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My great grandmother, now nearing 100 years old, was born in 1924 and lived through the tumultuous years of World War II, including Japan's occupation of Korea. I recall my childhood in Korea, listening to her recount stories of life during her youth. Despite my limited understanding of history at the time, her narratives evoked a sense of fear within me, as if I were trapped like a mouse. Now, in her old age, recalling those memories is difficult for her. I recently attempted to record our conversations but found it challenging due to her fading recollection of the details, although she could still share more than she did years ago. The pain of those memories remains vivid for her.

My great grandmother's early experiences were marked by significant upheaval. She vividly remembers the day when her Korean school principal was replaced by a Japanese counterpart, and the subsequent imposition of Japanese language and culture upon the students. Forced to relinquish their Korean identities, including their names, they faced threats and ridicule for speaking their native language. The psychological toll was immense, compounded by arbitrary rules and punishments. As tensions escalated, young girls began to disappear, leaving my great grandmother bewildered and grateful for her family's safety.

 

However, as she grew older, the challenges persisted. Following her marriage to my great grandfather, the family endured further hardships when he was conscripted to support Japanese troops. Despite the uncertainties, they made a pivotal decision to relocate southward during the final year of World War II. This move ultimately enabled them to reside in the Republic of Korea following the division of the Korean Peninsula.

 

Listening to my great grandmother's stories deeply affected me, resonating with my own struggles. Although my experiences may not mirror her profound traumas, I carry scars from my time outside of Korea. Reflecting on my childhood in China, where I grappled with language barriers and cultural differences, I recall feeling lost and homesick. Transitioning to a Korean international school provided solace, but subsequent moves to Korea and later to the United States presented new challenges.

 

In America, I struggled to adapt, facing criticism and discrimination while grappling with language barriers. Despite the hardships, I persevered, finding solace in my Korean identity and connecting with others who shared similar experiences. Through hard work and resilience, I navigated the complexities of assimilation and discrimination, recognizing the parallels between my journey and my great grandmother's endurance.

 

In hindsight, our shared experiences highlight the resilience required to navigate adversity. While our paths diverge in many ways, our struggles underscore the universal quest for survival amidst hardship.

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