PK, was two days away from her 27th birthday when I met her. “I’m entering the Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison club,” she says as I wished her. She had come to the States as a 12 year old girl from South Korea in 2002. She talks about her love for reading and writing, her last year of law school and her dating life. Here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with her.
Heart: Tell me about yourself.
PK: Well, I’m in my last year in law school at [redacted]. What else?
I’ve a dog, I say that because she’s on top of my head today. She was sick yesterday, I had to take her to the vet.
Heart: Do you live in a dorm where its possible to have a dog?
PK: No, I live in a house with two other roommates. And on the weekends, I live with my parents. They’re in Lawrenceville. She’s a Paris Hilton dog. (Shows me a picture of her dog on her phone, we both “Aww”.)
Heart: Is she a chihuahua?
PK: She’s a Pomeranian, but people say that because she’s really small. (Laughs)
And I like reading and I try to write. But, I’m so busy because its my last year and I’m working part time and I’ve to worry about graduating and taking the bar exam. So I try to write when I can. And I like music.
Heart: Do you play any instrument?
PK: I play the cello.
And I was born in Korea, and I moved here to US when I was 12. So, that was 2002, during the world cup. Yeah, I guess that’s me in a nutshell.
Heart: OK. How did you transition, is it easy to transition to a new country when you’re 12?
PK: No. I mean, of course its not easy. Its a different language, different culture. I didn’t mind the culture that much coz I was not comfortable in Korean culture that much. So that was fine.
But, the biggest hurdle for me was to learn the language, English. And I guess, going to school where I didn’t know anyone. But, it was fine too. I would say it was less trouble for me than for most boys and girls who moved here when they’re young, especially in their teens. I think I was OK.
Heart: Why do you think it was easy for you? Did your parents support you?
PK: My entire family moved here with me. My dad had a large business in Korea so he didn’t move until later. In the beginning, it was just my mom, me and my sister. My sister is much younger than me, actually 7 years younger than me.
Heart: Why do you say you were not so comfortable with the Korean culture. Was it the lack of freedom or something?
PK: I guess I was scared in Korea, because the education system is really intense. Very competitive and cutthroat. Even little children there are worrying about going to college. So I honestly thought that I wouldn’t survive there. And I think that was the main reason why we moved here. Education, I guess. My parents didn’t want me to grow up there and have to go through all the high school stuff there.
Heart: How is it in Korea, is it mostly heads down for children and just study, study and study?
PK: Yes. Very much so.
Heart: Is it still like that?
PK: Even more so now, than when I was there.
Heart: Wow, I think I get a little bit, because that’s how we were raised in India. There was literally nothing we could do as children except study. You grow up, get a real job. Arts is something you do in your leisure. That’s what Asian culture is all about I guess.
PK: Yeah, its mostly Science, or Business and stuff like that. (We both laugh)
And the most recent thing that has happened in my life is that I broke up with someone I thought was gonna marry me. Like, I still think he is the love of my life, but he left. That happened a month and a half ago. And that’s what’s on my mind, like the whole time now.
Heart: I’m sorry about that. So what are you surrounded by these days? Is it hope, aspiration, goals, excitement for the future? What is the general theme of life in your school?
PK: I think its mostly frustration, people are frustrated because its hard to get a job even after law school. And at this point, actually everyone is kind of tired, coz its been 3 years now. And you’re in the building everyday, going to the same classes. People are bored. I think that’s the biggest theme of our class.
And some people are ambitious, they want to get big jobs. But, its not like, I would say there’s a whole lot of excitement. Coz, its a lot of work. And if you go to a big firm, then your hours are going to be long, and you’re not gonna have a life. So, even for those who’ve ended up in law firms of their choice, its frustration. Its a lot of frustration I guess.
And for the rest, its genuinely not knowing if they’ll find a job. So, that’s scary for them. And yeah, no one is excited to be there.
Its not like, “Oh my God, I hate doing what I do.” But, its also not like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to get a new law job.”
Heart: How did you get into law school? What was your driving force?
PK: For me, it was prospect of a stable life. Especially financially, its a stable career. So, I can live with dignity, I guess. Also if you don’t get a job after graduation, you can just go solo, and do your own work. Coz, you’ve your license. I think that’s what appealed to me the most. So, yeah.
Heart: Is there a chance that you’ll partner with your father (He has his own law firm)?
PK: Oh? Yeah. That’s a possibility. I guess he really needs another attorney. But I would prefer that I don’t live with them and work with them. I don’t hate working with them, and they pay me well. So, I guess that’s an option.
Heart: Maybe you can mention that you would prefer a job offer with no strings attached, that might work, and you can live separately on your own.
PK: Right. I was trying to get a job in Chicago, because that’s where my ex boyfriend lives. He’s doing his PhD in North Western. He has 3 years left. Now, I don’t have a reason to get a job there anymore, but yesterday I got an email from one of the employers saying that, “Do you still want to apply?” and I’m thinking about it.
Coz, you know, what if? (Laughs)
Heart: Let’s talk about the “What if?” part. What if you get back with your ex, or what if you get that job in Chicago so you don’t have to depend on your father for one?
PK: I think its a little bit of both. (Laughs) Because, you know, what if it happens? And he wants to get back with me. And what if I have a job here and its going to be more long distance with him.
And What if I get a job there, living in a new city won’t be so bad. Coz, since I moved here (States), I’ve only lived in Atlanta. So, I feel like living in another city for a little bit, will also be good. So, I’m open to that idea too. So, its a mix of all kinds of What ifs. (We both laugh)
Heart: Absolutely. I get it. So, who is your ideal man?
PK: Music is a big thing. He has to listen to music that I think is decent. You know what I mean. Because, I can’t stand music that’s really loud or rap. (Laughs)
Heart: (Laughs) This is really interesting, but for a few minutes can we talk about your childhood first.
PK: My entire childhood was in Korea. I remember a lot of things. I grew up in Seoul, which is a very big city. Its like New York, but much cleaner. (Laughs) Since I was little, my mom would take me to museums, art exhibits, ballets and concerts and things like that.
Heart: Is it an upper middle class thing to do in Korea?
PK: I would say, its just like it is here. If you’re willing to do it, you can do it. Its not expensive to go to museums or concerts. You can do it if you’ve the taste for it. But upper middle class people do it more socially, so they’re most likely to do it. So, I think they’re available for everyone, but its more of an upper middle class thing.
Heart: So your childhood was different in a way that you were exposed to all these early on by your mother.
PK: Yeah, my childhood was very multicultural. My mom was very much like that. She exposed me to a lot of classical music and art. So, it was nice. I loved going out there but school wise, I was miserable.
I remember this very clearly. There was a magnet Elementary school and I was in Kindergarten, and there was a test I had to take to see if I would qualify to get into the school. I took the test and the last question they asked me was, and I remember this very well, “What sound does a cow make?” It was either a cow or horse, I don’t remember. I was little and I didn’t know the answer. Back then, it didn’t make any sense to me, but now that I think about it, its crazy. An entrance exam for an elementary school! (We both laugh)
Heart: That’s funny.
PK: Yeah. And I had friends there that I was really close to but lost touch after I moved here. I’m in touch with one of them on Instagram, but that’s it. I don’t have her number or anything, but when I went to Korea in 2012, I met her. She lives in Japan, goes to school there now. But, we’re not in touch that much. You have to go to middle or high school with them to keep your childhood friends.
That’s one thing I envied about my boy friend. He grew up here and he went to high school with his childhood friends. He’s like brothers with them. I wish I could do that with my childhood friends, and be like sisters with them.
Heart: Is there a sizable Korean population in Lawrenceville?
PK: No, its mostly white, like older white population. I think most of the Korean population in Atlanta is in Duluth, Johns Creek and Suwanee. They’re the three biggest pockets.
We’re outliers living in Lawrenceville. My parents moved there after my middle school, so I could go to a good high school. And that’s where I met my ex at [redacted], we dated for one year and then there was a 7 year gap. And then we dated last year.
And that’s where I made most of my friends too. That’s why I think High school is very important in one’s life to make life long friendships.
Heart: Did you go to college right after high school?
PK: I did, but I took two years off college to work full time and then went back to college.
Heart: I talk to 18 year olds who are in their first year of college and the recurring theme around their lives is there’s a lot of anxiety about the future or depression about the past.
PK: Oh yeah, that’s me. (Smiles) I’ve anxiety and I’ve depression, at the same time. And I’m going to a therapist. He’s talking to me about putting me on medication but I’m really hesitant to do that. Coz, I’ve heard that it can have a lot of side effects, like it can make you numb and make your thought processes slower, and I can’t have that because I’ve to take a bar exam next year.
Heart: The meds might be shutting down a part of your brain to not respond to stress levels.
PK: Yeah. The therapist said that the meds are something to think about. I think he said that because my depression got a lot worse after my breakup. So, he’s like, “Maybe you should think about taking meds.” But, I really don’t want to take medication right now.
I think a lot of the young people have that, coz, the future is so uncertain.
Heart: Whose future is certain? Mine is not. I quit my job and am trying to take up writing as a full time profession. But there’s so much uncertainty. Thomas Campbell says that, “If there’s no path, it only means that no one has discovered and walked that route before.” So, those kind of words keep me going.
PK: Yeah. Do you like to write in English?
PK: But, its not your first language right?
Heart: Yes, my mother tongue is Telugu. Its one of the many nationally recognized languages of India.
PK: OK. That’s cool. Same like me. English isn’t my first language but I like to write in English.
Heart: For a few minutes, I’ll go back to the anxiety issue. Isn’t there something wrong when you’re not anxious? Like “This girl is super confident about nothing she has.” (Laughs) I mean, I can’t replace your therapist, but I’m trying to find a reason why so many people are suffering from depression and anxiety these days. Even that depression about your breakup, I’m sure you’ll find someone whom you can fall in love and marry.
PK: The thing is I didn’t want to be married necessarily. Honestly, I don’t know if I want to get married at all.
Heart: Now you’re talking like a true millennial. (Laughs)
PK: Oh yeah. I don’t even know if I want children.
Heart: There you go.
PK: I know, there it is. (We both laugh)
I think it was less anxiety and more of just like pure sadness that he left me. Even though I didn’t have a plan with him, I think its the chaos of it.
Heart: I’m sure there’s an aspect of your self confidence that took a hit too. But, as women we’ve to realize that we can carve our lives with our own definition of success.
PK: Yeah, for me, if I say, “I’ve everything I want,” its not much. I don’t want to be a big corporate lawyer. I don’t wanna have a ring on my finger or have children. I want to be with someone I love. And have a decent enough job and that’s about it. I just want to be like near my family. Even if I end up going to Chicago, I’ll come back. That’s really all I want out of life.
Heart: You don’t want the Louis Vuittons or the Porsches? Sorry, I’m stereotyping.
PK: (Laughs) I’m into that stuff. I’m actually very particular into what I wear or what I listen to. They are choices, the things that are easy to control, like what you wear, what you listen to, what you eat.
So, I wanna be in control of those things, but if I don’t have expensive things like purses, I’m fine with it. Its OK. I really like fashion and like to dress up. It’ll be nice if I had fancy things, but you know, its not very important.
Heart: I know a lot of Korean women who are very well put together.
PK: Oh, that. I think Korean women are groomed from an earlier age to do that. They’re almost pressured into doing that. Everything about their appearance is judged to a millimeter. Its crazy and one reason I’m happy that I left Korea is because of that. Like here, no one’s gonna look at me and say, “Your hair is not perfect,” but there, I would get called out for not dressing well, for being a little bit overweight. Its really crazy.
And you know, I’ve self image issues too because I grew up there. And a lot of Korean people say things like, “Oh, you’re fat.” Just like in your face they would say that.
Heart: So, are you considered fat in your community?
Heart: I don’t know what they’ll call me, obese? (Laughs)
PK: Its crazy, its insane. I’m definitely not one of those skinner girls that you see in Korea. Coz everyone wants to be a size Zero. Zero zero. I actually kind of feel bad that Korean women are kind of forced to do that, you know, go on diets all the time, do plastic surgeries and buy expensive stuff to keep up.
When I was younger, I used to think that’s really superficial. “Women thinking about all this stuff, its not all about outward appearances.” But, now that I’m 26 and growing up in the Korean community, I see now why a lot of Korean women are that way. Its because if they don’t do it, they’ll be called out. People will judge them.
Yeah, I used to be very judgmental about them, but now I know why they’re like that. Coz, my mom’s like that too. Its hard being a young girl in Korea I think. Like the stewardess that work for Korean airlines, they like have a weight requirement to qualify. They’ve to be below 120 pounds or something like that.
Heart: They do?
PK: Its stupid right? Because they’re there to help you put your luggage away if they’re disabled right? And they can’t because they’re so small. And I only recently found that out and its really stupid. Like they’re not there to look good, they’re there to help you. They’re basically like Air Marshals in a way, because they have to suppress someone crazy if they’re getting out of control on the flight.
Heart: What’s your favorite food?
PK: I think Korean or Japanese.
Heart: How did you get introduced to Japanese cuisine?
PK: Its very popular in Korea. I think Koreans and Japanese eat a lot of each other’s food, because they’re so close. And my dad used to have a chain of Japanese restaurants in Korea.
Heart: So, is that what he left behind in Korea and came to the States and became a lawyer?
PK: Yeah. So he still cooks sometimes. This is my favorite one. Its also spelled with a T. Its pork, you deep fry it with Panko, its like bread crumbs. This is a brand, you’ve to use that one, otherwise it becomes a different texture. So, this is what my dad makes, its very fattening, but its so good. (We both laugh)
Heart: Anything with fat or oil has to taste good.
PK: I do like meat, although I try to do less red meat.
Heart: Do you cook?
PK: I used to. For the past two years of Law school I cooked, because its cheaper. But this year, I’m taking 17 credit hours and I’m working 16 hours a week, so I don’t have time. So, I’m like, I would rather spend more money than time.
I don’t cook as often as I used to. I’m OK with it being that way. I’m not a big food person, its just what keeps me alive. Its less of taking pictures and all that. (Laughs)
Heart: What’s in the future?
PK: Actually, today, I’m seeing my old SAT teacher. What happened was, one of my good friends, he’s on this dating app called Coffee meets Bagel, its more serious than Tinder, but just another app and he told me, “This is what helped me get over my ex, you should try it.” So, I got on it, I’m actually not looking to date anyone, because I’m still so desperately in love with my ex. (Smiles)
So, my friend actually put me on there, he basically took my phone and set up my profile. I get a lot of likes because I’m young and I’m Asian, and guys like that. (We both laugh) And this guy liked me and I was like, “Oh my God, this is my old SAT teacher from like 10 years ago. And my sister had him too, so I sent a picture of him to my sister, “Isn’t that him?” and she’s like, “Yes!”
We both got in touch, and we’re just going to be friends, but its funny how we met.
Heart: I can make a short story out of this, thank you.
PK: (We both laugh) He’s a lot older than I’m. So, I don’t think I’m gonna date him. I’m meeting him this evening and having coffee. But, I think he might actually want to date me, because he’s like texting me a lot. And I’m like, …… (Laughs)
I’m OK with much older men, he’s 36, 10 years older, but he used to be my SAT teacher. You know what I mean.
Heart: Yeah, he’s already “graded” you. I’m sorry I’m having fun at your expense.
PK: (Laughs) You know, I’m like, “I’m sorry, you knew me when I was 16 years old.”
Heart: Did you already mention all this to him?
PK: Oh yeah. He apparently didn’t recognize me in the picture. So on the app, you actually see your names only after you mutually like each other’s picture. Then he saw my name, “Oh, I know this girl!” (Laughs) Its crazy. But, I don’t think ..
Heart: Who knows.
PK: Yeah, who knows. Like with my ex, it was like that. He asked me to live with him, and he wanted to marry me. All this was before we broke up, of course.
Heart: Was there a final straw that broke the camel’s back? A big fight or something.
PK: It was like a situational thing. He was having a hard time with his life, and at the same time I was going through depression. So, that’s why I keep thinking that we might be able to get back together, you know.
Anyways, we were just so compatible. And I don’t think I’ll find anyone like that. Coz, we were friends from high school, we liked the same kind of music, we played the same instrument, we are politically on the same page.
Heart: Are you worried its too much investment on one person? Is it difficult to let go off that idea?
PK: Yes, I think that’s it too. Because we both were like that and he was thinking of marrying me. He looks like a.. Do you know the Game of Thrones show?
Heart: I don’t watch it.
PK: I don’t either. But he looks like one of the characters in there, he looks like Prince Charming. People call him Prince Charming. And its really hard for me to find someone that I like the outside appearance. So, you know I feel so sad. (We both laugh)
But as you said, who knows, I might fall into love with my old SAT teacher, its kind of creepy, but it can happen. Let me show you a picture of my ex. (Shows me a picture of her ex, a handsome white man.)
Heart: He’s handsome, you guys look great together. Who knows, maybe you both will give each other a second chance?
PK: You know, to be very honest, the other thing I miss a lot is the sex. When you’re in a relationship for a long time, and then you suddenly become single, you don’t really have any access to any sort of..
And I really loved visiting him in Chicago, it was a lot of fun. I kind of still miss that. I’m still trying to figure out if I really miss him or just miss what we did together – the physical aspect of the relationship. I think its both, you know, I want to try atleast one more time. Then I can give up on him without regrets.
Heart: You can ask him if he wants to go on a vacation for Thanksgiving. If not then, life’s too short to look back, I guess?
PK: Yeah, I’m gradually getting better, but the first few weeks was easy. I was able to get over him and then after 3 weeks, it hit, and I was feeling really depressed. I didn’t think it would come. I was kind of stupid in thinking that because it was such a serious relationship, that I didn’t realize that the sadness would come later.
And one reason I was depressed during our relationship was because I was taking birth control pills and they were kind of F****ing with my mind. I was really scared about getting pregnant, “What if I got pregnant? It’ll ruin my life. I’m still in law school, what am I gonna do?” So, we were using double, triple contraception because it was so scary.
Heart: Is there a possibility that the withdrawal from the birth control pills is what is creating all these depression episodes now?
PK: I quit in June. Because it was becoming too much. I think my depression is not all because of pills. They sure weren’t helping. I started using them in the first place because I didn’t get pregnant and also because my periods were not regular at all.
Ever since I became of age, I had periods only 5 times in my life. My body wasn’t just doing it, and I was trying to regulate the process, kind of kick start the regularity of having them, because there’s no way that’s healthy.
Heart: OK. What’s that book? (I ask about the book in her hand)
PK: Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman, its coming out as a movie this year, I think. Its a love story, and its about gay people. I really don’t mind that and people actually told me that the prose is really beautiful. There isn’t much to the story, but the prose is so beautiful. You should read it. I had heard about this years ago, but I didn’t know if I was going to read it.
I picked it up after finishing Stoner by John Williams. Its really good, its about a university professor who’s bored with his life.
I try to squeeze in a little bit of reading at night. I really miss high school because over the weekends, you can read all you want and then go to movies and still have free time.
Heart: I think you’re going to get there very soon.
PK: Yeah, I guess. Once I start working, I can get my weekends off. Oh another good book I read is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. She’s the same author who won the Pulitzer for her book, Gold Finch.
Heart: Yeah, I’ve read that and I don’t know, didn’t feel it was that great. It was so long and we had to do it for a book club and I remember I didn’t enjoy it.
PK: Yeah, I’m glad you think that way too. I think this book is much better. Its very Roman, I say Roman because its very rational and logical. (Laughs) Its about a group of college students and they accidentally kill someone. They study classics in college, so there are a lot of references to Greek Mythology. So I liked that. I think these three books are the ones that I liked recently.
Heart: I read a lot of nonfiction, and since 2016 was the year of memoirs, I read a ton of them.
PK: I heard Patti Smith’s memoir was really good, but I’m not sure if they write it themselves, or their ghost writer writes it for her. We never know.
Heart: Yeah. (Laughs) I see a lot of authors whose first book becomes successful immediately follow up with a shitty book. That’s just my observation.
PK: Yeah, its like the sophomore syndrome. Trying to live up to the first impression but not quite making it.
Heart: I like the word. I’m going to use it, thank you.
PK: I’m not sure if that’s what its actually called. (Laughs)
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.