Interviewed in Korean Blog, “Valley Inside” by Sungmoon Cho!

Read the original article (in Korean) here: http://valleyinside.com/stephanie-parker/

And here is an English translation (done by me) of my interview:

Stephanie Parker, who discovered a new self through Korean culture, has become an evangelist for Korea

Stephanie is a Communication and Political Science grad, and current 1st year Master’s student at Stanford. I met her for the first time 2 and a half years ago in the summer of 2009. Every summer, Stanford has a summer exchange program called “American Language and Culture,” where students from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan spend 4 weeks on campus. Stephanie was a coordinator for that program. At the time, a few of my friends, juniors from my university were attending the program. They told me about a girl I should meet, who had a huge interest in Korean culture and was very familiar with Korean singers and dramas. That time I met her only briefly, but the following year I participated as a panelist in the same program and was able to meet her again.

Recently, Stephanie came down to Mountain View to meet with me. She has now become a graduate student, and after she graduates she will start working in Singapore. I asked her about what kind of work she’d be doing in Singapore, and she told me she’d be Community Manager for a start-up that lets users put subtitles on videos. I asked, “Are you talking about Viki?” and when she said yes, I was totally surprised! I happen to know the founder of Viki, Changseong Ho because he was my senior back in college. I’d recently heard the great news about his company: Korean/American Video Site Raises $20m in VC Funding” At the time, Stephanie was studying Korean and digging deeper into Korean culture; for this reason, the job at Viki seemed like an exciting opportunity for her.

What triggered Stephanie’s interest in Korean culture, and what does she expect at Viki after she graduates? Stephanie and I discussed this and more over a cup of coffee at Starbucks in Mountain View.

Sungmoon: Would you like to give a brief self-introduction?

Stephanie: Hi! I graduated from Stanford this past June and am currently in grad school studying Communication. Because of a special co-term program, I got to take graduate classes at the same time as undergraduate ones, so I will graduate early. Most graduate programs last for 2 years.

Sungmoon: You know a lot about Korean culture and dramas, but when did you become so interested?

Stephanie: My interest goes back to high school. I went to high school in Los Angeles, where I was around a lot of Korean-American students who became my friends. I liked American pop stars at first, but I noticed my Korean friends had pictures of K-Pop stars in their binders and I was curious. Eventually I started going to karaoke with my Korean friends and then later attending K-Pop concerts. I would have never dreamed that I’d be so interested in that culture. When I told my best friend, Gloria Yi, who now attends Harvard, about my new interest in K-Pop, Gloria let me know about a website called Soompi. There, I could learn everything I ever wanted to know about Korean culture. Joining Soompi opened up a whole new world for me. I was surrounded by all kinds of people who shared my interest in Korean Dramas and culture, and I’d never experienced a community like that before. To tell you the truth, whenever I’d tell my non-Asian friends at the time that I liked Korean pop singers, they’d think it was a bit strange. They joked that the male pop stars looked too much like girls. I participated in some Soompi-sponsored offline meetups, where I got to meet other people like myself — I loved it. I also went to some Korean concerts; my first was the YG Family World Tour in 2006. I remember that was my first time seeing Big Bang perform!

Sungmoon: Near the end of high school, you must have been busy preparing for college, so how did you have the time to do all these things? Especially being admitted to Stanford. Wasn’t it a crazy time?

Stephanie: Honestly, I believe that my interest in Asian culture actually helped me get into Stanford. Through my experiences learning about different people and languages, I grew a lot as a person. It was pretty funny that my hobbies and diversions could be seen as valuable in that way, haha!

Sungmoon: Stanford’s admissions team must have had a great eye to catch you! Haha 🙂

Stephanie: Stanford prides itself on its diversity, so I knew I’d have a chance to meet many kinds of people there, including Koreans, other non-Asian K-Pop fans, and other Americans too. That’s the main reason why I chose Stanford.

Sungmoon: Could you describe your high school experience in a little more detail?

Stephanie: I spent so much time on Soompi that I grew to know Asian culture extremely well. Even walking down the street, I’d notice Asian people more quickly than others. I’d feel happier to see them. On the Soompi website, since my profile picture was the singer, “Rain,” most people assumed I was Korean-American and sometimes we even exchanged messages in Korean. It was a mysterious experience. Later at Stanford, I was assigned to write a research paper. I chose to explore what happens to a young person’s racial and cultural identity after they spend time online in a different cultural community. There are people who are gravely concerned about this “identity play,” but I chose to look at the larger, more positive picture. I think it’s a wonderful thing that the Internet now gives us so many options for expression and identity. You don’t need to be bound by the area you were born into. If people become interested in a new environment, I think it’s better for all.

Sungmoon: Can you pass along any tips about how to get admitted to Stanford?

Stephanie: I think Stanford cares more about the personal statement than about the standardized test scores. In particular, if you can demonstrate a process of growth and development in your life, try to write that in the essay. At first, I lacked confidence in my identity, but through getting interested in Korean culture I discovered a newfound confidence. When I was younger, I was actually “kicked out” of my group of friends. My mother was White and father was Black; so my appearance was Black, but because I had a slightly different culture, it was really hard for me to fit in with other Black students. For example, everyone thought that Black people should speak with a certain accent. I tried my best to imitate the “Black accent” but it wasn’t natural to me; other students could tell that I was faking, so they didn’t accept me. They didn’t like that I would use higher vocabulary words either. I really wanted to be accepted, but I ended up shifting around to different cliques and eventually settled on the “Korean group.” When I became interested in Korean culture, and showed them that I could speak some Korean, those students were really pleased and welcomed me. It’s always pretty fun, as an American interested in Korean culture, to chat with Korean people about that interest. My Korean accent was more natural than people expected, so instead of being disappointed in how I spoke, my Korean friends were always impressed and surprised by me — it was a great feeling.

Sungmoon: How did you come to join the team at Viki?

Stephanie: I’ve been a user and fan of Viki for a while, and I’ve even worked on a few subtitles. A while ago, I found out that Viki had been founded by Stanford Business School Grads, and that they won a Crunchie Award as well. This past Spring, a friend of mine met the CEO of Viki, Razmig Hovaghimian, and told him about me. My friend contacted Razmig and I, and the two of us set up a meeting in Palo Alto. As soon as we met, he said “We wanna hire you.” I was really surprised! He told me more about the company and invited me to come visit the office in Singapore and meet the rest of the team. I already had an interest in working in Asia, so hearing about this opportunity was especially exciting for me. During my trip to visit other Asian countries like Korea and Japan, I stopped by Singapore and met the team, who were all really friendly and welcoming. I eventually decided to join Viki as “Community Manager.” Right now, I’m working part-time, but next April after I graduate I’ll start full-time. I’m so excited about this opportunity!

————

The girl who found K-Pop by chance in high school, and through it found new confidence in herself, was admitted to Stanford, and now happily helps people around the world connect over shared interests in K-Dramas, this is Stephanie. Through her work as an “ambassador” for Korean culture, I believe she will have a significant role in making Korean dramas and music available to more and more people around the world.

By Sungmoon Cho, Valley Inside

Me and Sungmoon

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