Jessica Yoo

MIIS Program: International Policy Studies & Public Administration, 2015
Traveling: Rwanda for the Design, Partnering, Management & Innovation Program, January 2015

I’d like to share an experiential learning that spanned over four years, not abroad, but here in the United States. This experience took place at a small liberal arts college in New England called Wellesley College, a place that was quite different from my hometown of Koreatown, Los Angeles. But, specifically, most of my experiences took place in my college dining hall.

What woke you up in the morning? The thought of eating tater tots, blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs woke me up every morning at Wellesley. Mom rarely cooked this American style of breakfast. She may have cooked in this style a couple of times, but at home there was always rice and kimchi for breakfast. Tater tots, blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs were reserved for dinners at Denny’s.

A daily task you had to do differently? Eating dinner was a daily task that I did differently each time. When I came to college, I ate certain kinds of food for the first time in my life. I did not know what brussel sprouts or quiche were until college. Thus, I made it a goal to try and eat different kinds of food for dinner.

A surprising sight? I heard that one night, one of the dining halls was going to have a Korean food night. So I rushed over only to find a dish called Korean Chicken. This was a bit of a surprise because I had never seen Korean Chicken before. Yes, there are chicken dishes in Korean cuisine, but this was chicken marinated in watered down teriyaki sauce. I don’t ever recall a Korean dish like this before.

Most memorable experience? The most memorable experience in the dining hall was when I asked the chef, who is not Korean, what Korean Chicken was. He got flustered and started scolding me. He felt that I was challenging him and started lecturing me about how I did not know what Korean Chicken was and that I should be more aware. I still remember him getting mad at me and trying to ridicule me in front of everyone in the dining hall.

Challenge? The challenge was when I challenged him back saying that I grew up in a Korean household and that I just never saw this dish in my house. All I wanted, was to engage in a discussion and talk to him about it, but he would dismiss me.

Funny moment? Sometimes we laugh when a situation is sad because we feel so powerless and this is all we can do. I came back to the dining table and laughed at the powerlessness and sadness of how I felt that my mother’s cooking and my culture had been robbed of me just now.

Epiphany? Whether Korean Chicken exists or not, I realized that food can be appropriated and that appropriation has the potential to take power away from people. The appropriation of food is not just the act of making a dish blander or spicier than usual, but it’s the act of removing respect from one’s culture. It’s okay for non-Koreans to cook a Korean dish, but they should do so with appreciation and should not act as if they are now an expert of that cuisine or culture. One should be authentic and appreciative when learning about other peoples’ cuisines and cultures, if not, they fall into the trap of appropriation.

Tweet of advice? I want to know if there is Korean Chicken. If you know where I can find it, tell me the address of the restaurant. #DoesKoreanChickenExist?