Joy was a 유학생 (international student) who majored in Asian American Studies at UCLA, where she was introduced to KYCC through a service learning class. She has been a Communications Intern from 2015 to 2017. Currently, Joy is studying for the LSAT and planning to attend law school in the fall of 2017.

Where is your hometown?

I was born and raised in Gwacheon — which is technically in Gyeonggi Province — but I consider it Seoul, because Seoul’s 정부과천청사 (Governmental Complex) was located for years in Gwacheon. But I consider Southern California my hometown because I spent four years of high school in Victorville, which is between L.A. and Las Vegas, and have lived for six years all over L.A. County—Santa Monica, Westwood, Pasadena, Koreatown.

Living in L.A., I feel more at home. It helped me build my identity more than living in Korea. Korea is the country where my roots are and my family and relatives, but here in L.A. and California is where I found myself. This is more the place for me.

Do you live or work in Koreatown?

I lived in an apartment complex near 4th and Commonwealth in Koreatown for six months right before and after finishing college. I was looking for a job in Koreatown. It was one of the hardest times of my life because it was really hard to get a job. Not a lot of companies hire non-resident students. But Korean food and Korean bars in Koreatown helped me through it. I was able to enjoy traditional comfort food that I missed from growing up in Korea.

I also had an internship at KYCC during my last year at UCLA. My college friend David had previously been an intern at KYCC and he introduced me to the organization. I translated agency documents and worked on communications.

What are your thoughts on Koreatown?

It’s developing. I can see it’s become more inclusive since I first came in 2010, in terms of people who come here to have fun and people who live here. When someone says Koreatown, it used to be only a neighborhood for Koreans or Korean Americans. But now when you say Koreatown, it’s a place for everyone to come and eat and have fun and drink, regardless of what race or ethnicity one is. I came to California as a 유학생 —an international student I experienced a lot of culture shock. Looking back, adjusting to my new life was a good experience in diversity.

I came to California as a 유학생 —an international student—when I was 15, hoping to learn English. As an exchange student, I lived with African Americans, Caribbeans, Brazilians, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Koreans and Caucasians—five families in four years. I experienced a lot of culture shock. Looking back, adjusting to my new life was a good experience in diversity.

Koreatown provided me with comfort during a time when I was obligated to stay here as a student. I was homesick but the community gave me strength. I saw people who were similar to my family and myself, not only in traditional food and Korean-ness but I felt like I belonged emotionally even though I was in a foreign country. I’m pretty sure other international students from Korea or people who just immigrated would feel the same way. It’s the way people talk to you, the way they serve you food, the way they reach out and approach you; all these things remind me of how I used to live, or of my friends and family in Korea. That’s why I feel like L.A. is my hometown.

Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?

It’s so hard to choose because it changes all the time. Whenever there is a new place that is hot and talked about, it becomes my go-to place. Over time, my favorite spots have changed. If it’s not food or bar-related, it’s Catalina Avenue—the one with all the palm trees on it. It’s special to me because there are no palm trees in Korea so seeing them gives me a feeling that I’m abroad, but I still feel comfortable because I see them in Koreatown. I’m always amazed by their height and similarity. I pass by there whenever I have the chance.