I moved to Shanghai in China from South Korea when I was 13 and applied to a British international school to learn English. At first, everything was so frustrating and it was also scary for me to learn another language and to be around new groups of people from all around the world. I went to a small campus in Nanxiang (in north-west Shanghai) and there were about 8 of us in our eighth-grade class. There were two girls from South Korea that helped me a lot with translations in order for me to communicate with teachers.
All three of us had just moved to Shanghai and we were beginners in the Mandarin class. There were also two guys from Taiwan, a guy from Japan and one from Hong Kong. In order for us to learn Chinese words, we would first speak to each other in English. I found Chinese easier because I could use what I learned right away, and learned many new words quickly with the help of my Chinese friends. They would help me understand by using English translations. Since my background was Asian culture, I found many similarities between Chinese and Korean in both the words and the pronunciation.
What I really liked about English was that it was very simple and easy to write in comparison to writing Korean or Chinese characters. The more I learned about English and western culture, the more I became fascinated by it. By the time I was deciding what college to attend at the end of my IBDP program, I was more interested in exploring cultures different to my own. Most of my teachers and fellow students were new to China and the school, so we did our best to help each other to figure things out. I was very influenced by my form room teacher who was also my art teacher. Unlike Asian culture, western culture is more open and engaging for students who would like to have a career in the art world.
All of the different teachers from different backgrounds had a variety of knowledge about art schools. They also taught me to push my own boundaries and explore possibilities. I am thankful for the opportunities that I had in an international school in China and also I appreciate all the support from the teachers.
Going to an international school didn’t simply mean that I was learning different languages. It also meant opening up my mind while being surrounded by people with different points of views and opinions. The support from the teachers gave me the confidence to move forward by myself in a different country. We still keep in touch through emails and social media. We visit each other whenever we get the chance, just like a family. Joining a small school campus was like becoming a part of a big family. I had to move to a bigger campus for my IBDP program, but most of us who moved to the same campus still took care of one another and helped each other out.
I applied to art schools in the United States three years ago and decided to take an undergraduate degree at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, and I now have only one more year to go. I am a printmaking major and very interested in handmade papers and sculptures. Since I am graduating in a year, I am starting to think about future job opportunities; going to graduate school and becoming an art teacher at an international school in Asia has always been high on my list. Because Asian culture and western culture are very unique in their own ways, I would like to share my experiences and help to give other people different perspectives. I am also looking forward to travelling a lot, learning other local languages and trying out local foods.
To see more of Hae Jin Lee’s outstanding printmaking work, visit www.behance.net/haejinhaejinlee