Cultural Cognition

The topic of diversity has been circling around my mental hemisphere long before the launch and creation of The Road to Utopia Show.

I was adopted from South Korea and experience the topic of diversity, in many forms, everyday.

While growing up in rural Missouri, being attached to my mother’s hip or holding a family members’ hand in public, there was no speculation or question of adoption. It was assumed. The outward image of a diverse familial unit was clear. In grade school, everyone knew of my adoption and the issue of being “different” took on a trend of its own. Initially, I was subjected to ridicule, name calling and finger pointing. I would come home confused and emotionally frustrated; trying to identify the line in which it was appropriate to address to my parents without conveying embarrassment, contempt, or ungratefulness of being adopted. It was a line, I knew at a very early age, that both them and myself would constantly address. In terms of my childhood bullying, they suggested, “when people make fun of you, just laugh. If you get offended, it will only feed their ammo.” I found it confusing and borderline self-deprecating by laughing off the remarks about the slant of my eyes, the yellow tint to my skin and the minimal side profile but the slanders subsided. I wondered when it was okay for anyone to speak up about bullying and if bullies preyed upon the ones that were ignorant to my parents’ trick. I began to wonder when something was worth to bring up or if we all were meant to learn that lesson and handle life as it came. What happened next was beyond me. Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 5.43.05 PMWhen people witnessed how unfazed I was of their jabs, they began to champion me for my uniqueness. It was if I went from being the bullseye at target practice to Rudy and being raised on their shoulders overnight.


By fourteen, I was given the opportunity to attend boarding school at St. Stephen’s and packed my bags and headed to Austin to play soccer for their academy. It was a societal shift. Without the constant physicality of my parents always by my side, my adoption identity fell to the wayside. My primary identity emerged as an athlete. Which I carried off to college.


Fast forward past college and into adulthood.

Many individuals assume I am a second-generation immigrant with asian parents. In all actuality, I am a first-generation, minority, immigrant who was adopted and raised without a community, family, partner or role-model from my origin.

As an adult, my identity has been constantly seeking something to latch onto. After college, soccer was not my viable career path, so I pursued corporate America. I felt underutilized and that my “unique” impact was not being recognized. After four years, I switched to Montessori education; living the economical contrast of pay from education compared to corporate. That was the moment I began to notice the funneling band-aid effect. How corporations bestow grants to colleges in hopes to recruit, market and capture athletes and the top 10% of graduates. If one were to examine the average college applicant, you factor in expenses for tuition, scholarships opportunities, network demographics and childhood education. One would see the social and economic demographic that qualifies an individual to even consider becoming a reputable college applicant. Being able to afford, qualify and test above the standard. Where do the rest of the population turn to? Government assistance, jobs with low qualifications and pay, the military? Many enter the military fighting for their chance to emerge from the economic standard they are born into, to fight people labeled as terrorists. Those terrorists being people they have never met, in countries, situations, cities they have never had the opportunity to explore without threat, guns and ammo.

I exited education with frustration and became intoxicated with the excitement of the startup industry. I began to envision myself as a mother hen as an office manager and was excited to be the change I wanted to see in commerce. As things progressed, the pissing contest, fraternity, cult-like environment was hard to ignore. I noticed how the founders, in my starry-eyed startup, started treating others when under pressure. Things began to roll downhill and I was at the bottom.


At the age of twenty-seven, I felt lost. I turned to yoga teacher training, watching daily TED talks, researching philosophy and began to ask myself the existential question of what the F are we all here for? Why am I here?


Many people ask why I decided to start. The unromantic answer was I felt lost with my own life so I decided to go and ask others about theirs. Instead of latching onto drugs, alcohol, sex, religion, philosophy or CrossFit; not that any of those are wrong; I un-became everything I expected myself to be. I gave myself six months to visit friends, meet a broad range of diverse perspectives and gave myself the permission to conduct myself in a manner I had always judged and secretly envied.

I ventured down the juxtaposition path opposite of the life I felt was planned for me. The predictable life; the scripted life.


After my 200+ day trek, I returned to Austin and became a freelance branding and marketing strategist. I put The Road to Utopia Show on a shelf to recuperate, process and digest. As much as I was transparent throughout my journey on the road, I went into full hermit mode. For me, I rationalized it as necessary; for my community, I feel it was a huge disservice. I attended a #bossbabesatx event the other night and a conversation I had sparked inspiration to share all the rough, raw and unrefined edges. It addressed women empowerment and how often blame is put outside the communities in which responsibility resides. If I want to spark change, discuss topics of diversity of thought, appearances and ideals, it needs to happen when it doesn’t come naturally. When I don’t feel my documentary is wrapped and ready for the masses with a neatly tied bow on it. Here are my ten lessons I have learned, within the past year, about diversity, adoption, career and community:

1. WHEN YOU BEGIN TO DESPISE and RESENT THE THINGS YOU LOVE: When my freelancing was my only source of income, I could not separate its success or failure from myself. It caused me a lot of stress and my contacts could sense the desperation, pressure and anxiety. I learned lessons of expectations, addressing the fear of asking what I wanted and the importance of boundaries. I took things personally, overanalyzed and kept wondering why and how the thing I loved became the bane of my existence. The interesting aspect was my intimate relationship mirrored the dynamic. The moment I realized my relationship and my source of income were not my only sources of identity and happiness, I could breathe again. I began to diversify my life by…

2. MOVING TOWARD ENTHUSIASM: I started seeking things that made me feel alive. I wrote a list of things I loved and imagined a week filled with those aspects.

I sought the opportunity to teach yoga after shying away from it for over a year. I wanted to hold space for people to feel whatever it is they are encountering. I realized the students I teach every week are my mirrors and teachers. I have learned that I cannot control anything but how I react to everything. It does not mean brushing issues under the rug and becoming passive aggressive, it entails addressing issues compassionately with a gentle authority of remaining true and authentic to yourself.

4. HAPPINESS OVER HYPOCRISIES: My perspective on monogamy, marriage and relationships have evolved as much as my viewpoints on purpose, callings, passions and career. I recalled how I would spend hours beading, drawing and drafting designs of dresses as a child and play myself off as a hard-ass tomboy to my peers. I used to believe marriage was a production, a contract and an old world view of passing of property. My happiness thrives when I let my imagination run wild with color and fabric and the love of styling. I thought how hypocritical it would be if I pursued the wedding industry with hopes of becoming a wedding dress designer. I began to view the things that brought me happiness as paramount, not my fears of how others would perceive it. I put aside the fear of my contradicting hypocrisies and applied to work at Unbridaled, a wedding dress boutique in Austin, and it has provided me unmeasurable joy.

5. PAST PERSPECTIVES: After a few months at Unbridaled, I learned two crucial keys that make up who I am: I love helping people and creating welcoming environments. I had always viewed retail as a stepping stone instead of a space that contains two aspects of what I love and who I am. Unbridaled opened my eyes to the potential of working at other places that held true to my ideals of customer service and welcoming space and West Elm opened their doors to me.

6. PEOPLE MAKE THE EXPERIENCE: Upon reflection of my experience with The Road to Utopia Show, my opinions about a place were centered around people. I started realizing that my opinions about jobs were centered around people. Both cities and jobs are communities that involve finding your fit with people. I started to examine the correlation that when I stopped taking things personally, and comparing myself to the expectations I set for myself, my relationships with others and myself began to feel natural.

7. JUST COMMIT: Oh commitment. It is like working out. It becomes easier over time but it was the source of my anxiety. What do you think of the quote: “Life happens when you are busy making plans?” I used to believe that making plans was terrible because I didn’t want to miss out on life. My source of anxiety was a rat wheel: afraid to make commitments for the fear of it not working out, failing and being disappointed and being anxious with no real direction. I decided I would rather try and learn versus wading in water in limbo land, bored out of my mind and experiencing soul crushing stagnancy. I committed to my communities, my jobs, my relationships, my passion and life… began to happen.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 5.40.49 PM8. THE BALANCING ACT: Like all implementations of adjustments, it takes time. I wanted to go 0 – 100 over night. I wanted to eliminate my fears, diversify my portfolio, be involved in EVERYTHING and feel the bandwidth of life well executed. I remind myself to keep healthy boundaries, play and discover, and to view my emotional insecurities as tools, rather than truth-tellers.

9. THE EITHER/OR EFFECT: This topic brings me to the #bossbabesatx event at the beginning of this list. The either/or effect is the notion that if women’s rights are raised, men’s rights must be repressed; there can only be 1 winner. There has been a lot of talk about generational trends and how millennials have become “too soft” by being raised with a gold star next to each childs’ name. The idea of people unifying and rising together becomes tainted when the enticement of divvying the rewards to when the rights are won. Fairness is not biased; equality does not mean when one succeeds, another looses. Why do I look around and still see people being oppressed? Economically, socially, psychologically and physically?

10. GEAR SHIFT: Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 5.51.46 PMI decided to commit to helping a friend, Zeke Anders, with his project: the KAD Diaries, in LA. It consisted of traveling to LA, choosing to stand behind an American or Korean flag and being individually interviewed. After being on the road, asking people about their lives, it felt bizarre having questions directed to me. Zeke asked me something that threw me for a loop; a question that I had recycled in my head, in many forms, but never asked outright: “Is adoption a problem or a solution?” It made me thing of root issues and perspectives people have about adoption, abortion, reproductive rights and society-in-general. To parents who cannot have children, adoption is a solution. To parents who cannot afford raising children, adoption is a solution. To the adoptee, adoption can serve as a major life challenge. Here is why:

– When people experience a death, the communities they are in provide support, love and recognition of their grieving process. Adoptees, in many cases, are expected to compromise, adjust and ignore their grief of their abandoned and lost past lives. Those lives that encased relationships with individuals they never knew; a foreign culture and a life they could’ve had.

– I do not believe that adoptees have it “the worst” being a double minority; or have the biggest problems. I do, however, believe there hasn’t been enough light shed upon educating society about the stories and experiences of adoptees.

– Within the first two years of a human’s existence, cognitive association and categorizing takes place. A child learns the differences between hot and cold, black and white, left and right, yes and no. Some people believe that children are blank slates, unaware of prejudice and unconditioned. The child will recognize there are stark differences between caucasians and asians but how they respond is primarily up to the environment they are raised. The whole nature versus nurture emerges. While I can ascertain the passing of physical and psychological genetic codes, I cannot diagnose the passing of cultural traditions, makeup, and societal expectations. But how ones responds to those queues are what make up an identity. The issue that arises is while many people face the world, understanding where they come from, who their mother and father are, their genetics, the diseases and behavioral tendencies that are passed within the family line, adoptees have nothing.

My intention is not to condemn, point fingers or suggest methods of change. As I have pointed out early on, I often question when it is appropriate to bring and address topics of concern. And to rationalize that it needs to happen while things are shifting, moving, raw and real. My intention is to merely educate, advocate for the support to strengthen the family unit to where adoption, abortion, familial diversity and reproductive rights are openly discussed.

I welcome you all to witness my trek to Busan this upcoming week with The Road to Utopia Show and thank you all for reading.




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  1. Hi, Julia – i am an adoptive father with 2 children adopted from Korea – 15 year old (10th grade) boy and 13 year old (8th grade) girl. 2 years ago we went as a family to Korea for a vacation, had an incredible time. We even went to Busan – what fun! This past summer we were in southern Cali and actually had lunch one day with Zeke. It’s a good thing to read about your experiences and perspective. Thank you for sharing. It may help me and my wife be better parents to our kids.

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