April 16, 2024

Jimin's Update:

"The winter before my senior spring, I began writing a series of vignettes about my time as an international student in the United States. They encompassed a period of time in which the challenges of being a foreigner were tested beyond their normal limits by both the Trump presidency and the coronavirus pandemic. When I had written just over 20,000 words and begun conceptualizing these scenes as part of a book-length project, I emailed my working Word document to my thesis advisor, Christina Lee, who responded the following day.

“I couldn’t stop reading!” read her email title. My heart soared. I couldn’t think of anything else that day, buoyed as I was by the possibility that this could become something great.

But when Christina and I hopped on a Zoom call not long after, she was honest in the way she’d always been while advising both my thesis and junior paper—her attention rich with every intention of making me a better writer. Would it be possible to package one’s life, or even a small portion of it, so neatly and so soon? After all, I was only twenty-two, and not enough time had passed for the events of my American years to present themselves in a coherent story. As a result, Christina had a suggestion: had I considered making this a work of fiction?

I laughed uncomfortably. Fiction! Though I’d attempted a few short stories in the early days of secondary school, it wasn’t my genre; I’d spent my Princeton years working on journalism, translation, creative non-fiction, but fiction?

There was no way.

Jimin Kang standing to the right of a banner with another person standing on the left

Jimin Kang at an awards ceremony pictured to the right of the banner

Except I couldn’t get the suggestion out of my mind. Eventually, I graduated from Princeton and moved to Oxford, England, to pursue two master’s programs under the auspices of the Sachs scholarship. While working towards my first degree in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation, I found myself reading reams of scholarship on fiction’s worldmaking capacities and returning to what Christina had said. Though the ‘memoir’ project had long been buried in a folder on my desktop, I finally thought to give fiction a shot. Inspired by reflections I’d had on my upbringing in Hong Kong, which had become more alive to me upon moving to the U.K., I wrote my first short story, which I titled ‘The Next Station Is.’ Then I wrote ‘Some Strangers I Know Better Than Others,’ loosely inspired by the same subject. I had no formal training in fiction, just a desire to explore complicated themes in my own life in a form that had no limits. I found it immensely freeing to mix fact and fiction in ways that taught me more about the world than a factual rendering ever could. Amazingly, I learned that my imagination contained a lot of the answers to the questions I was asking.

It wasn’t long before I was writing mostly in fiction. Though I was inclined to become a Spanish & Portuguese major at Princeton because of a pre-existing fascination with transnational identities, my time with SPO opened up an immense number of creative and intellectual doors concerning what it means to live a hybrid life.

The department gave me the chance to explore the question of hybridity, or what it means to live between languages and continents, in situated, embodied ways.

This was most apparent when I researched Macanese fusion cuisine for my junior paper with Christina Lee and Nicola Cooney, Spanish speakers in America with Alberto Bruzos Moro, antropofagia with Pedro Meira Monteiro, multilingualism with Mariana Bono... Every class I took with SPO was an exercise in paying attention to the subtle ways in which our identities are complicated by the borders we cross, and who we cross them with.

This subject is what I began my fiction journey writing about, and continue to write about today. Be it the story of a Brazilian woman who sublets a room to a Korean American geology student, or a researcher who splits his year between Panama and Oxford, most of my fictional works not only contain some variation of this theme, but actively include elements of Spanish and/or Portuguese. It’s a cultural intermixing that comes very naturally to me, thanks to years spent thinking and working in these languages, and one (I hope!) offers something fresh to readers.

Jordan Salama '19 and Jimin Kang '21 standing in front of a body of water on a path

Jordan Salama '19 and Jimin Kang '21

I’d be remiss not to mention how friendships forged by the department have also gone a long way in making methe writer I am. On most days, my writing wouldn’t be possible without the support of people who believe in me, among which I’d consider Jordan Salama ’19—a fellow SPO concentrator who just published a brilliant second book, Stranger in the Desert (go read it!)—one of the very best. It was Jordan who convinced me, a sophomore at the time we met, to major in Spanish & Portuguese; encouraged me to take a leap of faith in myself when I was about to wade knee-deep into writing my first novel; and it is to Jordan that I make frequent cross-continental WhatsApp calls, three years out from graduation, whenever I’m seeking advice or just need a listening ear.

It felt like a good omen when ‘The Next Station Is’ was eventually accepted for publication in Joyland, a magazine I’d admired for a while. And though the process of writing offers many more joys beyond publication, it’s always special when your words are included in a collection beside other people’s in a form that can be shared widely. Of the fictional works I’ve written that have been published, ‘Nothing Like the Old Masters’—which I began writing the summer my mother became strangely obsessed with the Korean winner of the Van Cliburn piano competition...—is arguably the one with the largest debt to my time with the department. Consider it a homage, if you will; and if you read it, I hope you’ll see why."

More on Jimin during her time at Princeton: