“Sung, wake up! I need to drive you to SAT prep class. It’s
6 a.m. already.”
My mother was alarm clock, chauffeur and cook for me, and I was a machine tasked with absorbing SAT
material and spitting out a score deserving of the Ivy League. Heavily jaded from 12 years of academic pressure, I could tell this spurt of stressed cramming would be my last hurrah. While not all Korean students feel such negativity toward our educational system, I could not help but feel the need to actively change my academic
When I first found out I was accepted to the Claremont Colleges, I immediately looked up the location of California on Google Maps. I understand how
ridiculous this is in retrospect, but back when grades and hard work were all that mattered,
nightlife, climate, party scenes and gender ratios were the least of my worries.
Upon locating California in North America, I began finding other admits on Facebook.
After a couple messages
and texts, my potential Claremont friends and I got together and fantasized
about our frightening, yet exciting, future in college. We were all great mobile workers, and were planning on
traveling all around the States when we were out of class. Little did we know that college in the United States entailed much more than early morning courses.
During orientation week, I realized
how much of a community American colleges are compared to those in Korea. I
remember thinking how the colleges looked like a mini-village, complete with its own
restaurants, post offices, apartments and even police enforcement. The Consortium, to the foreign eye, was a microcosm of America, far beyond the
expectations of a bookworm such as myself, whose lenses were so limited and naïve.
noticed the reality: College was momentously dissonant with my
expectations, and I needed a quick shift in perspective and action. With studying no longer the be-all and end-all of higher education, I decided
to join a club and move on from there. As junior badminton champion in Seoul for three years straight, I naturally went looking for a badminton club. Unfortunately, the very intensity that had won me such success in Korea was not only intimidating here, but also dissolved the club
chemistry, and I was forced to look for other ways to integrate myself into this community. So I chose the sport that had the closest resemblance to a badminton
Lacrosse was the perfect
transitional tool for someone who did not know much about the culture. This new
Americo-Canadian sport opened my humble eyes to a new world, just as Aladdin
promised Jasmine. When I first went to practice, a few teammates were casually
tossing around the lacrosse ball, talking about their week and other social
scenes. This was exactly what I was looking for.
The lacrosse stick and ball
were a symbolic medium for an exclusive yet mutual connection between two
friends. As my stick skills improved, so did my social skills and my ability to engage in
conversation. Team gym sessions were much more than a simple workout, and I finally realized my actual purpose at the Claremont Colleges. I was
continuing the tradition of maintaining and developing my physique while working
on my academic career, a tradition that has been valued since the times of the ancient Greeks. I
was truly becoming a renaissance man.
I had been a mere employee of the
grade system in Korea, whereas in the States, I was both sculptor and sculpture,
actively constructing a being while being a direct result of the effort itself.
My environmental transition to a
different country was an awakening far beyond the norms of eye contact, firm
handshakes and holding the door for others. I was able to put myself in an
existential perspective that propelled me into a stream of history that goes beyond
academics and partying.
Being an international student ironically did not make
me feel special, nor did it make me feel like an alien. Rather, my unique background gifted me with a trenchant perspective that eventually
allowed me to feel more involved. I felt, and I feel, as if I am part of an
ongoing movement involving humanity, discipline and progress. Being international
at the Claremont Colleges was not much of a hindrance, but more a
Sung Koo CM ’17 is a pre-med student with plans to study
abroad in Russia in the spring semester. His interests are lacrosse, botany, big
corporations and baroque interior design.