I have no memory of the flight to the US in 1987, so despite this and this period being a hugely significant marker in my life, I rely almost entirely on the memories of others to construct this history. Even my memories in Chicago start out as mere wisps of thought, but gradually build into an image of identity at around age 3 as I developed a sense of agency and grasp of the workings of the world (as well as a 3 year old can).
- In 1987, my family moved to Chicago, Illinois from Seoul, Korea.
- In 1990(?) my family moved to Evanston, Illnois.
In Chicago, we lived in the Green (possibly; unconfirmed) apartments somewhere close to the UIC campus. This would have been near-South Side, current Little Italy, but in the late 1980s, which was notorious for crime. This coincided with an rising epidemic of gun violence sweeping across America, and formed the beginnings of "no tolerance" policies of the 90s across schools in the United States. My family was fortunate enough to never have any incidents, and whatever sense of fear my parents may have felt, I was never exposed to it, but in later stories from my parents and grandmother who came to visit, I was told that the fear of crime was pervasive through this period, and was a factor in us moving to the northern Chicago suburb of Evanston in 1989.
Despite all the adult concerns going on, I remember this period of childhood as a fun time when I observed the world from above (the apartment window), experimented with my surroundings to learn how things worked, and enjoyed as adventures the outings with my parents and grandmother to places of work for my parents. I don't remember too much *talking* during this time, and it is something that I feel could have helped me, but I quickly developed a sense for language and I remember my mother teaching me Korean from colored flashcards. Not that it helped me in school where i was learning English, but my parents largely spoke Korean at home, and learning what I did from these flashcards it gave me some basic literacy, and a sense for how the languages were connected.
The move to Evanston, oddly enough, I have almost no memory of. I do recall periods from actually moving in, setting up furniture and such, but not so much the leaving. Which is totally fine, since I don't think I was leaving much, and the time ahead would prove to be far more critical. I believe Evanston was a far superior growing environment for someone like me. The later years stand out much strongly, but the beginnings were most reflected by my memories of the schools.
I went two preschools before kindergarten, one whose name I forget but I was in a class called "the Green Room", the next, after we moved was Chiaravalle, a Montessori school in Evanston. The former felt more like a daycare, while the latter was a far more deliberate attempt at early-childhood enrichment and education. The educational impact is enormous, and I went into kindergarten far better prepared than my peers.
The Green Room (Age 4)
I call this place in my memory the Green Room because that’s what we called it back then. Officially, it was a preschool care service that my dad had access to as a grad student at UIC, and it's where I spent a good chunk of my weekday mornings, but every day started with a 20 minute commute in our family car. I was an only child at that point--a state which I need to remind myself, because my family was different then.
The school itself was rather spartan, and honestly, I don't recall learning much there. At best, it seemed like a slightly enriching daycare. Fortunately, I was a high energy, creative kid, and had fun in this situation. One particular set of memories--I remember at this time in my life, I was small enough to fit inside our pillowcases, and I would frequently jump around in them, rather than nap. The most fun I had was during nap time, when I would sneak around evading teachers. (side note: what kind of *kid* is able to nap on a time? I never understood that policy) It got me in trouble a few times, though being only 3, it wasn't a big deal. Looking back, I believe it stems from a bit of impatience at highly regimented time-based activities, and an itching desire to explore.
- There was some sort of grinding device in the bathrooms that I never understood. I thought it might be for soap, so a few times, I put a bar of soap in it to see what it would do. Alas, it never seemed appreciated.
- Rather than a name, we addressed the teachers literally as "Teacher!". I think this was also reinforced at home by my parents as an appropriate title. This would later be corrected at Chiaravalle, which saw that as too rude of a term, and went with first names instead.
Chiaravalle (Age 5)
This school showed how much difference a enriching learning environment can provide. I was 4 when attending this school--I recall picking up math rather quickly, but also really enjoying spelling--which would help me later. One part that frequently left me flummoxed was "Show and share" (as opposed to "show and tell". I recall trying lots of stuff during class, but I can't seem to remember what I presented.
Oddly enough, I don't really remember much about the other kids in the class. I didn't have any issues with them, they were just unmemorable.
- I have memories of being somewhat unruly in class, and here I recall I worked with my teacher and parents on a gamification exercise, to incentivize good behavior. It (somewhat) worked.
- One of the best memories of this schools was that on Wednesdays, we would go to the beach in Evanston! There I would spent equal amounts of time building sand canals and waterways, as well as playing in the water.
- One of those Wednesdays, something rather disgusting was discovered in the Boys room--a glass jar filled with what looked like it could be urine. A rather odd discovery, I do not believe a culprit was ever found, but I suspect it was some sort of prank.
- As for my time in Korea (until 1987), my memories are practically zero. I do remember being shown photos of myself from when I was 2 at around the age of 4, but I distinctly remember questioning whether it was still me.
- Around the time I was 3, I remember an incident with a friend, where we ate a small restaurant condiment dipper sized amount of salt and sesame oil. I mean, it was tasty for some reason, and I must have not had enough sodium. It wasn't a whole lot, probably only a couple grams split between us, though, I guess I was only 3. When our parents found out, they were a mixture of concerned and terrified. My mom was relatively calm and told me to drink lots of water (which I did), but my friend's mom rushed him to the bathroom and ordered him to pee. Odd reaction, and even now, I don't get the rationale, though it's probably something to do with hydrostatic equilibrium.
- I remember grandma (dad's side) carrying me on her back and getting gummy bears. Remember what I said about the fear of crime? I seem to remember her being slightly hilariously racist when walking down the streets, but I can't fault her for that. This was, after all a foreign country, and was the early 90s near the South Side of Chicago. Rough place and time.
- I remember a paper plate with blue handprints in paint (presumably mine), dated from some time in 1989. I am uncertain on if it was while we lived in Evanston or Chicago.
- As for Chicago, I also seem to remember there being a pool, and going at least a couple times. This memory was reinforced by a photo I saw of a concrete pool. The architecture at UIC was certainly memorable. I later learned it was inspired by a wave of brutalism in the 50s-60s as the post-modern world tried to figure out what's cool. But by the late 80s, it's dual negative associations with the problems with public housing projects, and as a nature of an almost military like-look began to turn the once avant-garde into an eyesore. I knew none of this, and just thought the building my dad worked at was super-cool.