The Harbinger Online

Growing Up in Multicultural Homes

Junior Stefano Byer stands in the Italian Alps mountains during his vacation there with his family last summer.

Junior Stefano Byer thought that he was used to driving above the speed limit until he found himself packed into the back seat of his friend’s car in summer of 2011. Doubling the in-town limit, the driver pushed the small, manual shift car until the odometer reached around 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, per hour.

Some of Stefano’s friends make fun of him for wearing a seat belt. Racing through Italian cities, these young Italians consider the speed normal, not reckless.

“Never drive with an Italian,” Stefano said.

Stefano’s driving experiences are an example of the two greatest contradictions in his life: Italy and America. Students who grow up in multicultural homes, like Stefano or Korean-American sisters freshman Rachel and junior Jeemin Kim, are shaped by their cultural inheritance by interests, careers and language.

Stefano spends almost 11 months a year in Kansas City, home to his father and that half of his extended family, but he stays with his mother’s parents every summer since he was born, speaking and thinking in Italian. In these few weeks, Stefano and his family are immersed in Italian culture in everything from food and family to architecture, until they return to his American life in Kansas City after six weeks.

Growing up with two different cultures has affected Stefano in more ways than his tendency to swear at other drivers under his breath in Italian when he’s behind the wheel. For him, being exposed to Italy while growing up in both American and Italian culture has shaped not only his perceptions of the world, but also his hobbies.

“I kind of fell in love with art after going to the Vatican,” Stefano said. “I’ve always liked architecture, always liked photography and taking pictures of architecture, but after visiting the Vatican Museum, I appreciated art a lot more.”

His time spent in Italy has given Stefano exposure to both his interests and his future career. Stefano believes that everyday life in Prairie Village doesn’t show the hardships of life like a big city like Turin, Italy does. While Johnson County, one of the most affluent counties in the United States, is, in his opinion, a great place to grow up, he plans to move abroad. He hopes to go to college in Italy and thereafter do humanitarian work with Doctors Without Borders in less fortunate areas.

“I want to help other people, people that have nothing–especially in comparison to Prairie Village,” Stefano said.

Stefano’s mother, Silvia Byer, is a native of Italy. She believes that Stefano’s goals reflect how spending six weeks in Italy every year of his life has given him a more worldly perspective.

Stefano’s desire to go to college abroad has fueled his decision to enroll in the International Baccalaureate program. By the end of his senior year, he will take tests in six subjects that are standardized across the globe, making his high school credits easier to transfer to an Italian college.

“The fact that he is in the IB program is an indicator that he feels this international atmosphere within the household and within himself,” Silvia said.

Italy and his cultural inheritance have defined Stefano’s interests and plans for the future. However, other multicultural students, such as Rachel and Jeemin Kim, embrace their inheritance without being defined by it.

The Kim family is from South Korea. Unlike Stefano, Rachel and Jeemin don’t think twice about the culture contrast between their Korean parents and their peers’ parents.

“Over the years, it’s just become part of who I am,” Rachel said. “We’re in both cultures pretty equally and I wouldn’t call myself completely American or completely Korean.”

In 1996, when Jeemin was one year old, she and her parents moved to Wisconsin, where Rachel was born, to follow a job opportunity for her father. The two have grown up and lived all of their lives in America and are therefore more accustomed to American culture with Korean influences, especially predominant in language.

According to Korean custom of using titles, Rachel never simply calls Jeemin by her first name but rather uses “eonni,” a Korean term used for an older sister.

“At home, when I’m talking to my sister or my parents, we use a mixture of Korean and English–we call it Kanglish,” Jeemin said. “My sister and I have this unspoken agreement that we never speak Korean to each other. It’s just awkward because we both know that English is more comfortable for the both of us.”

For Rachel, growing up in America has given her a piece of two cultures. According to Rachel, though it can sometimes be difficult, growing up in a bilingual home has been a unique experience. She’s happy to have been able to learn not only two languages while growing up, but two lifestyles.

Two lifestyles are exactly what Stefano’s mother had envisioned for her son. Thanks to her efforts, Stefano has retained Italian culture and is fluent in Italian even without contact with many other Italians while in Kansas.

Sisters Jeemin and Rachel Kim pose with their grandparents on Geojedo Island off the coast of Korea in 2009.

“He integrates himself fairly easily in both cultures which was my goal, in fact, of making him comfortable in both worlds,” Silvia said.

Belonging to two cultures is a unique part of Stefano, Rachel and Jeemin’s lives that gives them a different worldview than their peers.

“I know that my life has been completely different from most people at East by being in a different culture at home than at school,” Rachel said. “It’s not living in two different worlds, but it feels like it sometimes.”

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Emily Donovan

Emily is a senior at East who has happily joined the Harbinger as a Staff Writer and Anchor. Besides would-be writer, Emily is an International Baccalaureate candidate, "theatre kid," and artiste-wanna-be. Read Full »

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