Tag Archives: teenage

Prom is Coronavirus Casualty (but there’s always Jennifer Lynn Jenkins)

Girl Diver

I met an old acquaintance of mine who had me spend time talking to his daughter. His daughter was studying in Canada but had to suddenly move back to Korea due to the coronavirus. Let’s call her Kelly. Now her education in Canada is in a bit of a limbo. She doesn’t know when and if she could go back to Canada to finish her senior. And worse in Kelly’s mind, she fears that she’s going to miss out on prom. Prom… Ah, to be young and naive. I asked her about her ideas about prom and it was interesting hearing how a lot of it is informed through YA novels and what she’s seen on her Netflix subscription.

I had to tell her that prom in Canada is called “grad.” And I’m not so sure about other kids, but I remember it not being such a big deal to Canadians, at least to me. I remember listening to ‘This American Life’s’ take on prom and one teacher said that it was the time when kids become adults in America. It’s when they dress up as adults, get treated like adults, are allowed to drink, and for a night, think that everything is possible. I remember my grad being a mixed bag. There wasn’t that much hype about it, but I do remember being in an environment where it’s all sort of a blank slate. High school hierarchy was sort off forgotten, tired facades were dropped, and for a night, I found myself socializing with people I normally wouldn’t hang out with. A couple of times I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, that guy ain’t half bad. I should’ve hung out with him more.”

Contrary to the critical hype, I actually went to grad twice. Both with the same person. My date wasn’t really my girlfriend or anything. She was one of my best friends at the time. I graduated one year earlier, so I took her to my grad and she invited me to hers. I was initially planning to invite a girl in my history class to grad with me. But when I called my friend for advice asking that girl out, I ended up asking her out instead. Interestingly enough, I believe the guy the girl in my history class went to grad with ended up marrying her. So that was all good for her. I never would’ve guessed that after seeing her all drunk with her future husband trying to nurse her back to consciousness.

I don’t really remember spending too much time with my date on either nights. I remember renting a limo once. I remember being drunk and getting kicked out on my second night. I remember not only do these events have liquor, they also had gambling, which is a really weird education/initiation for kids. It was like, “hey, in case you didn’t know the rules of black jack before you graduate, here you go!” I remember dancing with a girl whose name I believe was Jennifer Lynn Jenkins (I could be wrong). I always had a crush on her but thought she was too out of my league. She had beautiful long blond hair which seemed to just swish with every turn. I remember her having braces at one point, but then tried fangs in order to fit in. It was a thing back then, I guess. Anyway, for someone so attractive, she seemed to never really stuck with a crowd. I think it’s because she was the pretty girl who just moved from another school on her last year. Anyway, with the democratizing nature of the event, I was able to finally work up the courage and ask her to dance with me. She probably doesn’t remember it, but that was the highlight of all of my grad experience.

Outside of that, both events were mostly just hanging out and waiting for things to happen, just like what most teenagers do. We wait for people to arrive, for things to happen, for things to end. It’s not really exciting. Looking back now, aren’t teenagers dumb? We mostly spent our time waiting. I tell all of this to Kelly and that seemed to dampen the hype a bit for her. But I guess what really turned her the most is the fact that people are expected to have dates at grad. Well, at least that’s what media told her. A lot of people in both of the grads I went to didn’t really have dates. Or maybe they’re like me. I had someone with me, but she’s not really my date in the truest sense of the word. Anyway, most Koreans start dating at a much older age than Westerners. It’s not unusual to see kids in university who’ve never been on dates once. The pressure to have a date on one night in a foreign country with so little time must be daunting for her. But then again, she seems like a good kid. I’m sure some guy would ask her out given the chance.

Anyway, it was fun seeing how big a hype grad (or prom) is to a kid. It seems really foolish to me now. Heck, it seemed fooling to me even during my first year in university. But it’s interesting to see how kids’ minds are so different, even when they believe that they have become adults. Maybe it’s our minds changing significantly as we age, or maybe it’s just the wisdom (or cynicism) brought about by years of experience. I really hope Canada gets the virus under control soon. I feel bad for the young kids missing out on grad (or prom) this year. I hear that some schools are moving their prom events to August, but I’m not sure if that’s too soon for the virus to be under control and for such large gatherings to be safe. In any case, I hope next year, Kelly gets to experience this event which the media has been hyping so much for her.

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You’re Canadian, You Idiot!

Tim_Hortons

I was recently asked about childhood memories. This was for some future project and here is a gist of what I wrote with some edits.

I don’t know how old I was, but this was back in school. My family and I are immigrants, and we were still adapting to life in Canada at the time. I didn’t have too many friends in my new school, and I was still resenting my new city and the people in it. It was a bad time to be a kid. I was somewhat resenting the whole country, wishing not to be there, probably blaming my troubles as a kid to the whole immigrant move or how different everyone in Canada was. It was not uncommon for me to begin my sentences with “Well, back in my country…” in noting how more sensible, interesting, moral, etc. people back home were compared with Canadians. In my mind, I was enlightening people, or at least demonstrating my pride for the country I just left. I could imagine how insufferable that must have been for some. I mean, who was I? Balki Bartokomous?

Then one day in English class, during some discussion or argument about a topic I’ve long forgotten, I mentioned something about being a “permanent resident” and not Canadian citizen. That was a technical term, and I forgive most kids at that age for not knowing it, but one of my classmate scoffed at my ridiculous sentiment. “What are you talking about? You’re Canadian.” I explained the situation and the difference to her, but she still insisted, “It doesn’t matter. You’ll be Canadian eventually.”

I’m sure it was a very forgettable experience for everyone else in the room. But for me, it was a microcosm of what a welcoming, multi-cultural experiment Canada is, and how wrong I was with my resentment and stubbornly sticking to what made me different at the time. I was being stupid and silly. Why was I being so negative about my new home? It was a wake-up call, and I was grateful to be very wrong.  I’m quite older now, but that was a lasting lesson on multiculturalism, acceptance, and how some people stubbornly stick to their differences for no reason whatsoever.

To this day, even when I no longer live in Canada, I proudly call myself a Canadian and value what the country has given me. And as for that classmate who put me in my place, she has become one of my best friends. Even after eventually going to different schools we’ve kept in touch. To this day, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we still watch hockey together.

Anyway, even now, as I live in South Korea, I try not to be too negative on the country too much because of the lesson from that classroom interaction. For all of its quirks and what some might perceive as shortcomings, it’s still a wonderful country. It’s a still a country most people would be very lucky to live in. I can raise my imaginary flag and proclaim my love for Canada, but not at the expense of my current home. And should I be compelled to explain differences between Canada and South Korea, I try to be as unbiased as I could.

But speaking of differences, here’s the key difference. Back then, I had someone tell me, “You’ll be Canadian eventually.” And she was right. Here, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say “you’re almost Korean!” Heck, I even hear it from people back in Canada. But the thing is I don’t think I ever will be truly Korean even if I wanted to. There is a shared national and historical identity that is very difficult for foreigners to be a part in. As wonderful and as welcoming as the Koreans are, the country in general is still not as welcoming as Canadian society. (I don’t blame them. They have a long history which would explain this, one that I won’t be able to explain in a nutshell.) It’s simply not the same as Canada.

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