Hyper Island: A new beginning

My Hyper Island adventure began on Monday, September 26th, 2016. Today is the following Sunday, and reflecting upon what my first five days at Hyper Island were like this weekend, leaves me almost in tears. Thankfully, they are happy tears. This week, weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I am relieved knowing that my life is now off towards a direction I have longed for so long. As much as this is a celebration for me, it is frightening to know it serves as a huge and long-awaited closure to my past. I will have to spend some time adjusting to my new life by constantly confronting my old one.

The week before Hyper Island commenced their Experience Design programme for the third time as part of B Start Up School Amsterdam (BSSA), I knew I had five days to hustle my way through to be part of it starting the following week. One of the biggest signs ensuring me this was all meant to be, was how somehow, I managed to get interviewed, receive and complete their creative task, and get accepted last minute, all under 24 hours, the Friday before the programme was to start.

A month and a half prior, I had returned back to the Netherlands from a life I had established for myself in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My life in Cambodia proved to me that anything is possible, to trust my struggles and the journey that is life, and that I was much stronger than I gave myself credit for. Although I loved it there and found happiness, something inside me was itching for more. I knew my soul was craving more knowledge and experience that the still developing country of Cambodia could not offer me. An adventure that began as the result of my post-graduation depression, I knew I had to return back to the Netherlands, this time, with a clearer head.

Between returning to the Netherlands and beginning my Hyper journey, I contemplated on whether or not I had made the right decision. Sure, I had missed my family and friends, but not the cold weather, faster-paced lifestyle, or the bunch of first world problems that I forgot existed. I became obsessed with applying for jobs, any job really, desperate for a company to take me in and teach me all they knew. Needless to say, I wasn’t successful. I’d like to believe it was because I was meant to find this path instead, and when I found BSSA all over the job boards and their programmes and government subsidies offered, I knew I was right in trusting my instincts to leave my little happy life in Cambodia behind.

With barely any time to absorb the fact that I was about to journey into the unknown, I found myself in Amsterdam the next Monday, in a room with 24 strangers. The programme began with our first Hyper “check-in”, where we all sat in a circle and introduced ourselves and shared how we were feeling. Although I am extremely open with my thoughts and feelings, and am most of the time quite loud and out there, insecurities and old demons always haunt me when confronted with strangers. Mix an introverted extrovert with a history of dealing with racial discrimination and ignorance, an unconventional cultural upbringing, and you get the awkward Korean-but not Korean, Dutch- but not Dutch girl sitting with you in the circle.  

Thankfully, there was no time for questions (typical FAQ include “How do you pronounce your name again?” “Why do you sound American?” “Are you from North or South?” “How long have you lived in the Netherlands?” “Do you speak Dutch?”) and we were occupied with our first activity, drawing portraits of each other together (which was a lot of fun!). The rest of the day, I stayed quite silent avoiding getting asked questions, but that all changed that very afternoon when we were challenged with a rather personal and intimate assignment.

Assignment: Think of 3 moments in your life that have defined who you are today.

‘Oh God’, I thought to myself. ‘Where on earth do I begin?

My friends have told me for over a decade now that I could write a book (or books!) on all I’ve been through in my life. I was very amused going through my past, connecting dots here and there, opening old wounds and closed doors. I decided to take this chance to put myself out there and basically explain everything my new peers were probably curious about, and more. I wanted to explain myself first before they had the chance to ask questions. The three umbrella moments that I decided to share were when my family was relocated from Korea to the Netherlands because of my father's job and I started attending International School which set in stone my cultural identity crisis, my experience with cyberbullying in my teens and how that shaped me, and my post-graduation depression because without that happening I wouldn't be here, part of Hyper Island, writing this blog post.

We were only given three minutes’ each and I was extremely nervous, and I have no idea what I said during the time that I had (I’m pretty talented at word-vomiting), but a sense of relief came over me after I was done. I knew from that point foward I was just comfortable enough to start sharing myself with my newfound group and that I was welcome to be completely myself with them. It also definitely helped that we had agreed on the kind of culture we would live by the rest of our days at Hyper Island- be fearless!

That was only the first day. Physically exhausted and completely mind boggled, I journeyed two and a half hours back from Amsterdam to my parent’s home completely astonished at how much I had achieved in nine hours alone. The next four days after that were just as intense, deeply engaging, emotionally confronting, and educative. All I have to say now is that I have found a place I feel completely comfortable in (which is extremely rare and valuable for me) to find and embrace my strengths and weaknesses, where I feel special and am celebrated for every step I take forward. I wonder if my peers will ever know or understand how much hopping on the Hyper Island train with them means to me.

I am grateful that Emily and Hélène, leader and producer of Hyper Island Amsterdam, pushed us all to have our own websites. Stuck with too many of my insecurities but a bucket load of thoughts, with their support, I hope to create this website as a safe space to be myself as an individual, build myself professionally, and to prepare for a future in a creative field. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I trust and am certain even after just a week of Hyper Island, that I am going along the right path, wherever that may be.

- JiHye