Today I am hosting a guest post from my friend and classmate, Yeram Choi. -Ian Ramsey-North
A vast majority of us have been called by an incorrect name, other than the one assigned to us at birth, for a myriad of reasons. As a Korean American, however, it is a common occurrence for me as I bear “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian.” The weight of this burden ranges from a quick laugh at Starbucks when I see the wrong name on my order, to a deep sense of shame when others call me by an incorrect name in the classroom or at the workplace. In every instance, I am called by the name of another Asian individual in the room.
Growing up, I heard every phonetic variation of “Yeram” you could possibly imagine, but I did not really mind. I unabashedly corrected others when they mispronounced it because I was proud of my unique name. Every day promised a new adventure as I heard yet another version of my name. But, I eventually hit a wall in high school. Fueled by teenage angst on top of years of exacerbation, I assigned myself an “English name” and vowed to live the rest of my life as “Leah.”
Admittedly, this abrupt decision spawned a disjointed approach to my identity. On the one hand, “Yeram” desired to stay loyal to her Korean heritage. This would be the natural thing to do, since she was born and raised in South Korea. On the other hand, “Leah” simply wanted others to get her name right, without unnecessary, emotional exertion. In that moment when I decided to go by an “easier” name, however, my sense of urgency to assimilate as “Leah” trumped my desire to stay true to my cultural roots as “Yeram.”
Dean Rougeau was among the first people to speak to my class during orientation. He welcomed us to BC and to the legal profession. Then he talked about truth. This was the summer of 2019 and then, as now, there were concerns that the very notion of truth was being degraded beyond redemption. At the time, an iconoclastic media personality-turned-politician had unsettled what many thought were enduring, if only partial, methods of verifying truth.
We don’t need to dwell on the politics of it. Dean Rougeau didn’t. He just took the opportunity to center truth in legal education and practice. He talked about how our profession’s procedures, norms, and expertise offered one important solution to the challenge our society faced. I was skeptical. But less than two years later, completely unsubstantiated claims of election fraud ran rampant through the public square until they crashed into the brick wall of the courts’ evidentiary standards. He may have been onto something.
I am sitting at my desk in my childhood bedroom, in the home where I grew up, starting my summer internship virtually and feeling admittedly silly as I pour a cup of coffee and don professional clothing while I am surrounded by mementos of my youth. Though the coloring books and childhood photographs on my desk have now been replaced by my laptop and a Bluebook, things still feel eerily similar to what I remember growing up.
It makes me think back to this time last year. Coming home last March as the pandemic shutdown hit was almost incomprehensible: sitting in the home that felt so familiar to me, I was also painfully aware of how foreign just about everything else around me really was. I watched my professors (and later my summer employer) scramble to get a handle of how best to continue on in a world that was suddenly unfamiliar. I adapted to virtual meetings, technical difficulties, and Zoom hangouts. I took on the unfamiliarity with an open mind, trying to adjust to the temporary surroundings I believed I was in.
But now it has been a year, and the unfamiliarity has transformed into the ordinary. What was once a few weeks at most is now over a year of remote school and work. Summer internships, clinics, classes, and virtual events have come and gone. Countless in-person events and programs have been transformed to account for the virtual world we remain in. I and most other rising 3Ls (ouch), are entering into another remote summer internship.