The interviewee has requested that their story not be shared on social media.
What do you remember from your first few days in the US?
It was very hectic. We arrived at the airport in 1986 with four of our family members and big immigrant bags– we called them that at the time– huge bags and each one carried two, so we had about 8 of them. That’s all we got to bring when we came to LA. We had to find a home to stay, it was really– I don’t know, it was right after graduating high school, so I was fully aware, I thought ‘I grew up’ I needed to do something to help my parents to settle down. Some pressure, some excitement, but at the same time, very stressful.
What was your first impression right when you landed?
My first impression, I thought and heard that America is a dream country. I was very hopeful and I had eagerness to work and accomplish my goals and dreams in America. But I knew that it didn’t seem easy because of the cultural differences, language barriers, and I thought that it would be very tough to overcome those obstacles.
What were some of the biggest cultural differences or similarities that you noticed?
It was very opposite of where I grew up in Korea. For example, one big opposite thing is that it’s 911 here, but in Korea, it's 119. I also thought it was very culturally shocking that in Korea, when two people are riding on one bike, the non-pedaler would sit in the back, behind the pedaler. But in America, the non-pedaler would sit in front of the pedaler. Even the proper direction in sawing wood with a saw was the opposite. Those were the main differences I noticed right away. For similarities, my first impression was that people in America were very diligent, they wake up early in the morning and start working very early, and work very hard. In Korea where I grew up, people were also very very diligent and worked very hard, so that seemed to be similar.
Is there a specific memory that you’re surprised that you remember?
I remember the first taste of a McDonald’s hamburger. My whole life, I was 18 years old, I had never tasted an American hamburger. It was my first time flying, then I arrived in LA, and it was my first time tasting a McDonald’s Big Mac. That was my first hamburger in America, I can still remember the taste. It was so great. I cannot forget that memory.
What did you do during your first week?
I was 18 years old at the time, and my parents were kind of old, about 50, and I had a little brother who was 5 years younger than me. In a way, I had some responsibility to lead the family. Financially, we were very poor, so I needed to get a driver’s license as soon as possible so within the first week or so, I was getting driving lessons and had passed the written exam. That was the first thing I needed to do to get a job. So, I think I started working within the first week. I needed to find a job, and the first job I got was at the gas station during the day. I worked from 6am to 6pm, so 12-hour shifts. That was the first thing I needed to do to help my family settle down in America. "
* The contributor of this story has asked that their name be withheld.