So for a long time I’ve been contemplating whether or not to right an article on this topic or not. A part of me has always wanted to express my story in writing, and another part has been hesitant because it’s hard to do so when you aren’t entirely sure who you are in the first place.
Back in 2019 I wrote an article about running a business with ADHD which has received a fair amount of traction to my surprise. For those of you that didn’t know, I run a digital marketing agency called JCSURGE in which I work with local business owners to increase their online traffic.
It was in the fall of 2020 when I was speaking with a close friend of mine about a flashcard app, similar to Anki and Quizlet, that could better the way we learn language. Shortly after, I founded my second brand, KOJII. This is the story of how I got to KOJII, and what it was like growing up adopted, bilingual and with ADHD.
Being Adopted, and Bilingual
I was born to an Akatek family from Huehuetenago in Guatemala on the 9th of June, 2001. There isn’t much known about my birth mother, and my birth father wasn’t really in the picture. I also have an older brother who I’ve never met, at least I have no memory of him since I was so little.
In December of 2001, roughly six months later, I was adopted by a loving couple who I grew up calling Mom and Dad and moved to New York City in the U.S. To this day I sometimes ponder as to how much psychological impact being adopted at such a young age had on my development. On one hand I was too young, at least in my opinion, to develop attachment to my birth mother, but at the same time a child’s psyche is quite fragile and at around six months a child can start to recognize faces. I try not to think too much about it, but I will admit it has perplexed me a few times.
I think it’s also important to mention that although I was born in Guatemala, a Spanish speaking country, my birth family were Akateko speakers first and foremost. So I did not learn Spanish from them. Plus I was like six months old anyway.
The Background of my Parents
Before I continue it’s important to get a few things out of the way, because it is admittedly confusing. My mother (adoptive, I have always called my adoptive parents Mom and Dad) spoke Japanese with her family (who still live in Japan), and my father grew up speaking a little Polish with his family (who were Holocaust survivors). My father grew up Jewish and my mother became a convert.
My father studied French in high school, and my Mother studied many languages throughout her life such as: Biblical Hebrew, English, Spanish, German, and several others.
Early Exposure to Different Languages
The first 3-5 years of my life were apparently filled with a diverse selection of languages. My mother used to sing to me in various languages. She would sing to me in languages like Spanish, Japanese, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Russian to name a handful. I’m sure that due to the consistency and frequency of her exposing me to different languages I naturally developed an interest later down the line.
To add to this, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a caregiver to whom I will forever be in debt to for her kindness and seemingly easy to follow yet intricate wisdom. Her name was Graciela, she was from Mexico and spoke to me in Spanish from pretty much the first month of me being in the states. Had it not been for her, I think I would of developed a bit of an identity issue since, even though my background is more Akatek, Spanish seemed to connect me with my birth country.
My First Friend Was Also Adopted
Shortly after I arrived to the United States, my family took me to a Hannukah party where I met Jonah. A kid, just over a year older than me, who was adopted from Florida. He was the first friend I had, and to this day I still keep in touch with him.
Growing up Brown in a White Neighborhood
Although I lived in New York City, arguably the most diverse place in the world, my early childhood (outside of my family and caregiver) was predominately white. I went to a school that was overwhelmingly filled with Caucasians, with a handful of Asians and Blacks. I only remember one or two kids who were Latino. Now I don’t intend to make it seem like I was complaining about being one of the few brown kids in school, but it definitely played a role in in development. I used to get teased for speaking Spanish, and for not being from the country. It wasn’t a lot, but enough to make me question my identity and belonging.
It was also further reinforced given that I was the only brown kid in an all white Hebrew school program. Fortunately I got along with most kids there, but at times it did feel a bit weird being the only kid of color who was there.
Being Diagnosed with ADHD
I have always been a rowdy kid and have always had trouble focusing on one task for a long period of time. And at the age of 7 I was diagnosed with ADHD or Attention Defect Hyperactive Disorder. I won’t get into the neuroscience of this disorder, I also wouldn’t be your best resource, but simply put it’s a disorder than affects both behavior and focus.
Growing up I had difficulty reading and doing what I was told to do. Maybe there was an inner rebel telling me not to do the tasks I was given, but I also just found it so hard to sit down and focus on one thing. This led to a lowering of my self-esteem since I saw other kids finish books and projects much faster than me. Now why is this important? Well because it affected my ability to learn and comprehend my environment.
I remember giving up on my reading ability at around age 5. Between 5 and 12 I read maybe the equivalent of 50 pages. I barely passed my reading tests and struggled to keep up with the reading portion of the NY State Exams. I was also given time and a half during test, and occasionally I’d be laughed at for being one of the “slow kids”
For a long time I was taking focalin, a drug used to treat ADHD. Although it absolutely killed my apatite, and I remember feeling way more anxious and even scared at times when under focalin. But at the same time, I don’t know how else I would of passed those long exams.
The Turning Point
Sometime around middle school (late 7th grade) I picked up a book about D-Day, and I remember from then on I was determined to improve my reading. I think it was a build-up of anger at myself for quitting too easily. Shortly after I picked up an old textbook my bother had on learning Spanish. This was my first exposure to “language study” and where my love for languages all started. I brushed up on some Spanish and took it more seriously. It wasn’t easy at first despite being exposed to the language, since I recently quit taking focalin it was incredibly hard to control my focus. I can talk endlessly about how I learned to cope with my ADHD using meditation, exercising, etc. but that’s for an entirely different blog.
Getting into Russian
So sometime around March of 2015 I was watching a Law and Order SVU episode which was taking place in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn NY. I remember seeing these funky letters and wondering what language is that, is that Russian? So I Googled the Russian alphabet, and after taking a good look at the letters I said “I’m learning that language”
I picked up a few textbooks, and started using Colloquial Russian, and Pimsleur Russian to get started. I didn’t really reach the proficiency I anticipated but I’m thankful that I can still read the alphabet, and understand a handful of expressions.
Learning Languages and Starting KOJII
Shortly after I graduated middle school I became obsseed with learning as many languages as I could. I studied Hebrew, Pashto, Yiddish, Japanese, Arabic (Egyptian), some Danish and a little Swedish. But I never seemed to progress beyond upper beginner, this was due to a lack of motivation or interest I suppose, which I can only assume was at least somewhat due to my brain’s inability to focus for long periods of time.
Around my senior year of high school I kind of left language learning and moved on towards marketing and entrepreneurship. I was more focused on running my own agency, which to my surprise I’m still working on everyday. I was able to prove to myself that I can focus on something and stick with it. So I decided, why not open up a second brand?
In the fall of 2019, after my trip to Japan (I was visiting family) I was pondering what to call the name of this language business. Eventually I came up with KOJII. I really enjoyed this place called Zen-Koji temple in Nagano, Japan. I added the extra I because the “JII” looks similar to the Japanese kanji for water, 川.
The Goal of KOJII
My whole life I think I have subconsciously been drawn towards language and means of communication, as well as an inner desire to prove myself that I am better than I was yesterday. So why not create a business or brand out of something that I truly love. My aim was and is, to create a connected world in which we can create effective language study plans for languages we are actually interested in, not just languages we “should” learn.
For instance, while Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic are widely spoken languages and provide learners with an opportunity in business, most of us struggle to utilize the resources we have to create an effective study plan, and furthermore many learners aren’t passionate or interested at all in those languages.
This was my issue, I had access to all these language learning resources but had little idea what to do with them. So I created KOJII and I am working diligently to create a platform in which we can learn languages in a completely customized way, that will suit the needs of every individual on the planet. That’s my mission with KOJII, so we can see a more connected and understanding world. Thank you!