Have you met the UCLA Optimists? Over the next several months, the Bruin Blog will be highlighting our student Optimists. These current UCLA undergraduates will give you insight into the application process and tips, student life and culture, and what it means to be a Bruin.

IMG_3227.JPGWhen I was younger, I frequently had a hard time coming to terms with my cultural identity. I am a South Korean citizen, but I was born and raised in Indonesia due to my parents’ employment, and so I went on to attend Jakarta International School for all of my formal education. This odd mixture of being disciplined through Confucius ideologies at home but learning about Western principles at school, while immersing myself in the Indonesian culture through my everyday interactions, gave me an appreciation for my multi-faceted identity, but also created a conflict within myself. I constantly asked myself, “where do I belong?” or “with whom do I belong?”.

On the other hand, despite internal conflicts, one thing I knew for certain was that since I had grown accustomed to it, I wanted to continue my American-style education. On the other hand, coming to UCLA was a bit of an unexpected surprise. However, there was one moment when I knew that UCLA was the school for me. After receiving my acceptance offer from UCLA, I browsed through different resources on the UCLA Undergraduate Admission website to learn more about UCLA, and I came across a motto that really hit home: “WE, The Optimists”. Growing up, my parents always used to tell me that anything was possible with perseverance and hard work, that there was no barrier you could not break if you really put your heart into something. Over time, I came to take these optimistic and forward-looking words to heart as a guiding principle on how I aimed to live my everyday life. Given that, when I read those three words, I knew I wanted to be a Bruin because I had met the school that captured the spirit of who I was and who I wanted to be.

My first year at UCLA, I put aside my little identity crisis and focused mainly on integrating into UCLA campus life and culture, making new friends, and exploring Los Angeles. My first quarter I joined a Professional Pre-Law Fraternity called Kappa Alpha Pi to explore the possibility of law school. When I was in high school, I was convinced that I wanted to study international relations because of my love for Model United Nations and it made sense given the context in which I grew up. But through my involvement in Kappa Alpha Pi, where I served as the Director of Professional Activities, I was given many opportunities to connect with law students and seasoned lawyers in various fields of law which sparked my interest in a more legal than political career. To my pleasant surprise, I found not only an organization that provided me professional development opportunities in my prospective career field, but I also found a community of friends, both domestic and international, who helped me feel at welcome and at home. This made my first year a lot less daunting and lonely than it could have been for an international student 8,972 miles away from home.

Although Kappa Alpha Pi exposed me to the idea of practicing domestic law, it did not fully satisfy the side of me that still wanted to learn more about international relations. It came to my surprise when I discovered that the Political Science department offered a class in International Law (PS 123A) for undergraduate students. For those interested in international law and international relations, this class is the perfect merge between the two because the course material and readings include cases from a variety of international courts and institutions and scholarly articles by political scientists about principles and theories explaining the variation between international courts. Not only that, this class is unlike the traditional university class, which compose of large lectures and minimal participation. Professor Leslie Johns actively encourages students to participate and ask questions, which I love! In fact, usually one lecture each week is dedicated to discussing a case or an article and the whole lecture will be based on Professor Johns asking questions and students responding to the questions. This class has probably been one of the most engaging and interesting class that I have taken and it has prompted me to look for more law related classes that may be relevant to my interests and career plans.

Towards the end of my first year as a UCLA student, I stumbled upon a job opening at the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars (DCISS), which beckoned at me and appealed to my desire to connect my present to my past as an international, third culture kid. I have been working at the Dashew Center for over seven months now and to this day, I am so grateful that I came upon this opportunity because it has given me a space to share and express my identity as an international student. Just last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a panel speaker for a Colleague Training that the Dashew Center organizes every year for staff, faculty and administrators at UCLA. There, I was able to speak about my experience at UCLA as an international student and it empowered me to learn that I could use my unique story to advocate for and emphasize the value of international students in fostering global awareness and education here on campus.

I will say that it is not a walk in the park to be a student in a foreign country. Many days I miss home and my family. It is difficult only being able to see my parents once, maybe twice a year if I’m lucky, and I crave my mom’s home cooked meals, especially when I get sick. But I think what keeps me going every day is the gratitude and happiness I feel being at UCLA. I am grateful for the many and diverse people I have met and connected with, the tremendous and generous opportunities through which I was able to grow as a person, and the fact that I get to learn about the things that spark my curiosity and inspire me to work towards something. There is obviously no replacement for home, but for now, I am proud UCLA is my home away from home.

Ah Lim Lee is a Second Year originally from South Korea, but grew up and went to school in Indonesia.
She plans to graduate in three years.

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