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Focus International Voices

The New Americana: Fantasy Comes, Fantasy Goes

Jae In Kim March 20, 2020

Illustration credit: Tia Marchiselli / @kiko labayen

Whenever I go back to Korea during a school break, my friends ask me questions about Temple as if they were interviewing me for a job: Do they really party every day? Is the campus prettier than Korean colleges? At first, I wouldn’t say I liked answering their questions over and over again. However, now I understand they asked these questions because I’m one of the few authentic sources who can explain the mysterious and fantasized realm that is American college life.

Usually, the fantasy—Mental apprehension of an object of perception, according to the Oxford English Dictionary—arises from assumption and curiosity. When there is something that we are not familiar with, or have never experienced, we naturally are curious about it and set certain preconceptions. For example, my dad tells me that he always misses earlier days when he wrote hand-written letters to my mom instead of simply texting one or two sentences. He still keeps a big love letterbox, and whenever I read those, I can feel their deep and sincere feelings. However, since I was born many years later, I can only assume that the people in the 1980s would have lived more romantic lives—know how to express their genuine feelings without being distracted by digital and social media. Along with that, all I can do is rely on people who lived through them to recount their experiences.

Looking back, I also idealized the American college life and asked questions to friends who participated in an exchange program. My fantasies before I transferred to Temple were:

  • American college will be freer in terms of sharing opinions between classmates and professors.
  • The cafeterias will be the best on the planet.
  • I will be the center of parties every day.
  • After classes, I will watch lots of Hollywood films that are not released in Korea.
  • Students will wear fancy clothes as if it were a New York fashion show.

What I found interesting was that I had not experienced these things during my life in Korea, which are similar to my friend’s fantasies. For example, because Korea is still conservative compared to the Western countries, it is often hard to express our feelings, especially to professors in discussion-based classes and activity sessions. And naturally, I had not experienced any American parties in Korea. In other words, I conceived of American life based on my experience growing up in Korean society and the lifestyle I had lived there.

Since my lifestyle and surroundings have changed after I transferred to Temple, my fantasies have been disproven. I imagined myself using cafeterias as if I were Bella from the Twilight series, but most of the time, I rush through my meals. I thought I would watch a lot of Hollywood films after classes, but in reality, I don’t have enough time to enjoy two-hour movies. Instead, I use the TECH Center more than AMC Broadstreet 7. I also thought I would be the center of attention as a new-faced Korean student, but it was way harder than I thought to make a real friend.

However, the fantasy does not disappear on its own: to interrupt our fantasy, we have to experience it directly. All of my fantasies of American college life faded after I tried the cafeteria, took classes, talking with other students, and pulled an all-nighter at TECH during the semesters. In that sense, fantasies became a tool to understand the real world by comparing it to my previous assumption. Whenever my preconceptions were challenged, I was thrilled to have enough experience to belong to an entirely different country. For example, I loved the fact that I wear a Temple sweatshirt three times a week, and although it was totally different from my fantasy, it made me feel like I’m a part of the Temple community. It’s proof that I’m experiencing Temple life—proof that I’m “living” in the United States.

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”

  • Lloyd Alexander, American Author

Becoming the new Americana doesn’t happen when we live our fantasies, but when we completely break the fantasy with new experiences—go beyond it until we understand what it is like to live in the United States.