How has a Korean-German woman in Berlin dealt with cultural impostor syndrome, and how did this lead her from working in the video game industry to becoming a young adult novelist?
In Episode 4, I’m speaking with Sara, whose experiences growing up in small-town Germany led to her seeking the identity she always thought she wanted in Korea.
Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): https://www.chimamanda.com/book/americanah/
Sara, Sen Zhan
For example, I still have a little bit of panic anytime I encounter a group of Korean people because I know that they will know that I'm not Korean. I kind of feel like an imposter because German people tell me I'm Korean but Korean people know. They know I'm not Korean.
Sen Zhan 00:19
The third culture is what emerges at the intersection between your culture of origin and the other cultures by which you've been shaped. Beyond Asian is a place for stories of global nomads with Asian roots brought up in diversity. Together, we explore the interplay of our pasts with our presence, and our relationships with the multiple cultures we move in. These are more than conversations about Asian identity, their portraits of whole people, what keeps them up at night, what their hearts longed for, and the impact they hope to have on their communities. I'm your host Sen. Jan, A third culture kid born in China, raised in Canada and currently based in Berlin. This series is a first step towards making peace with my own Asian background. And it's my hope that other third culture Asians will hear themselves reflected in our stories. How has the Korean German woman in Berlin dealt with cultural impostor syndrome? And how did this lead her from working in the videogame industry to becoming a young adult novelist? In Episode Four, I'm speaking with Sarah, whose experiences growing up in small town Germany led to her seeking the identity she always thought she wanted in Korea. So I'm here with Sarah Han today, and Sarah is a concept artist and a novelist. So Sarah, I wanted to ask you about a number of topics because you've had some really interesting experiences. Living in Berlin but also coming from a smaller village in Germany.
Yeah, I grew up in a, in a, I'd say village. I think officially it's town in the middle of hasn't so like the center of Germany. And my mother is from Korea. And she came here in the 70s. I think back then, like a lot of nurses from Korea came to Germany. There were so many basically that a few years back, I met another half Korean girl in a Korean class. And she just came up to me she was like, was your mother also nurse. She just knew that was so funny to me. Because if they came into 70s, they were a nurse. So my that's how my mother came here. And my dad is a doctor. So that's how they met. And yeah, I grew up in a very small town. And we were the only mixed race family basically. But because my dad was the doctor of the town, like everybody sort of knew, what was it like for you to be the only different looking family in that town. It wasn't as big as a problem because as I said, like everybody knew me. So everybody knew my family. Got a bit annoying anytime I went out of that town. So I remember, I think in fifth grade or something in Germany, we transferred to another school, starting like after fourth grade. And I was the only Asian person for them. I was completely Asian. And there were a lot of kids who did not know me at all. So I was just the Chinese girl, you know, like, even though I kept saying, I'm not Chinese, but nobody knows where Korea is. And after a while, like all anyone knew was like, Oh, are you from North Korea? Like, but for the longest time was just like the Chinese girl. And that's kind of when it started. Like, every time I met people who did not know me, that's when we started. They were making like these jokes about the eyes, obviously. And like, the dog eating part was very, very big, huge,
good old dog.
Yeah, exactly. So, um, basically like anytime I met people who did not know me or my family, that's when I kind of realized like, Oh, they don't think I'm German. They think I'm Korean. That's weird, because I'm not right.
Sen Zhan 04:13
Because you were born.
Yeah, I'm born here. But the commons kind of made it obvious that people thought of me as Korean or like as something Asian, basically. And there were a couple of kids who always said something like, Chinese people have to be like, thrown away or like tossed into the trash or something like that anytime I pass. So I just started taking like the longer route so I wouldn't have to pass that particular house because it just got annoying.
Sen Zhan 04:41
Why do you think that they were acting that way?
I don't know. I think part of it maybe is like if you exclude somebody, at the same time, you show your inclusion to a certain society and you can be like that. This is US and Europe that's over there. So just stay away from us, you know? Yeah. On the other hand, like if that if it's kids, it's probably just like, they're not really educated about it, and they don't really know. And they, they see you, and they see the difference. And they just pointed out, you know, I mean, if you look at children literature from the 90s, most of the paintings are about blonde girls with blue eyes, you know, you don't have people that look like me. Or like, if you had a different skin color and grew up in that society, and they only new people that look like that. And, of course, they're going to point it out. Like they're going to point out that you are different in some way because they don't know it.
Sen Zhan 05:43
And I've had experiences similar to that growing up in Canada, where I was, you know, one of two maybe Asian looking people in the entire class or maybe even the entire school. And I found that the experience of the children was a whole spectrum, you know, was every everything from from people also singing songs about me to people who who treated me the same as any other kid. I haven't thought about this for a long time. But when I asked myself the same question, why do I think those kids did it like that? You know, why were there some kids who were terrible to me and there's some kids who were, who were just wonderful to me, you know, I can't help thinking that it's because they were taught in a certain way, you know, either they were taught to be very inclusive, you know, educated to extend themselves to people who were different and to help them or they were taught to immediately start this this is awesome. This is them. This is awesome. This is them. Because I, you know, maybe this is very idealistic, but I have the impression that children unless they're taught in a specific way, they'll just accept that the world is diverse around them. You know, that there's not immediately this like, you know, you're not us. Yeah.
But if they don't know any Other people, you know, because I think in as I said, like in our small town like I was the only one but like, apart from me, there were a lot of Turkish kids as well. I don't know how, how well they were integrated. I remember like my first really really good friend was a Turkish girl. I can imagine maybe that was similar for her as it was for me. But I don't think integration and diversity is a big was a big topic back then in the village just because there weren't a lot of other people basically people that looked different somehow from like the standard German kid.
Sen Zhan 07:38
Can you tell me about some experiences like as you got older in, in the small town?
Well, I told you before that like the whole Oh, you different got a lot stronger when I changed school because I got transferred to another school in the next town over. And that was when I was in fifth grade. So like 10 years old. And I remember in the first year like in the first two years sometime I'm not so sure when we had this potluck party, so everybody would bring food. And usually, kids bring like cake. And my mom made keep up. So like, it's like sushi basically is you have rice and you have like dried seaweed. And I brought it to school and like the kids are transferred with me, they knew me. So there was no problem there. But I remember there was this one kid who started talking about how seaweed was the thing that fish poop on. And now I am a seaweed eater. And he said that in not so nice way in German, and he kept calling me that and I don't remember any of the teachers telling him to stop he just kept telling me that I would eat like fish poop and probably dog and that it's disgusting and that the smell is disgusting and all that. And I went home and I told my sister and my sister told me to just Call that boy a potato eater. Because apparently German people eat a lot of potatoes. Yes.
Yeah. Well that's a no that's generally what we have is the stereotypical vision. Oh, yeah.
But it's not for German person. Of course. It's not the same. You know, you call somebody a potato eater in their head saying, Yeah, but you eat seaweed. Like to them. That's the idea is disgusting. And, but I did do it. Like I went up to him the next time he called me seaweed, or I told him like, Yeah, well, you eat potatoes all the time. And he started Of course, he started laughing at me, right? So I just started to just shut up after a while because I realized, okay, we're gonna do that now. And that's just how it is.
Sen Zhan 09:41
And what were the the effects of that on you?
But I just started kind of isolating myself from everybody. And just had this idea of like, you know what I don't like people. People don't like me, and I don't like people and it's fine. And I have my friends from Like the previous school that I still mess up with,
Sen Zhan 10:03
and I can understand, you know, when you're young, and that's just your experience of the world. You know, it's hard to think, okay, things could be different one day or it's hard to think, Oh, it's just this group of people. It's just this school of people. Yeah, you start to think, oh, maybe this is the way that the entire world is. Yeah. Yeah. And and then you, you have to protect yourself, you know, you need to adjust yourself accordingly and think, well, if I'm going to be taking all of this bad treatment from the people around me, then maybe I need to just distance myself. Yeah. So I reduced the chances of me
Yeah, receiving bad treatment. I mean, that's what I did. All the time. I was always just like, I was very content with being the girl in school that everybody knew I just didn't like people that much. And I was always like, No, you want to you know what I want to I want to do my paintings. I want to be alone and just leave me alone. And I have these like, three people that are like, that's enough. Yeah, yeah. Okay.
Sen Zhan 10:59
Yeah, yeah. Like your your world became very, very select.
Yeah. And, yeah, it was a kind of a bubble, right that I lived in. Right, right.
Sen Zhan 11:11
Yeah. I think that too, you know, my experiences when I was in middle school, so between the grades of seven to nine, so 13 to 16 years old. And, and I remembered that I was also consciously trying to keep myself away from many of the other kids. Because I was also bullied and and by other Asian people, you know, this was the, this was the thing that I was like, what I thought we were the same. And that
was Yeah, that was the thing that I realized I
Sen Zhan 11:42
was like, Oh, I guess there are all these different sub levels of me.
Sen Zhan 11:48
yeah. And I wouldn't you know, I would be bullied by Asian people more than by non Asian people. Yeah, I know. That probably sounds crazy to you. You're like, well, the promised land all these Asian people like no, that's, you know, and if you were just In Korea, probably there would be in group there, they would find different ways. Of
course. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I did go to Korea then. I don't know. Yeah. I don't know, I think maybe that people always try to find the biggest difference, you know, and when you're the only one who's like, Who's Asian, and the biggest difference between you and the others might be the fact that you Asian, you know, and since a lot of kids always told me that, like, I always got the feeling that everybody thinks I'm Korean. So I just kind of started to go into that direction more. So I started listening to a lot of Kpop and just watch a lot of dramas. And, you know, I always I was always dressed in clothes that I had bought in Korea whenever I visited my family there, because I just wanted to be more Korean. Right. I remember that so vividly that like for my whole life, I just wanted to be Korean. Yeah. And then I went, I went to Korea and I went to that one.
Sen Zhan 12:59
16 you were there a year
when I was in 10th grade? Because that's usually the year where everybody's like, you can go to a different country if you want to, because it's just like repetition.
Sen Zhan 13:08
It's it's quite common for for students to go abroad when they're in their teenage years in Germany. Yeah,
yeah. A lot of them go to America because there's like programs that support it. But I wanted to go to Korea because like the school system in Germany, they support a lot of, for example, like they also support different languages, but Korean was just not one of those languages. I mean, I was apart from me, there was one other half Korean kid in the in the whole school, and that was it. But yeah, I went to Korean foreign school, basically in Seoul for a year. And, like just thinking that, hey, I can go to Korea. Maybe I can be more Korean if I go to Korea, and then I was there and I realized, Oh, that's that's not happening. Because Korean people don't think I'm Korean. Korean people either think I'm completely white, or half Japanese.
Sen Zhan 14:01
Which is I mean, I just think that that I wonder how that must have felt for you, you know, to be so excited to go to Korea to become more Korean. And, you know, because you were not seen as German in Germany and then to arrive in Korea, only to find that the Koreans thought you were half Japanese or you're German. Yeah.
Yeah, it's in the beginning. It was fun. I mean, it's always kind of I don't know if he's can say interesting or fun to have like, people sitting around to you and start guessing like, I get the guessing guessing game a lot. From she Japanese. She may be Turkish something because like, depending on who I am surrounded with, like I could be anything. Yeah, I remember like when I when I was in Thailand, people just thought I was Thai. Yeah. I could be anything apparently. Yeah. But in Korea, specifically, it was the half Japanese thing like everybody thought I was half Japanese.
Sen Zhan 14:57
So you were sitting around. You're playing this This guess what I endgame?
Yeah, they're always like, guess what Sara is and they were like, yeah, she's half Japanese. No, she's half Korean. Yeah, that's kind of that happened a lot.
Sen Zhan 15:09
And what was it like for you at the school like, you know, to be there and walk through the hallways and
he was an American school. Okay, so it was very intimidating, because it was huge, just giant. But I remember that when I first came there, I got a buddy. Okay, that's what they call like a person that kind of is your guide plays a guide for a week. And she was Korean. And she also spoke Korean and I got pretty. Like we got to Well, how do you say that? We got along pretty well, that I noticed pretty quickly that like she and her friend group were like the and I don't mean this in like a condescending way or anything. But they were the rich Korean Americans basically, like there was this one girl whose father was just super crazy rich that she had a driver up during our break and bring her to this to home there, which is like to like a shopping street and on there and it was very normal for her that she had a driver pick her up. So I realized pretty quickly that like, okay, those are the rich Koreans and I was dressed in like, just no label clothes basically that I picked up from like the shopping streets, the underground shopping streets and right so, so I didn't really fit into that group. Okay, so that's when the whole like, Where do I fit in started again? Yeah. And I ended up with a group of people that didn't really know where they fit in. Around that time, I started to see myself as the artistic person. Yeah. Because I just realized, like, I don't fit into this group, and I don't fit into this group. But I do fit into this niche of she does a lot of art. And she paints a lot. Yeah. So I kind of saw myself as that person starting from them.
Sen Zhan 16:52
Mm hmm. And it was like you, you went through this interesting filtration process, you know, so it's almost as if To apply, like all of these different layers of filters of, you know, do you fit into the Korean group? Yeah, maybe yes. You fit into the, the outlier group. Okay, maybe and within the outlier group where Yeah. And oh, she she's an artist. Yeah. And I think this, this experience of identifying with the other people who don't fit in anywhere, it's something that is really common amongst third culture people or biracial people or multiracial people, or let's say like, a, like a blended identity, you know, where you have a little bit of identity from all these different places and you try to kind of like, mix all of these pieces together in a way that's coherent. Was was Korea, a disappointing experience for you?
Partly Yes, because I had hoped to fit into this group more. And as I told you, like, I always wanted to be completely Korean all the time. And then I came to Korea. And I realized that I could never be fully Korean but at the same time, I could also not be fully German. So it was disappointing in a sense of that I just still didn't really know what I was. But at the same time, I started to see myself as just a person, apart from what I might look like, people might label me as. So I think the experience in itself was very good because I understood myself a lot better. And I started to see myself apart from what other people saw me us, which was very big thing before that. So it wasn't what I wanted it to be, but at the same time, it wasn't bad. Mm hmm.
Sen Zhan 18:42
How did it feel when you came back?
But when I came back I basically I had decided that I wanted to be a concept artist because I had found out that you could be a concept artist. I didn't know that you could be that. I just I didn't I didn't go outside at all. If you want to be an artist, like have to sacrifice so much of your free time. And that's basically what I did. So I, I had my few friends and I never really went out to go like to parties or anything. So I just spent a lot of time in my room, did my paintings and did a lot of like comics on the side like I was reading a lot of manga books back then I just isolated myself completely and had this very, very specific idea of I do not like people, but I also started to not care as much anymore. So I would talk more openly to other people as well because I just had this this image of myself now of like, You know what?
Sen Zhan 19:46
I know. I don't like you.
Yeah, exactly. I know I don't like you and you don't you don't have to like me as well. Like I didn't have that expectation maybe anymore that like oh, I want people to like me, or just like you know what, that's just how it is
Sen Zhan 19:58
interesting. Yeah. And would you See that that preview a little bit? Definitely. Yeah.
It got a bit. Just more relaxed. Yeah, basically. And also just not putting too much energy in trying to be Korean as well, you know, right. Because like, that's a lot of my energy went into being Korean, right, wanting to be Korean just like listening to the music and like dressing and the clothes that I got from Seoul. And yeah.
Sen Zhan 20:25
And I wanted to ask you this when you brought it up the first time, but what does that mean to you to be Korean? No. So you talked about, you know, appreciating the culture and wearing clothes and you know, maybe looking a bit more Korean. What else was there?
The language was a very big part, right? I started going TO to language school when I was 13 or 14, I think. I stopped going after I came back from Korea because I was, I wasn't fluent, but my Korean level was like sufficient. I could talk to my family and that was enough for me. But before going to Korea, I was just trying to Be more Korean and sense of like, I wanted to speak the language. I just wanted to be seen as Korean by Korean people. And I remember that when I was living in Korea, my cousin but sometimes, like, make little comments about like, Oh, you Korean is getting so much better. Like you're almost Korean now. And I would be so proud of that. Right. Wow. But then you, you know, been whenever you're outside, you still realize that people look at you, right? Because they don't really know, like, especially old people in the subway, they would just look at you for a very long time as they don't know where you're from. Right? You kind of look like them. But you but you also kind of don't look like them. And it's just very confusing.
Sen Zhan 21:40
Yeah. Yeah. So when you came back, did you feel more Korean or was it not so important to you?
It wasn't that important to me anymore. Because I, I knew that I wanted to be an artist at that time. So I focused all of my energy on that part. So I didn't really care anymore. I think
Sen Zhan 22:00
But you you did make a change, which was to your name?
Yeah, yeah, that I did. That was when I, when I moved to Berlin, I started using my mother's maiden name instead of my German name. Because again, there was a change of location and a lot of new people. And a lot of those new people asked me why my name was so incredibly German, because it is a very rare German last name. And I made like, they didn't make fun of it or anything, but they just asked me about it. Because a lot of them also thought though, that I was completely Korean.
Sen Zhan 22:37
You're like, yes. Yeah.
It's always it's always strange to like, meet people who are like, Oh, you're half German. And like, my whole life. I've been telling people that I'm half Korean. They're like, Yeah, but what's the other half? Like they're so confused, like, what would you say you're not completely Korean. But I started using the Korean last name because it was just Well, first It was easier for foreigners, because the concert industry is mostly an English speaking industry. So my last name, my German last name was just they couldn't pronounce it at all. So I started using him. It also made like made it easier for people, I guess, to kind of categorize me, you know, if they saw my German names like, Oh, where are you from? Right? They'd be kind of confused. But like with the last name, they're like, okay, that's Korean or Chinese or something like that. So yeah, they can kind of go into one certain direction. Right, right.
Sen Zhan 23:32
Yeah. So it's like by outwardly declaring to the world that you were using your Korean last name. And it made it easier for other people to just say, Okay, you know what? Yeah, let's just call you Korean. Yeah, yeah. So it seems to me like it was this kind of long journey where at the beginning, when you were still growing up in the village, sorry, sorry, small town. And the kids were not accepting you as German and saying, No, you're you're Korean. You know, you took that you were like, Okay, well, I guess I am Korean and you went to Korea. And and then you were like, Okay, well, maybe I'm not as Korean as, as you obviously because you were actually from Korea. And then you came back you're like, you know what, no, I am Korean. I'm gonna take this. This identity, embraces identity and I'm even going to use my Korean name. So there Hi, I am Korean, but I'm doing it on my own terms.
The thing about that is that I feel more Korean when I'm here. When I'm in Germany. Yeah. Because obviously German people see me as Korean. Yes. Yeah. But when I started using the Korean name, I got messages on Facebook from Korean people asking me if I was Korean. Yeah, because obviously, the profile picture that I had up didn't really match their image of what somebody called Han should look like. So a lot of Korean people suddenly started like befriending me as well. And then like sending me a message right after like
Sen Zhan 24:58
you Korean. It's just like You're constantly walking this line.
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I care less now, because I've just accepted it as it is. But there's still ice for example, I still have a little bit of panic anytime I encounter a group of Korean people, because I know that they will know that I'm not Korean. And I kind of feel like an imposter all the time. Because German people tell me I'm Korean, but Korean people know. They know. I'm not Korean. So well, in the same way that
Yeah, in the same way that they are. I'm not fully Korean like them. Yeah. It just feels like you're a fraud. Like you're pretending to be something you're not.
Sen Zhan 25:42
I think it's also interesting because both German culture and Korean culture tend to be cultures, which are they're not so used to diversity within their own group, right. Probably even more so with Korea than with Germany because Germany, you know, there there are people who are you know, coming and For showing the full spectrum of diversity in Germany, you know, it's still time. But it's not like in North America where we're so used to people who are coming from all over the place, you know, like we're in Canada, we are a nation of immigrants and for the US as well. And so it's just like, okay, you're American. You're Canadian. Okay, that's what you aren't. Maybe we'll put a little hyphen in front of it. You might be Korean Canadian, or you might be Korean American. But yeah, you know, you are you have that background that's recognized in you, which is different here. And it's like, you exist in between both of these model cultural spaces.
Yeah, I know. It's like that in Canada, and I really admire that. And that would be cool. But it's not what it was. And, I mean, on the other hand, I kind of like being different somehow, you know, now I can appreciate that. I couldn't really appreciate that when I was growing up. But now, I really like being different, and I Like having not one culture of two cultures in my life, it just makes things a little bit more interesting.
Sen Zhan 27:07
How did your your family understand your process in all of you go into Korea and then coming back and also starting to use your Korean last name.
For my parents. I'm just German. I'm just I'm just a German person. Your parents are just like,
Sarah is just Yeah, she knows white.
And I told her that and how to use like different words because people of color it's not like I don't even know how to use
Sen Zhan 27:47
a term for that. Like, if you were to say like Lloyd from fog and it's like colorful people. Yeah, crayons.
It's so annoying with the German language like even the word biracial doesn't exist. Like we can say that in German because it has the word race in it and you know everything that's connected to race in German, you immediately make this connection to to Nazis, you know? So we don't really have a word for biracial. And the word that you use is the same word that you use for dogs, basically. So it's really difficult to look up certain things some
Sen Zhan 28:19
Wow. And so Okay, so this is also a fascinating because you don't even have a category in Germany. Yeah. And if you did, you would be associating yourself with like, mixed breeds, which is, I guess what the equivalent it's exactly it's animals. Yeah.
It's basically it's called Miss linger. And I guess that's like mixed breed. Right? Yeah. Like a month. Yeah. Like, I'm not exactly it's like a month. Yeah. And, I mean, the literal translation of biracial is spider classic. So, as I said, it has the word race in it and you don't really use that term and yeah, so I didn't really have it was always just like being emotionally when I was growing up.
Oh, yeah. My mother then you don't really have to terminology in German. So I was trying to tell her about this. I was like, Yeah, they people see me as a person of color.
and I tried to explain to her and she looked at me and she went, but you're not a person of color. You're white. And I try to like, explain this to her. Like, I know you think I'm white, but I'm other people don't think I'm white. Just like
Sen Zhan 29:21
you. You were born here. You have
your dad is German, you're white. And she had a friend over that day, and they were starting to discuss this. They were like, but she's white. And we're trying to like to analyze my face or like, well,
like maybe the cheekbone. They were like, no, but she's, she's white. Like, they just didn't understand that like German people or like white German people. Didn't see me as a white person.
Sen Zhan 29:45
So and her friend was also Korean. Yeah, yes. Okay. So you had these two Koreans from Korea assessing Yeah, your level of Korean? Yeah. Yeah.
I mean, they understood it after a while, like I kept explaining to them. That like, for Korean people I know it look very white for Korean people. But for white people, I don't look white. So that's I think maybe the most annoying thing is this like, because I don't know, either. I always feel like when I say, I'm not even sure if I would call myself a person of color, because I was born in Germany, you know, I had a German Dad, I speak German, but people see me as a person of color. So, that's where this whole imposter syndrome comes back. You know, it's, it's like, I don't want to impersonate a person of color, but like, some people see me as one and I don't really know where I am on that spectrum. And the the amount of people that I encounter in Germany that see me as a person of color is just so much higher. So I just, I just say like, Okay, you know what, I'm, I guess I'm a person of color.
Sen Zhan 30:46
This reminds me a lot of, so I watch Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. Yeah. And he, he has this little feature where he goes back to you Hannah's Burg in South Africa to see his grandmother and Trevor Noah his father who is Swiss, so white Swiss and his mother is South African. So black. So he's in between, right? So he's he, but for me, you know, as a North American, like you're definitely black Hmm. And for him when he went back to see his grandmother, he's she's showing her his hand, which is, you know, for us black or brown. And he's like, this is for South Africans considered white? Wow. Like, I am what I'm the white kid. I was treated differently. When I was a kid. I wasn't beaten as much. I got special concessions because I was the white kid. You know? And, and I feel like there's, there's so many parallels, right? Yeah. And it makes me think of so you had this this quote from this author whose name is
Yeah, he and goes Hmm. And oh, you got it. Yeah.
And the quote was,
she says that race is not biology, but it's sociology.
Sen Zhan 31:58
Right? Right. What do
you think that means? I, when I read it, I was just I was so relieved, because that's exactly the thing that I always thought, you know, it's about how you're not. Your race is not determined by your biology, basically. So if you have a German dad, for example, a German white dad, it doesn't make you white. But it depends on what society says about you. So in her book, it's a quote from the book Americana. And in the book, it's about how race doesn't exist, exist in the confines of our home. But as soon as we go outside into society, that's when it becomes a term basically, it's that's when people look at us, and they see a certain race. So the society basically determines if you are a person of color, and not your biology. When I read it, I was just like, yes, that's exactly what it is. Because as I said, like it's it's this in between thing you know, you don't understand you don't know am am I am I not You feel like a fraud? Because half of you is like, yes. The other half is like, no, basically not No. Yeah, as long as society basically tells you or gives you that feeling that you are a person of color, that's when you are
Sen Zhan 33:13
one. And it's interesting because you say, you know, my parents don't perceive me as a person of color, person of color. In the in the term refers to Appearance pretty much, you know, it doesn't refer so much to what you feel like on the inside, but it refers to what you look like on the outside. Or if people perceive you as looking like you have some color, I guess. Like, everybody has color, but everybody
has good eye. Yeah. But
Sen Zhan 33:38
like I you know, in because personal color is a term that comes from North America, specifically the United States. Yeah. I feel like it's a term that is very specific also to the culture of the United States where it's like, on one hand, it's very inclusive of all kinds of people of color, but there's also like different I think British people will color even within that, yeah, big category. And I wonder, you know, you know how that representation might play itself out in a place like Germany or you know, in in all of Europe like what will be the, the geography specific term that will arise? Can we use person of color to talk about Turkish people? Or do they prefer to be called something different? Yeah, you know, do they prefer to be called like Mediterranean? Because Mediterranean is kind of like, also this grab all catch all.
Yeah, you know, I'm comfortable using the word person of color because it doesn't specifically say what color you know. And because I'm not comfortable saying I'm Korean, I'm not comfortable saying German. I'm basically half Korean, German, but person of color is just such a wide term that I at least be comfortable using it. As I said, I don't know what the German translation is, but it's got to be better than mixed breed.
Sen Zhan 35:00
I wanted to ask you again because I feel like you or your family situation is so interesting in the sense that you have your mother who's who's from Korea, you have your father who's from Germany, and then you have the four of you, you know, the four women in your family. And they've all had different experiences, you know, sometimes a bit similar to yours, but sometimes also quite good. You showed me a picture of your family. And I did notice how you know, your sisters are all looking quite unique. What do you think the effect of only their outward appearance is on the way that they experience life?
It's different for each one of my sisters, because out of the four of us, I know that I'm the one that's perceived as mostly Korean. So when they see us in a lineup, basically, one of my sisters as people are surprised when she tells them she's half Korean because she looks incredibly German, then neither one of my sisters, everybody thinks she's Turkish. And then another one. I think she looks very Korean, but she He acts very Chairman, like in the way that she talks and like moves. So people don't really see it. And then when she tells them then they go like, oh, okay, that's why like here on there, and
Sen Zhan 36:13
you can see the gears turning. Yeah,
they started like their brain. Okay, this explains those things. Yeah, yeah. So it's different for each one of us.
Sen Zhan 36:24
We were talking before about how it seems like within the home races, not something that's really given much credence, you know, it's like you are whatever you are. Would you say that that's been true for your family, as well as that even though you're the one who's on the outside, perceived by the world is more Korean? Does that also come out in, you know, in your family,
I mean, I'm the only one of us who speaks Korean. But other than that, I had a very long discussion once with my sister who people think is Turkish. So I'm guessing also, that's another interesting world for her where people might approach her Turkish or treat her as if she were Yeah, she's a she's a doctor. So So I think it's come up like if she has Turkish patients like it might have come up, okay. We were both talking about it and had the same conclusion basically that we did not identify ourselves as either race. But we just saw ourselves as like, people first basically and said, like, you know what? I'm more artistic and she's very messy. She's gonna listen to this. I'm so sorry. But she's very messy. And like, that's how we identify ourselves, you know? And it's not about we just see ourselves as people first. Yeah. And then because we don't belong to either race. It's not a ob. Right, right. Right.
Sen Zhan 37:40
After her returned to Germany, we circle back to how Sara's burgeoning identity as an artist led to her pursuing work in the video game industry, a career that traditionally isn't one with a lot of representation. I know that you've worked in the video game industry. And that's for one really cool and two relatively Rare, I would say for a woman of color to be working in the videogame industry. So what was it like for
you? Well, I've only worked in the art industry for three years now, I'd say. I've been quite lucky, I think because I've worked for a really, really cool studio. So I didn't have any problems there in the studio itself. So my experiences so far were very good, that the art industry itself was something that I just imagined to be a little different from what it was, in the end. When I was studying, I studied in I studied game design in Berlin. And I always had this idea of me becoming a concept artist. Can you explain a bit what is concept art? concept art is the art behind video games behind TV shows behind movies. So anything that has to be designed basically for the big screen. It's designed by a concept artist, basically So for example, if we take Assassin's Creed in Assassin's Creed, you have to design the different outfits, you have to design the characters, you have to design the cities, the interiors, the landscapes, but generally, it's the person who brings the visual idea on the screen for the first time.
Sen Zhan 39:20
So it's kind of like you're, you're helping to create the feel of the universe.
Yeah, yeah, it's a lot about like mood and atmosphere and how does it feel like and that you can really submerse yourself in this world that you're creating. And when you don't work in the industry, but specifically for concept art, you always see the end product right you see the games and you see the concept art and it all looks so
Sen Zhan 39:47
And you really want to be part of this yes process and like building these worlds and creating these different these different worlds just that you want to be part of part of you wants to be part of these worlds as well. And that was my idea for like, the whole time while I was studying. And before I started working. Even during my studies, I kind of realized like, this is a lot different from what I expected. Because, in reality, what you do is you sit in front of your computer the whole time, and you try to be as good as your peers. Yeah. And usually for artists, you're your own worst critic. So you will never reach that point of being satisfied with your work. And you're always chasing, I kind of had a feeling that I was chasing like a carrot, this whole time, like dangling arrays, you know, I was just running and running and trying to catch up, but that never happened. And then when I started working, I always thought like, Oh, it's gonna be better once I started working in this amazing studio. And it was a lot cooler, of course, but it was still me sitting in front of a computer the whole time and painting. I don't know what I expected, but I hadn't expected that. Okay, interesting. But you must have had something in mind. I think what surprised me in the end was how focus it was to on creating one product. But if you have if you're working for a bigger name, like a triple A game, for example, that will give you so many constraints. And there are so many things that you're not allowed to do. And there will be very specific on what they want. Depending on how close you are to production, like if they're still in the early phases, you can be more creative and you can give them more ideas. But when they start narrowing it down, it gets very, very specific. And for a very long time, I was working on a production track. So what I did basically was just focused on getting the product done. So it could be made into a 3d object. And the actual art part or like the creative part of it is very, very small. And the only thing that I needed for that was the skill that I had learned with Photoshop or with any 3d tools that I that I use. I kind of felt like you were just putting in the nails and somebody else was giving you the blueprint and telling you this is what I want from you. Yeah. And you were just doing it, you're just doing the the hard labor. It's It was kind of mindless work. So you're sitting there hammering in the nail, right? A lot of my colleagues just have that love for colors and for shapes and for the actual craft of painting and drawing and how strong your lines are things like that. But for me, it was always more the people in the painting, for example, like I wanted to know where they were going and what they were doing, and why they were doing it. So I was just more interested in in the whys, not in the actual, let's make this really, really pretty, but some people love that. And I really admire some of my colleagues who can sit there for sometimes 16 hours and just paint without complaining because they just love painting so much.
Sen Zhan 43:03
Okay, okay. I mean, it sounds like it's quite a solitary kind of work. Yeah, it is. It also requires someone to be really imaginative, you know, to be someone who's comfortable with just sitting inside yourself and your mind and, and kind of like working with the ideas inside yourself.
Yeah. It's also a bit of a scary thing to do, I think because being alone with yourself for so long, you will get to know yourself very well. And you know, your flaws.
Sen Zhan 43:36
What are the dark parts of yourself in your writing process?
I don't want to I don't want to mention anything. I think if you spend a lot of time with yourself, you'll be surprised about what you will learn. Right now. My I'm working on a on a young adult novel, where the main character she's sort of like me when I was 1819 ish. And It's about her kind of being fooled by a lot of pretty things, and not really seeing what's actually going on. And she's kind of falling into a certain trap. And that's kind of what what I felt like when I went into the art industry because I was just fooled by all these pretty things. And then I went in and I was like, oh, oops, that's not really what I wanted. I've always known. I think, subconsciously, I always knew that it was not what I wanted it to be. But I wanted to be part of this industry so much that I just pushed it away and told myself like, you know what, once you get to this point, it will be better. But I now that I've gotten to this point, and then I had a new point, you know, I was like, Oh, no, once I get to this point, it'll be better. I think that once you have that thought, something's already not right. Like as soon as you think, Oh no, I just To do this, and then everything will be will be better. That's the moment where you should stop and tell yourself, you know what, something's not going the way I want it right now. And even if I reach the point, it won't be right. Something's wrong. Like you have to be happy with what you're doing right now, even if you're not at a point where you want to be, but you have to be happy with with the journey, because you will never reach a certain point where you're happy with what you're doing. Because when you're an artist, you will always criticize yourself.
Sen Zhan 45:27
Mm hmm. I think this is a really interesting point to make. Because a lot of people will say, you know, I'm working for the end goal. And right now it sucks. I don't really like what I'm doing, but it's in service to the end goal. Yeah. So would you say that your process takes a different approach where every step along the journey, you feel like, I want to be enjoying this step?
Yeah. You have to enjoy what you're doing right now. Because I think because you develop why you work as well. Right? You change everything. And then I think once you reach that point where two years ago, you might have said, Oh, once I get to this point, everything will be fine. That point will change with you, it will not stay the same. Like I said, it's kind of like that carrot dangling in front of your face that will grow as you grow. Maybe just think about why why do you want to reach that point? What is not right with your life right now that you want to get to this point and what will be different once you get to this point, because usually your everyday life is gonna stay the same. It's not going to change as much. Even if you get like a promotion or something, your everyday life what you do, from the moment that you wake up to the moment that you go to bed, it's probably gonna be the same.
Sen Zhan 46:40
I want to go back to your work in the video game industry and to ask you what was it like to be Sarah Han working in the beauty industry?
I mean, the field that I'm working in is mostly they're mostly men around me.
Sen Zhan 46:57
Yeah, typical video gaming. Yeah.
I mean, there are a lot of female artists, but they usually don't. Most of them don't work in, in the field that I work in, or I haven't met a lot of them. My experience of fire was that being not just a woman, but a woman of color or like a woman of color that like why people see me as a woman of color. And a very small woman as well. People just talk over your head a lot. Like they don't they won't take you seriously, quite literally mean. Yeah, quite literally. Like if you if you're standing in a circle of friends, and everybody is the head taller than you. They will talk over your head and they won't even look at you. Yeah. And I asked my partner, he's also he's 170. So he's also not that tall. He said, that happens to him too, especially if there's somebody who's like 190 he's talking to another person who's like two meters tall, right? And they will talk and they won't see you and they might even like, kind of almost squish you between them because they don't look down but I mean, I bet People get get that a lot like that people are like, Oh my God, you're so tall. Right? But they will never be. Nobody will ever talk over their heads. Nobody will ever ignore them or accidentally like, you know, shove their shoulder into your head. Like, cuz that's happened to you. Yeah, like if it's a if it's a crowd, and if you're tiny it happens.
Sen Zhan 48:21
Sure. Oh, gosh, accidentally getting elbowed in the head. Yeah, like what a staff meeting?
Yeah. Yeah. It taught me to be louder if I noticed that there's somebody who not just talks down to me but like, every time I say something, they just kind of dismiss it. I just be louder. And I tried to make my point. And it's happened that I got into not fights but I got into very loud discussions with people because I just didn't want them to ignore me right and I didn't know if like, Is it really am I being stupid here are you just do you just not care? Because you think that I'm stupid, because that's happened like I again, that a lot that I feel like people just don't take me seriously. They just think like, oh, what does she What does she know?
Sen Zhan 49:06
You said that you came into the the video game industry of the concept art industry kind of fresh eyed, you know? And then you, you went through some experiences that showed you how it was actually on the inside? How did it change for you that you decided to leave the industry,
I realized something was off or like different from the way that I thought it was very early on. But then when I started working in 2017, that's when I kind of realized like, oh, okay, there's something really, really different from how I thought things were going to be. And for the first few months, it was fine. And I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot. And then I was working on this one specific project that was very, very production oriented, and they wanted a very specific thing, like very, very specific that the Korean input that we had was very small, it was kind of like we say pixel pushing in the industry. So it's literally like you're just pushing things like from left to right. And you're like a suspender. Here is this very, very, very small. And I did that for four months or something, or five months, I think. And that's when I kind of said, like, you know, what, I'm probably not gonna do this anymore. So I told them, like, I'm gonna do 20 hours for you. And the rest, I'm going to try to do this book, because I need to be creative in some way. And that's not creative work for me.
Sen Zhan 50:34
So I have a question for you, which is from your blog, your writer. Yeah. novelist and on your blog, you were writing an article about the ideas of identity versus essence. Okay. Yeah. And and how, you know, this was in the context of character development in a story. In the article, you talked about how identity is the mask that a character constructs for themselves as a way to survive in the world. So it's something that you will Almost, whereas essence is who they really are underneath, and how this essence can't really shine until they let go of their identity mask. So how does that relate to you moving through your life? Now? What is the nature of your identity compared with what your essence is? Yeah. Well, first of all, I think the idea of identity as essence is not so much something that you have to put down your identity mask to be yourself, you know, but I think everybody needs that identity, to kind of protect themselves in society, once they leave home, basically, and they're out there and vulnerable. You know, if we know that identity is this thing that we put on to get on in the world, like that's the these are the outward characteristics that we express, so that the world will see us as a certain thing. So that's your identity, and then your essence is who you really are underneath. In order for that essence to come out, you need to be willing to, you know, not be the mask, but yourself. So what does that mean for you, you know, what are the parts of your identity that you might feel like, Okay, this is the thing that I have to put on. So the world will see me a certain way, but what I really am is this thing underneath that's trying to come out.
I get everybody probably has so much underneath, you know, I think the identity is also something that maybe we want to be, you know, or something that I want to be like, I want to be seen as the artists person I want to be seen as the novelist, you know, and it's not something that we wear or that I wear to protect myself, but also that I want to be somehow you know, the way that I perceive myself is always different will always be different from the way that other people perceive me. And I might think that my identity mask is really good and has no cracks and other people. We'll definitely see fluid, you know, I think essence maybe it's just about how, who you are when you're not afraid anymore, you know, but you can be that all the time. And, like, right now I'm kind of in between things like I'm trying to get my book published. And I'm also a concept artist, but I don't want to, I really want to become a novelist and an author. But you can't do these things without being afraid, you know, but at the same time, you can't be without your mask all the time outside. So you kind of build yourself a new one and a new identity. And I don't think that's necessarily bad, but you have to know why you wear that mask and you have to be aware of what you are afraid of. And you have to be ready to kind of put it down again. And I wasn't ready to do that for a very, very long time, even though I knew that it was kind of broken because I knew that I probably didn't want to be a concept artist. And I knew that probably when I got to this point, I would probably not be happy. But you're trying to protect yourself, right? So you're just focusing on that one path, you're like, it's got to be better, it's got to be better and you keep lying to yourself. And I think once you realize that, and once you are aware of that, you can take that mask off and do something a little risky, and something courageous, and do something that is basically your essence. And then you can slip that mask back on and be like, you know what, I did that one thing. And now I can settle back in basically.
Sen Zhan 54:35
Yeah, and the mask is a little bit different now. Because Yeah,
the mask a bit different. Right? Right. Right. But it's not about because it's you have to protect yourself somehow from the world. I don't think that's that's wrong. But you also have to take it off from time to time and be afraid and be aware that being afraid is not something bad. I think that's something that a lot of people see negative feeling. as something very negative, you know, like, being sad or being like afraid of something, but it's not, it's not something bad, it's something necessary and you have to be aware of these feelings that your body has. And once you're aware of it, you can respond to them.
Sen Zhan 55:14
I think this is so interesting what you said about it's impossible to not be afraid and it's impossible to be totally yourself your unprotected essence all the time because I mean, that's what we are when we're children because we don't know how to put the mask on yet and and then over the years of being a child and and seeing that you know, there are some times where it's it's too difficult. Or maybe you it's not safe for you or maybe not appropriate as well. Or maybe not appropriate as well and then we you know, we do learn how to put on like a whole assortment of masks, right, like a mask for each occasion. Almost. Yeah, each person.
You have your Christmas mask.
Sen Zhan 55:54
Yeah, right. Yeah, you have your enemy dinner. Exactly. Yes. You're going to school match you have Yeah. busca bus mask and it's like, when you first start understanding that you have to put masks on, it's kind of like a mask all the time and you don't know when it's okay to, to put those things down. And it's like, to me it feels like the process of, of becoming an adult and becoming also, you know, a mature adult is to be more comfortable with putting the masks down and having these moments of letting your essence come through and, and then, you know, picking the mask back up or creating a new mask and like experimenting with that so that there's, you know, more spaces in between or as you say, you have to understand why you're wearing a mask at a certain time. Yeah. And that it is, you know, it is just something on the surface and not who you really are. So what's the essence of Sarah
what's the essence of Sarah Somebody was actually very afraid of what's going to happen next, basically, because as I said, like I'm on a threshold right now, I don't really know what what's happening here. And I don't know what's happening there. But it's okay. Like, I've accepted that, that, that I'm afraid to certain extent. And I think I need that fear as well to kind of push me forward. Mm hmm. When I was working as a concept artist, I could have had that very safe job, and I could have had the 40 hour week, and I could have done that all. But I think fear is the thing that kind of pushes you forward. And that kind of makes you want to take a leap and try new things. And it's a it's a very big motivation, because you're afraid, you know, if you don't take that leap, what's going to happen? So I think it's a good thing that I'm afraid, but I hope that the fear will settle after a while to like a low Similar maybe
Sen Zhan 58:02
this what you just said reminds me of something that Elizabeth Gilbert who is who's one of my favorite novelists, and just favorite people in the world in general, she, she talks a lot about the role of fear and creativity and how they kind of come always together that whenever you attempt to do anything creative, fear is always beside you and saying, No, don't do it. It's gonna be awful. You're gonna die. Yeah, embarrass yourself. And it's like, whenever we attempt to do anything new, undiscovered, or we try to make something immediately the fear is going to be there. But as you say, you know, there's also a fear about what if I don't do this thing, you know, it pushes you forward and you're like, Oh, I don't want to be stuck in this position forever. Like, what if, what if I am what if for the next 40 years, I'm doing just, you know, yeah, lines. Yeah, by myself, you know, in a dark studio. It's a different kind of fear. But it's, you know, it's more of like a long term fear of what your life might be if you make a change.
Yeah, I think Fear of change is the is the key word. Like, we're always afraid to make a change. But we're also afraid to say the same. But are we though? What is like? That's the question like, what is what are we more afraid of to actually stand up and do something or to keep sitting and saying, you know what, it's okay. You know what I mean? Yeah, I think we are better at lying to ourselves and telling ourselves that things will be alright. than we are standing up and shouting it out to the world that I'm not going to do this anymore. Yeah,
Sen Zhan 59:32
yeah. So, so Sarah, let's talk about what's coming up for you. You're working on your young adult novel, and you told us a little bit about it. You're in a position now where you're looking to push this forward. So what's the
next step? I'm making lists of agents right now. So I'm trying to prepare my query letters that I'm going to send out and hopefully one of them will respond and want to represent me
Sen Zhan 59:59
Yeah. Sara, thank you so much for taking the time we will be able to find your work in the show notes, but I'll just say very quick. So your WordPress is Sara m han.wordpress.com. You can find arch that that you've done at art station comm slash Sarah Han. That's h n and your Twitter handle is at Sarah, underscore m underscore Han. Thank you. Thanks for listening to beyond Asian stories of a third culture. I hope you enjoyed this episode. We have a preview of our next episode coming up for you. Before we roll it, you can find any resources referenced today in the show notes. If you resonated with what you heard on the show today, follow our Facebook page to get updates and what we're working on and our Facebook group to add your voice to the conversation. Got the perfect third culture Asian guests for us get in touch on our website beyond Asian comm or simply email us at beyond Agent email@example.com. We'll be back with another story In the meantime, you can subscribe to our show on Spotify, Apple podcasts, spreaker and nearly all your regular podcast watering holes. We are a growing podcast and therefore need your support and reviews to keep bringing you more stories like this. I'd like to thank Mulan soon our creative strategist and lead designer Chico Coppola, our 3d Designer Rami for ash poor, our developer and Alexander Heller, our Director of Marketing for helping to bring this podcast to life. Most importantly, I'd like to thank our growing community of courageous guests who have generously shared their stories with us beyond Asian stories of a third culture is hosted and produced by me Your Chinese Canadian third culture kid in Berlin, send john, here's what we've got in store for you next time.
I work about 80 hours a day so I get to forget about my sexual preference I got to forget about that sort of painful part of being gay and and what that is so so I think residency was almost a gateway for me to escape.
Sen Zhan 62:04
What are the realities of a gay orthopedic surgeon and a Canadian medical community? In Episode Five, and speaking with talks about leading straight passing behind, and what he's learning from therapy,
everything sort of just came crashing down because the professional life didn't work. And then my personal life was a disaster. So what the hell was I doing? But I didn't make my coming out to my friends and then to my mom, my dad, it's still in denial. I think it's one of those circumstances that if I'm okay with it, then who cares about what others are going to say? sexual orientation is just one part of who we are as, as people. So I don't think that we should corner people into one characteristics. So I think looking back right now, I would I just tell myself to be kinder to myself instead of always trying to please others.