Knowledge is Power?
Written by KAFSC Staff Member, Lydia Baek, Youth Program Coordinator & Advocate
As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” When I was younger, I thought that the meaning of this expression was straightforward: I should study a lot so that I can have more control over my future. My interpretation of this saying reinforced my parents’ frequent advice for me to work hard and do well in school. So I studied hard and expected success. But eventually I came to realize that there are different kinds of knowledge, and different kinds of knowledge can lead to different kinds of power. And as the child of immigrants trying to find my way in American society, I had to learn what kind of knowledge I needed to succeed.
My parents taught me to study hard, and my diligence helped me get into a respectable college. So I started my freshman year thinking that the key to success would be to continue studying hard. Early in the semester, I noticed that some of the students made a point of really being active. They not only spoke up during class discussions, but they also went to professors’ office hours and even built relationships with other active students to share tips and resources. As time went by, I began to realize that although I was getting better grades than some of these students because I studied the material more, they were actually achieving more than me and more easily. For example, since these students had made a point of getting to know the professors, the professors thought of them when an internship or scholarship opportunity came up, or were able to write them exceptionally good recommendation letters. It occurred to me that although I studied hard and my work ethic did bring me good opportunities, I seemed to be working harder for less success. The active students seemed to know something that I didn’t. And I needed to find out what it was I didn’t know in order to advance my future opportunities.
Eventually, I did learn how to use relationships to gain information and opportunities. But this took a long time for me to learn and required a surprising amount of cultural learning and adaptation. I’ve come to talk with a number of young adults who were also children of immigrants—from friends to volunteers who now want to help younger Korean Americans through these issues—I’ve found that I’m not alone in this experience. In the Korean American community, we are blessed with a culture that values hard work and education. However, as our generation grows up, we often find that our families can only help us so far as we navigate our way through American society. We have some knowledge of American culture and this is a powerful resource, but partial knowledge can be deceptive. We know enough to think we understand American society, and by the time we realize our ignorance, we’re often late to the game and on our own to figure out how to play.
At KAFSC, we work with youth as they find their way between two cultures, particularly when it comes to attitudes and awareness of healthy relationships and abuse. Part of our work involves providing youth with opportunities for connection and supportive relationships. Our Unni-Hyung Mentoring Program pairs youth with young adults who have already gone through many of the issues that young Korean Americans face. Through an intentional relationship, youth have a trusted resource where they can share problems, get advice and simply spend time with someone who understands many of the challenges they face. Our organization is also teaming up with our community partner MOI’M on July 25th for a career fair to expose students to other Korean Americans working in a variety of career fields. This event is an opportunity for students to interact with current young Korean American professionals and gain information about how to succeed in various professions.
If “knowledge is power”, then we need to make sure that our knowledge is diverse and comprehensive, so that it is truly a source of power to our young people. This is especially true as our young people learn to find their way between the cultures of their heritage and of their home. Let’s draw upon our collective knowledge to empower our youth as they find their way through college, careers, and beyond.