Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2020

Learning to be a daughter again

By ELIZABETH IM | November 21, 2020

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COURTESY OF ELIZABETH IM 

Spending more time at home has prompted Im to relearn how to be a daughter.

A puzzle piece went away, rolled around on different surfaces, grazing and bumping and came back with slightly different nooks and crooks. The curves aren’t quite the same and some parts had been left behind, chipped off. The rest of the puzzle board welcomes the returned piece; they missed her. What happens if the puzzle piece doesn't fit? Well, she tries anyways, but other pieces dig into her side and she does the same. Nothing’s intentional but it still hurts and they can’t back out now. They come from the same puzzle board. They are inseparable. 

On one summer day of 2014, I boarded a plane headed to the United States. For six years after that, I have lived in dorm rooms, with occasional and brief stays at home during the breaks. Although my connection with my parents remained strong (we called almost daily which is probably more than I’d have talked with them had I lived at home), I had slowly forgotten what it meant to be a daughter. Sure, I know the definition in the dictionary, but a human relationship is more complicated than that. 

Student. That had been my label. I am a student, and that was my purpose. Boarding school, and now college, made it easy for me to live in a bubble and disregard my other roles: a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a lover, a writer, a dog-owner. Perhaps it was only natural for me to experience a storm of emotions and confusion when I came back home last March due to the pandemic and had to stay home.

Upon returning from school, I came back to my childhood bedroom, which felt much smaller. I opened my closet to unpack but found that it was already crammed with old clothes that I didn’t have the time to sort out. I scanned the room for space. I realized I probably thought everything in my room was necessary at one point. Now, I’m reminded of their presence by stumbling into them accidentally. Truth be told, I would have lived on fine without my film camera from middle school or that jacket I bought several years ago. In fact, I completely forgot about them until I came back. 

Turns out, they weren’t the only things I forgot about. 

The first week back home is what I call a “honeymoon period.” It had been several months since my family and I saw each other, and it was simply nice to be together. Small actions or words that have the possibility of starting an argument or unpleasant disagreement are swatted aside and ignored. But after the first week, everyone meets their limit. It becomes time to bring those complaints up. 

The problem is this: I have lived for myself for too long, and my parents forget that I am no longer 14. 

Boarding schools take pride in teaching their students the necessary skills to cohabit with others, to cooperate, to be ready for college. Yet, the same system also provides and takes care of everyone equally, leaving the students to forget that there are responsibilities in life other than playing in a team sport and following a given set of dorm rules. When I came home, I had to relearn many things: to take my dogs on a walk, to understand what their yelps or pawing mean, to recycle (the right way) and some Korean slangs and expressions. But most importantly, I relearned how to be a daughter. 

Somehow, there have been millions of small things that had to be adjusted and discussed over the past eight months. Mostly it was me remembering that even though I am an adult, my parents still wanted me to tell them what I did and where I went. In some ways, I felt like I was taking a crash course, specifically on what happened in our family while I was away, what changed and what remains the same. It took me several weeks, if not months, to get comfortable with living in accordance with my family’s life rhythm. 

At first, I felt more comfortable acting solo; my parents and my sister were more like my flatmates. If I was hungry, I ate. If my friend wanted to meet up, I forgot to ask my family if they had other plans for us. These things seemed small, but they piled up quickly and created miscommunication. While I was frustrated at first, and so were my parents, this was an opportunity for us to catch up before it was too late.

Yes, our mutual understanding for each other has taken several arguments and tearful nights. However, I am glad I have been reminded that I am not just a student but also many other things and, in particular, a daughter. While studying sure has its exciting moments, it certainly adds dimensions to life to go back to having multiple roles.

Elizabeth Im is a junior studying Cognitive Science. She is from Seoul, South Korea but she is currently residing in Jeju Island. Her column discusses various topics that she has the chance to ponder and reflect upon during her gap semester.

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