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“Facing Poverty with a Rich Girl’s Habits” by Suki Kim

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“Facing Poverty with a Rich Girl’s Habits” by Suki Kim, recounts the real-life experience Suki endured when she and her family were forced to immigrate from Korea to America in the early 1980s. In Korea, bankruptcy resulted in jail time, so when her millionaire father fell on hard financial times the only other option was to leave behind the only home Suki and her family knew. Having been raised in a luxurious mansion until she was in the seventh grade, adapting to a second floor apartment in a Bronx, New York brownstone did not come easy. The apartment described in her own words as “a cramped and ugly place”(Kim, 2004). Suki revisited the humiliation she felt having to wash her own clothes at a laundry mat every week and also how it felt to be referred to as an Asian for the first time. She began to regard her own skin color to the same of a Forsythia, a flower that bloomed outside her home back in Korea.

When she was 13 she experienced taking public transportation to school for the first time. School was a complete culture shock for her. Not only did she not know English, but she also had to become familiar with the lack of formalities at her American public school. In Korea she was accustomed to bowing in front of teachers and wearing slippers to prevent from dirtying the floor. Students lip locking in class during attendance and graffiti covered walls were just inconceivable. Suki’s only solace in school was when she got to go to her E.S.L(English as a second language) class. There she was able to converse with other students in her first language and because they had similar situations as her, she didn’t feel as alienated. She soon noticed that there was a separation between the F.O.B (Fresh off the boat) Koreans and the Korean-American kids. She also noticed the divide between the wealthy and the poor, much similar to the one back home in Korea.

At 13 she didn’t really understand the division between the social classes, but going in to adulthood she became more aware. Suki stated that “Immigration is meant to be the great equalizer, yet it is not easy to eradicate the class divisions of the old country”(Kim, 2004). As an adult she established the difference between the Korean generations and associated those students in her E.S.L class along with herself as the “1.5 generation”. This generation consisted of the Koreans that came to the U.S when they were teens keeping hold of their Korean culture values and language. The others being the first and second generations. The first generation never fully adapting to American ways, and the latter being the generation who only knows American ways. In this essay the number one battle Suki expressed was having to adapt from a lifestyle of chauffeurs and having big houses to living a life where both parents had to work only to still have to scrape by. The main message was delivered to make people aware of how society division was and still is among Korean immigrants. The purpose of the essay was informative and the tone was of appreciation. Suki had to find out what it meant to work for something and in the end it made her who she is today. I think the audience was intended to be other Korean immigrants but became scholars or people researching immigrant journeys to new countries.

Overall this is an essay of about overcoming obstacles and triumphing. I always admire stories of people like Suki. I don’t think I could have stayed positive if put in the same situation but I am also a religious person and feel that god wouldn’t bestow anything upon anyone that he didn’t think they could handle. In this story Suki overcame her obstacles, became successful and made a name for herself.


Kim, Suki (2004). ‘Facing Poverty With a Rich Girl’s Habits’ from McGraw-Hill’s Writing for College, Writing for Life 2nd 11

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