No longer ‘an inadequate daughter’: Korean American college student candidly reveals how education helped her better understand her parents

An Asian American college student’s admission essay about her parents and her upbringing has resonated with other Asian American TikTok users.

Jubeen Ashley (@jubeenashley) is a 19-year-old Korean American college student who, on May 17, shared an emotional essay that helped her get into the University of California, Berkeley. She spent her first two years of college at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

For many TikTok creators, Jubeen’s video accurately captures what it’s like to grow up in an Asian American household, along with the internalized, deep-seated belief that who you are isn’t enough.

“My parents’ lack of affection and my failures to meet their high expectations led to constant disappointment, convincing me that they despised me for everything I am,” Jubeen begins. “My crippling anxiety under the burden to excel induced aggressive panic attacks at school, disabling me from properly focusing in class. My academics became a way of desperation for my parents’ approval through good grades in hopes of reviving my faith in myself as a lovable daughter.”

This described lack of affection is especially common for children of Asian immigrants. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all reason for this, the disinclination for parents to show affection could be attributed to their own trauma.

“If you grew up in an Asian immigrant family, you can probably relate. The consensus is that this hesitation to utter ‘I love you’ can stem from intergenerational trauma, as well as our parents’ upbringings, which might’ve discouraged emotional expression,” Melissa Pandika wrote for Mic. “The rift between our lived experiences can translate into conflicting expectations of what love ‘should’ look like.”

Prioritizing academic success over affection is common in a parenting style known as “tiger parenting.”

“Numerous studies refer to this as … authoritarian, rigorous tactics to teach skills and work habits, to drive children towards academic success and prepare them for their future,” Dr. Monika Winarnita, a researcher and anthropologist, told the Guardian.

Jubeen goes on to explain that attending college gave her the opportunity to freely and wholeheartedly explore her interests. In being on her own for the first time, however, Jubeen admits to feeling even more emotionally distant from her family. She cites her access to education as integral to helping her better understand as well as empathize with her parents’ perspectives.

“Although I had a new outlook on my education, the awkward distance I felt from my family made me unsure of how to give and receive affection,” she says. “Strangely enough, a few general introductory courses I took in school helped me to feel closer to them.

“Psychology served as a window into my father’s harshness, stemming from his own difficult childhood full of traditional Korean values and the accompanying weight of expectations,” she adds. “Linguistics allowed me to understand my mother’s empathetic nature and love for people, as she loved studying language herself and connecting with others.”

Upon FaceTiming her parents while away at college, Jubeen reveals she began to recognize things she hadn’t previously.

“The man who had once scolded me for my poor test grades didn’t seem so strong with his wrinkles and sagging skin,” she shares. “The woman who used to nitpick every part of my appearance began ending our calls with ‘I love you, my beautiful daughter.'”

‘How had I convinced myself my childhood was full of hatred?’

Their gradual aging, Jubeen explains, is indicative of the ways in which they’ve grown and changed with her.

“Only once I had detached myself from the identity of an inadequate daughter, I realized how human my parents are,” she says. “How had I convinced myself my childhood was full of hatred? I was always surrounded by love, even when it lacked opacity.”

TikTokers who identify as Asian American have taken to the comments to show Jubeen gratitude for discussing such a pervasive, widely felt sense of inadequacy.

“beautiful. Relatable. The story of many Asian Americans youth,” @ft.renny replied.

“So many Asian households are like this. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing,” @tammykayly wrote.

With the built-in, historically embedded expectations derived from terms like “the model minority,” the pressure to succeed is especially widespread among Asian American youths.

“Both internal personal motivations and external cultural values can create a high burden of expectation and pressure to succeed,” reads an explanation from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Predominant stereotypes like ‘Asian advantage’ and the ‘model minority’ myth assume that AAPI individuals should be intelligent, affluent, obedient and living the ‘American dream.’ Failure to live up to these stereotypes and expectations can be a source of significant stress, often creating feelings of inadequacy.”

Jubeen’s heartfelt essay and associated video serve as an example of the fact that people are capable of growth and change, regardless of their age. We seem to forget that even our own parents have the capacity to defy our expectations — for better or worse.

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