The “J” in Stella J. Shon

The launch of my new website, http://www.stellajshon.com

It’s hard for me to believe that I am more than halfway done with college. Long gone are the days when I was unsure of what my major should be, or when I was worrying about which organizations on campus to join. As a second-semester junior at Carolina, I have a much clearer idea of what will come post-graduation. Now, I am thinking about my long-term professional and career goals.

If I were asked to describe my college experience in one word, it would be the word “growth.” Carolina has allowed me to thrive as an individual and has helped me figure out my interests and passions that define who I am.

Growth /ɡrōTH/-

the process of developing or maturing physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Some of the happiest moments of my life were during college. Experiencing my school winning the NCAA College Basketball National Championship reminded me how lucky I am to attend UNC. Studying abroad in Paris made me realize how much I desire to continue to adventure and see the world. And simply spending endless time with friends who care about you and your wellbeing are some of the most valuable moments I will always cherish.

Growth, of course, is never linear. Some of the most painful moments of my life were also during college. Overcoming self-esteem issues, rejection, heartbreaks, family problems… No matter how hard some of these moments were, I learned something new about myself and came out of each experience as a stronger person.

Growth (August 2016-now)

Right now, I am taking a course called “MEJO 577: The Branding of Me.” I can take agency over how I want to be portrayed using new mediums, combining my personal and professional life together. Each week, we have to create two new posts, but we have the freedom to take any direction we want to.

In addition to introducing myself and my background briefly in this first post, I wanted to discuss the initial steps I have taken to brand myself and why my middle initial is so crucial to my identity.

I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1998, where my parents had immigrated to from South Korea in 1993. We moved to the East Coast when I was about four years old. While I do not remember much about living in California, I remember it was a truly diverse place where thousands of families—mostly non-White—lived and tried to make sense of the American dream.

I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when I was five years old. And yes, I grew up in the same place I now attend college. A medium-sized town of about 60,000 people, Chapel Hill is a blend of college students and families.

Growing up, when my identity was very malleable, I quickly lost touch of my Korean heritage. Only a few other kids in my grade were Korean, unlike in LA, where almost all of my friends were also Korean.

I became embarrassed of being different. I never wanted my mom to volunteer in my classroom or on school trips because of her broken English. I asked my mom to pack Lunchables or let me buy cafeteria food for lunch instead of eating the delicious, authentic Korean meals that other kids thought were “smelly” and “weird.”

I would go back in a heartbeat and tell my mom to keep packing me kimbap (Korean rolls) and kimchi.

In middle school and high school, my self-confidence continued to plummet. When others asked me what my middle name was, I never wanted to tell them. I thought that Ji Sun was too foreign of a name that nobody would learn to pronounce or needed to know. After all, I tried so hard to fit into my peers.

It wasn’t until I got to college when I truly started to explore my heritage. At UNC, I met my roommate and best friend Jaein, who is also Korean. We immediately shared this bond that was unexplainable to anyone else. Through exchanging stories and similar struggles as well as seeing her so confidently being Korean, I started to embrace that in myself.

During my first semester at UNC, I took a course called “SOCI 130: Family and Society” that explored the ever-changing structures of American families. I learned that the 1950s “ideal” model of a family—happily married, two kids, and a dog—was no longer the majority. My classmates and I shared our personal anecdotes of our families. Some made me laugh, some made me cry. Above all, this class taught me how important diversity at Carolina is to the makeup of our student body.

Now, when people ask me what my middle name is, I am not afraid to tell them. I believe that the “J” is crucial to my brand, because it is a representation of my Korean-American heritage.

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