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Welcome Fellow American!

Updated: Apr 5

March 26, 2024

Natalie Kim

A whirlwind of emotions swept through me as I was entering the conference room for my oath ceremony. In February, I became a U.S. citizen through naturalization, marking a significant shift in my identity. Inside the envelop, along with an American flag, was a welcome letter from the President. The ceremony continued with the oath and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, making promises of sole loyalty to this country. The oath ceremony came with a bittersweet sense of loss, as if I were bidding farewell to my birth country of South Korea, its culture, cherished relationships, and nostalgic memories of my upbringing.

Despite this twinge of sadness, excitement coursed through my mind as well. No longer merely a resident, I was now a citizen, adopted by the United States. With this newfound status came a sense of honor, a prospect of serving my new community, embracing rights and responsibilities as American, and integrating its values and heritage.

My journey to citizenship bore a unique imprint. Arriving in the States at the age of 13, I had spent most of my formative years here, except for the 3 years in Korea during my twenties. Despite my familiarity with American customs and language, I always had a lingering sense of being a foreigner. Comfort and competence in cultural and linguistic realms didn't automatically equate to a feeling of belonging. I thought this feeling had to do with my status as a non-citizen. However, obtaining citizenship didn’t resolve this inner confusion about my sense of self and belonging.

Culture and Belonging

I delved deeper into the complexities between culture and belonging in a poignant conversation with my husband, who is a U.S.-born Korean American and grew up in the New York metro area. He is a West Point graduate and veteran who served in the army for 10 years. I figured he was as American as you can get. When I asked about his feelings towards his American identity, his response was candid yet thought-provoking.

"America," he mused, "is home to me and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else, and I believe in the foundational principles that make America. But there’s a sense of being a sojourner in this country that’s ever-present. I’m Korean American and not just ‘American.’ That’s not a matter of right and wrong, but simply what is."

His words struck a chord, illuminating the subtle nuances of cultural identity and the pervasive influence of history. The very fabric of American society, woven by its founding fathers, bore the indelible imprint of its English, Christian settlers. Immigrants from different parts of world, even though their values and beliefs may be aligned with what makes America America, wrestle with a sense of identity because they “look” different and come from different (or mixed) cultural upbringings. Unlike many other countries, the U.S. is a country built upon Christian beliefs, values, and worldview and not upon ethnic ties. Therefore, in America we see a diversity of ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and linguistic heritages. In this unique place, what makes you feel home?

Cultures don’t make you belong; people do.

Indeed, the journey to belonging transcends simple cultural assimilation. While familiarity with customs and language may provide a sense of identity and security, true belonging stems from the relationships we cultivate. It is in knowing others and allowing ourselves to be known that we find a sense of home. The sense of belonging can grow over time or stay stagnate, just like our relationships with others.

 While familiarity with customs and language may provide a sense of identity and security, true belonging stems from the relationships we cultivate.

As Christians, we recognize ourselves as sojourners in this earthly realm, finding ultimate solace in our relationship with God. Despite acquiring a new identity as a Korean American through naturalization, my deepest sense of belonging remains rooted in Christ who gave himself up for me so that God by His infinite grace, adopted me as His own.

Do you ever feel like a sojourner in your own culture or the culture you currently inhabit? Take heart, for our true belonging lies in God's intimate knowledge of us and unfailing love for us. If you ever feel excluded or lonely in a foreign land, take heart. Remember that our purpose is not to conform to the patterns of the world but to love His truths, beauty, and justice, and seek His kingdom.

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself." Philippians 3:20-21

Natalie Kim, EdD, is communication and project coordinator at CultureBound. She has led culture courses for long-term missions. Currently, she is directing the Culture Tree Project for TCKs. Natalie earned her EdD in intercultural education from Western Seminary.



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