As Natalie Choi ‘18 sat on a warm patch of grass with her friends after school, she took a deep breath, smiled, and said she felt truly at home. After moving over five thousand miles from the city where she grew up, she said she has let go of her worries and is now enjoying life in Los Angeles.
Choi was born in Los Angeles in 2000. She moved to the other side of the world with her mother at age two to join her father, who had accepted an job offer in Seoul, South Korea.
Her family frequently visited Los Angeles, and following her eighth grade graduation, she and her mother moved back to reconnect with her mother’s family. Still living in Seoul for professional reasons, her father travels back and forth between the two cities.
Prior to moving to California, she attended Seoul Foreign School, an international Christian academy.
“I thought that going to an international school was really interesting because it gave me such a wide range of people to meet,” she said. “It was an amazing way to grow up because it was so diverse and global.”
Fluent in Korean and English, Choi has also studied French and Spanish.
According to her, the contrast between Harvard-Westlake and her school in Seoul gave rise to both social and academic challenges.
“My graduating class in Korea was only 80 people, so it was a big transition to come to Harvard-Westlake in that way because there are so many more people here. I think the number of classes and the academic rigor definitely factored in, too,” she said.
She said she was neither upset nor nervous upon moving to Los Angeles. Although she did face obstacles, such as saying goodbye to her old friends, she made continuous efforts to start her experience as a student at Harvard-Westlake with an optimistic attitude.
Middle school History and Latin teacher John Corsello, whom she said was instrumental in her adjustment to the school, served as her ninth grade adviser.
“From day one, [Choi] was ready to meet people, to make friends, and to learn new things,” he said. “She was always so engaged in class, and I could always count on her to try her best.”
She also expressed her gratitude to her former choral instructor, performing arts teacher Nina Burtchaell, for helping her adapt.
“[Choi] is a very bright and very talented girl,” Burtchaell said. “At the beginning, she hesitated to try things out both as a vocalist and a student, but she opened up and was always outgoing from then on.”
As a sophomore at the Upper School, she no longer participates in the choral program but has turned to visual arts. She is a co-founder of Harvard-Westlake’s branch of the Memory Project, an initiative in which artistic students paint or draw a portrait of a child in a third-world country and mail it to the child when completed. She is also currently enrolled in Drawing and Painting I.
Actively involved in the Harvard-Westlake community, she said she now feels well adapted to social and academic life at school.
“Harvard-Westlake is definitely very accepting and inclusive,” she said. “The fact that it is so free and that everyone is allowed to express who they are regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, or race makes it a wonderful place to go through high school.”
While she remains focused on school activities, she hopes to eventually pursue a career in criminal law.
“I want to make a difference in the world,” she said, “but for now I just want to get good grades, get into a good college and stay close with my friends.”