Undergraduate, Department of Life Sciences
"I have always moved around and travelled a lot while growing up. I was born in Seoul in Korea, but raised in China as my parents moved there to work. I attended a lot of American international schools growing up and became more comfortable with the American culture and people. At school, I studied with people from different cultures and backgrounds, which I think prepared me quite well for life at university.
I think it can be easy to stay in your own bubble at Imperial. Cultural clubs and societies can be like a double-edged sword as you can get too comfortable with people from your background.
I was raised in an Asian household, and there were a lot of high expectations that came with that, especially in terms of achieving success. My Korean heritage contrasted a lot with the American culture, which I think is a bit more relaxed. While I feel I got the best of both worlds, I’m sometimes confused about how I identify in terms of my culture.
I stay connected to my Asian roots by visiting Korea once a year. We normally perform the Jesa ceremony to honour our ancestors and this involves placing photos of our ancestors on the walls and remembering them. It's a really special time for my family and me.
I think it’s really sad that some second or third generation students forget their culture and become too westernised. At Imperial, I’ve made friends with other Korean and Chinese students so that I can stay connected to the Asian part of my identity, and I love being able to speak in Korean and Mandarin with these friends on campus.
I think it can be easy to stay in your own bubble at Imperial though. Cultural clubs and societies can be like a double-edged sword as you can get too comfortable with people from your background. I think it’s really important to put yourself out there and mix with people you wouldn’t usually spend time with.
Twice a year, Koreans travel across the country to their family homes to hold Jesa. Jesa ceremonies are a memorial rite, usually performed during Lunar New Year to honour the ancestors that have come before and paved the way for those that live today.
...no matter how multicultural London is, there are some people that still discriminate.
Imperial has a lot of international students and while it does feel like home for me, I have experienced some challenges. I think some people still carry outdated ideas about Asians. For example, I think a lot of people think Asian international students are really smart, always studying and very closed off, but I don’t think that’s true. Just because we’re Asian doesn’t mean we don’t like partying!
I also found it hard at the start of the coronavirus pandemic because I felt that people changed how they looked at me, for example, they would move away from me on the bus. It made me feel that no matter how multicultural London is, there are some people that still discriminate.
I do however feel comfortable sharing who I am at the College. I was shocked when I first came to Imperial because I was used to making friends within a couple of days. I found it took a bit more time to create friendships at Imperial because I think British people are more reserved and don’t open up immediately.
One of the things that has helped me find my feet is joining the Imperial College Baseball and Softball Club. I am a huge baseball fan – it’s massive in Korea – and it has given me access to a great community both inside and outside Imperial."
Ben shares his story as part of Shifting the Lens: a celebration of cultural diversity at Imperial.
This interview was edited by Martha Salhotra and photographed by Thomas Angus.