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I think sometimes we think that the way we see the world is the way everyone else does, or should.

When we “grow up” and “mature,” we develop semi-fixed perspectives. We’ve had more life experiences, we’ve seen more of the world, and we’ve created our own tainted opinions. Logically, we know more. We’ve seen the way the world works, or the way we think it does, and we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the unfixed. 

However, the beauty of kids is that they’ve seen, known, and experienced none of that. They know less. The world looks like a blank slate—up to their imagination.

Hyeong Chan, Jeon, and Yina are 6th-grade students at 지구촌, and from the moment I met them, I instantly shot back into my own 6th-grade self. Hyeong Chan had an obsession with Taylor Swift, Yina loved to talk about her cats, and Jeon could tell me everything there was to know about the Korean War. Hyeong Chan’s voice could fill any room with its confidence and hilarity. Yina’s laugh, similarly, was nothing short of infectious. And if you ever needed a pick-me-up, Jeon was right beside you with his quick wit and intelligence to carry any conversation. 

I sat with them every day during lunch, but one day in particular, they told me about the restaurant they wanted to start. Hyeong Chan was the cook (and the baker I might add) because his mom taught him “how to make everything… to perfection.” Jeon would be “the brains,” because he knew how to run a business, and of course, he would bring in the best customers. And Yina was along for the ride. It would be the best restaurant in all of Seoul—scratch that—the world.

Illustration of kids with face masks describing their hopes and dreams
Drawing by Duke Senior, Mary Kim, part of the 2022 DukeEngage Korea cohort.

As I sat there, listening and chiming in with my own ideas, I was reminded of myself at that age, destined to build a children’s hotel I labeled “Ella-tastic.” I had sketches designed and researched skyscrapers for sale, dreaming until my head hurt. It had a stuffed animal pit and a robot-themed cafe. It had a trampoline room and underwater bunk beds. It even had a rollercoaster going around the whole building!

Today, I wonder at what age that dreaming stops. I wonder when Hyeong Chan, Jeon, and Yina are going to begin thinking their dream is frivolous, stupid, and bound for failure, as I started doing. I wonder at what age the world starts seeming more practical and scary, because, as I sat with the three of them, making bathroom jokes and laughing until I couldn’t breathe, I realized I see the world all wrong. It should be full of imagination and silly giggles. When did we all become so serious? Sometimes I think the weight of the world and its innumerable problems awakened us. Sometimes I think maturity brings an inevitable load of stress. Sometimes I think we all just want stability. But sometimes I think we think the way adults see the world is the way everyone else should.

No thanks, I want the happiness, positivity, and dreams of Hyeong Chan, Jeon, and Yina. I want my 6th-grade imagination back.