Health

Watching K-Dramas Improved My Mental Health By Connecting Me to My Culture

Jeanie Y.Chang, 48, a licensed marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT), felt different from everyone because she was a first generation Korean American. This included in school. Chang fell in love with K-drama, a popular Korean drama, while she was in college. This helped her to appreciate her culture. Chang was subsequently juggling motherhood, marriage and graduate school. She hardly watched TV after that. It wasn’t until 2015 that Chang fully embraced her Korean culture—again with the help of a K-drama. It was a cathartic experience for her to watch Korean television. Chang was moved by this feeling and began to use Kdrama examples in her corporate consultancy leadership workshops and sessions with clients. Chang founded her company after receiving positive feedback. YouTube Channel and TikTok These accounts discuss K-dramas as a mental health perspective during the pandemic. Below, read Chang’s story as told to SELF’s associate health director Melissa Matthews.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the United States as a baby. My family lived in a small town outside of Philadelphia, and there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the area back then. Growing up I really didn’t like being Korean because I felt like I didn’t belong. As a kid I didn’t want to stand out. My uniqueness was not something I wanted to do. My community was used to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I brought fried rice to school. I just felt very “othered.” I often questioned where I belonged.

I also felt like my parents didn’t quite understand U.S. culture. I can remember thinking, “Hello, this is not how Americans do things,” which made me even more reject my heritage. When my mom made Korean food at home, I remember saying, “Why do we have to eat this? Why can’t we just have spaghetti?” I used to detest the smell of kimchi, a traditional Korean side dish that’s quite popular nowadays. Back then people weren’t as familiar with it—and I felt mortified when my friends came over and asked why my house smelled. All of this made it so difficult for me to feel ashamed.

As a freshman at NYU in 1992, I began to appreciate my culture and met other Koreans my own age. In 1992, I discovered K-drama called JealousyIt was a huge success. I wasn’t used to seeing a lot of media representation of Asians, let alone Koreans, and the main female character, Yoo Ha-Kyung, stood out to me. She was outgoing, spunky, and outspoken. This was important because there was a cultural narrative back then that Korean women were quiet and submissive. It was cool to be Korean, thanks to that show.

Over the years, I continued to watch K.-dramas on and off. Eventually after getting married, having four kids, and going back to graduate school to study marriage and family therapy, I didn’t have time to watch TV. But in 2015, I found myself again addicted to K-dramas. My Love from the StarA romantic comedy about an alien who finds himself on Earth. I had just finished my master’s degree and was starting my career as a licensed therapist. I needed some escapism, so I turned back to K-dramas because they make me feel good—and they make me appreciate being Asian. I was amazed at the beauty of these beautiful Korean women. That’s when I truly started embracing my culture.

Source: Slef

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