American slang can almost be considered a language of its own. Some people say, “that’s tight” or “that’s sick” for something deemed cool. And when said with an extra oomph of enthusiasm, they might even mean that something is really cool.
These words often are unwritten in the English guide books. For a Pierce College international student, lessons like this are only learned from first-hand experience in the unpredictable world of American young adulthood.
His name is Young Chae La, but his friends call him YC. Hailing from South Korea, he represents one of the 250 international students that call Pierce College home.
For the past three-and-a-half years, La has learned the American ways from bottom to top after entering the states with a barely audible vocabulary consisting of the normal “hello” and not so normal “how do you do?”
“The first thing we learned was to say ‘I speak little English,’” La says.
For the 26-year-old, delving into an entirely new culture and taking on a university was only half the battle. The other half lie in the frustrating realm of English as a Second Language classes. Even for native English speakers, the grammar rules of long ago are replaced by modern trends in slang. Though completely normal to the majority of the population, it can be an interesting adaption for international students.
La credits his cousin for setting the record straight during his attempts to break the language barrier: “I would ask him… ‘Sick? What is sick?’ Oh, you’re sick. You are way cool.’”
Not only has La’s cousin been an influential piece of his American puzzle experience, but his aunt has also been an inspiration in times of frustration. Her strong-willed and encouraging personality is what La says got him through times of stumbling during the adaption process to the American mainstream.
Coming to America, La had some ideas of what it would be like.
“I thought it would be like the movies,” La says. “But those are just the movies. America is positive and friendly. It’s so cool.”
When listening to the experiences that La lists off from memory, too many to name in all, it’s apparent that he has seen much more of the United States than some living within its borders as permanent residents.
After finally receiving his driver’s license after repeated tries at the written exam, La took the wheel and drove across country with his aunt and mother on a road trip. West to East, Washington to New York. He has taken part in some of the most authentic American staples—fast-food and has found a new love for the Burger King Whopper. And, he even brags that Subway is also a cool place to eat if a grease detox is called for.
Now a four-year veteran of the America way of life, La has looked back at his past as a mosaic for his present.
A third-generation South Korean, La keeps the story of his roots with him. After his grandparents fled from North Korea and settled in the South, their entire livelihood had to be rebuilt. La says that some students have asked him about the current state of the North Korean conflict and what he thinks about it. He says it goes unnoticed all too often.
“People are isolated and don’t even know what’s going on. You can’t imagine the situation. So many kids are dying and even if you blink, kids are still dying,” La says.
One of La’s goals while in America was to talk about this issue and raise awareness. The need in Africa has been publicized greatly, but at the same time thousands of children have also died in North Korea because of starvation, La says.
Raising awareness is one way La feels he can do his part. With the opportunities that life has presented him with, he feels fortunate to have all he has.
“I am a blessed guy,” La says.
La’s time in Puyallup is coming to a close and he will be returning to South Korea at the end of winter quarter.
“I have happiness and friends. I am going to miss the people I have met,” La says.
With ambition at the forefront of his life, La aspires to come back in two quarters time to pursue a degree in business and global studies. His dream of managing his own shop is in the works, and one day he hopes to see it bloom.
Coming to America with a full suitcase and an empty vocabulary, La feels this time around he will take something home with him that is absolutely priceless.
“Going home will be hard I guess. But I have changed my mind from bottom to top. I now have an open mind,” La says.
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