.  “My school is over 64 percent white…There are few Asians, and even within the Asian community, there isn’t much diversity,” Sarah said. “We tend to get separated into different bubbles.  In order to have more diversity and representation within our school, we all need to come together.”

In order to increase the Asian-American representation in her school, Sarah helped to organize an event honoring Asian heritage month, which is traditionally celebrated in May.  At this event, Asian-American students taught their peers several languages, including Korean, Arabic, Tagalog, Mandarin, and even Sanskrit. 

They also shared the history of Asians in America, and presented a poster project that included phrases such as “I’m Asian-American and I don’t have to fit into Western beauty standards.”  

One of Sarah’s inspirations is Wong Fu Productions, a media company that uses exclusively Asian actors and actresses.  “It’s cool to see that Asian-American representation can become the norm,” she said.  Sarah continues to use forms of media to fight against a lack of diversity at her school: “It can be an invitation to become aware of your place in the community, and what you are doing to help improve it.”  

She is excited to continue her quest for diversity through the Chuck Stone Program.