Occupying a cozy spot on the edge of sunny southern California, the suburban city of Irvine is so safe and sheltered it has earned the nickname the “Irvine bubble.” For parents, the moniker is a reassuring reminder of the city’s affluent reputation. But for teenagers like Steven Lee, the bubble is suffocating.
Lee is a tall 19-year-old student who moved from Seoul, Korea, to Irvine three years ago. While adapting from life in Korea to life in the U.S., Lee was initially thrilled to be a part of the Irvine community.
“It is so, so nice here in Irvine,” he said enthusiastically. “The city is always so clean, the weather is so nice, it just feels like a good place to live. And of course, there’s no crime, and not having to worry about that is incredible.”
Indeed, according to the FBI, Irvine has held the record of holding the lowest crime rates of any city in nation for more than a decade.
However, despite this, when asked which city he prefers between Seoul and Irvine, Lee couldn’t help but comment on one glaring aspect of life where he felt the latter ultimately fell short.
“For such a nice city, I have to say I like Seoul better,” Lee said. “Here, there’s almost nothing for young people like me to do. In Korea, we had internet cafes for youth, karaoke rooms, night markets. As a student, there’s nothing here for me to do with my friends, especially if we can’t drive. The closest shopping center is Irvine Spectrum, and it’s very far away, and even then there’s not much there to do there either.”
Although it may seem like a minor complaint, Lee affirmed his belief that the lack of options for adolescents in the city is a serious concern, claiming that it limits teens from becoming independent from their parents and gaining real-life experience.
“I don’t know if I would want my kids to grow up here even though it’s so nice,” said Lee. “I want my kids to grow up in a childhood environment where they can learn to be self-reliant and responsible. I’m not sure Irvine is the best environment for that.”
Lee’s remarks serve as a clear reminder that while the Irvine bubble is a blessing to some, the sheltered environment can feel limiting to others.
<Andy Lee Northwood HS 11th grade