By Sarah Joh
Culture shock is an expected side effect that comes with being a newcomer in a new place. But as my move to Los Angeles has taught me, there is more to culture shock than simply being confronted by a barrage of unfamiliarity.
Take, for example, Koreatown – which, for me, is a welcome offcampus destination that hinges on the spontaneity of friends with with cars. Thanks to its proximity and its food, Koreatown (or K-town) is a common outlet for USC students; a stroke of luck for your truly, as it provides me with the gratification of feasting on the closest thing to my mom’s home cooking. However, in addition to belly-splitting meals, the road to Koreatown also promises a much different form of cultural experience.
Driving down Hoover Street, you will pass a laundromat that informs passersby of its title in three different languages – English, Spanish, and Korean. Likewise, even as the title “Koreatown” points to the cultural composition of this particular region of LA, stores catering to Latin-American populations rest side-by-side with their Korean counterparts. As you drive down certain roads, you can observe the frequency of this cultural mixing increase until, suddenly, you are in an area peppered less with Korean barbeque restaurants and more with hole-in-the-wall taco joints. The way these two cultures seamlessly bleed into each other leads me to wonder how such culturally different communities came to coexist side-by-side.
This is the unique, patchwork beauty of Los Angeles. The rapid scenery changes, from gilded facades of affluence to ramshackle buildings with caged windows, from one ethnic enclave to the next, from tall concrete and glass jungles to one-storied plains, is both shocking and wonder-provoking. Los Angeles is anywhere and everywhere mixed together and spread out throughout the urban sprawl. Converging in this one city, different cultures come to exist side-by-side, as well as intermingle with each other.
While Los Angeles’ diverse outward appearance and composition attests to its unique character, a second layer to its patchwork beauty exists – its people. As interesting as the LA scenery is in its own right, it serves as a visual representation of the people who occupy the space, people who are differentiated by their distinct characters and cultural identities but who are all influenced by each other as well.
Likewise, I am ethnically Korean and demographically Korean-American but, more often then not, I find myself colored by bits and pieces of other cultures, whether by association through friends and acquaintances, or through my spatial surroundings.
Although my time as a newcomer to this city was cushioned by how easily I could find familiar comforts, such as the food in K-town, I found myself exposed to these comforts amidst other sights, smells, and sounds. While Los Angeles provides spaces and communities for people of all different backgrounds, we might surprised to realize how much the aspects of other cultural communities have become a part of our idea of comfort and familiarity. This is the LA version of culture shock – how easily we can integrate aspects of different cultures into our lives. Since many of us were not born and raised in Los Angeles, we may hesitate to call ourselves Angelenos, but whether or not we know it, we all make up the unique intersections of culture that exist throughout the city. We are Los Angeles.
Sarah is an undergraduate junior pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies. As a first generation Korean-American and having spent time in Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong for her semester abroad, she is well acquainted with the mixing of cultures and the challenges (and the excitement!) of adjusting to new places. She loves photography, especially its power to bring people together and to preserve memories. In addition to her affinity for photography, she is an avid consumer of coffee and is working on compiling an ongoing list of LA coffee shops to visit before she graduates.