When I was eleven, my family moved to the United States, due to my father’s job working for the Korean government. I still remember my first ride from JFK to some urban parts of the New York city. Still a bit jet lagged, I was struck in awe looking at the graffitis on the streets of NYC. I’ve only seen graffitis from the movies and the sheer unfamiliarity of the view somehow got me scared and excited ambivalently.
Taking a bite of freshly baked extra cheese pizza was a pleasant surprise to my taste and grabbing the oval-shaped ‘football’ for the first time got me all confused.
Growing up in New Jersey have left me with a mixed impression of living in the US as an Asian kid. Having around four Korean kids in the same grade, with only two of them actually speaking Korean language didn’t make it easier. I was used to being the head of the class back in Korea, so starting a new, fresh off the boat in a school full of foreign kids as a noob was mind boggling. Luckily, I was pretty good at math/science (yes, an Asian stereotype) and computer, so I found my geeky niche quickly.
Being a minority coming from a very different culture, I couldn’t tell whether kids were being genuinely nice or was making fun of me. I remember trying hard to figure out the dynamics of how school kids socialized in the western culture. My self-esteem was hitting all-time low in the early years of my stay.
In retrospect, I perhaps took everything a bit too seriously back then, being a bit too sensitive, but thankfully, things grew on me and I enjoyed the latter half of my time in the states.
Funnily enough, I loved everything about the public education here. I won’t sweat the details, but I remember teachers giving me many sorts of opportunities when I knew I was trying hard, and learning how to be independent without conforming to the rest of the pack. Then again, being a minority by default, made me somewhat of a square peg in a round hole from the get-go.
After spending three some years in the states, I had to go back to Korea and I’ve lived most of my life in the small peninsula ever since.
But those three some years in US have never left my mind. The Great Plains that spread out before my eyes, the hail that fell on the roof top of our car, the the thundering roar of the Niagara falls, and the deers, raccoons, and squirrels that played and jumped around the front yard of our house before sunrise. The smell of grass on baseball fields still brings me back the memories of my childhood growing up here in the states.
Fast forward twelve years, when I started by first startup in 2007, I knew where I wanted to be. But because I didn’t have a green card, I found my company in Korea, targeting the US market. We made social games on Facebook, contents were produced in English, and we’ve worked with some of the major companies in the bay area. I’ve always wanted to play in the major league, and the major league of startups is in the valley (and China these days). We got lucky and accumulated around some million gamers, then eventually sold our company a few years later.
Now with my second startup, we became a Delaware c-corp, headquartered in San Francisco, and got accepted to Y Combinator W16. Now working in Mountain View, where the grass is always green, I feel like I’m finally back where I belong. It feels somewhat scary and exciting ambivalently, just like when I was eleven. But this time, I’m here to pursue my dreams to play in the major league, and it only took me a decade to get here.
It’s our day-one and again, I’m fresh off the boat. But this time, I’m here to create something meaningful and I look forward to the years that lie ahead of us.