Don’t let the crown fool you: this girl may be a pageant winner, but she’s also a real teen just like you. The first-ever Asian-American Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, Nicole Jia, took a few minutes to open up about being an American teen of immigrant parents, accepting herself and her ethnicity, and working toward her goals.

Justine Magazine: Congratulations on your crown! What did that moment feel like when you were crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen?

Nicole Jia: This is something I have wanted since I was about twelve years old. When I was finally there, standing on the stage in the final two, holding onto the girl next to me while we waited to for the moment we had been preparing for, it was absolutely surreal. You can see my face react in the video, and for the first few seconds after they announced it, it doesn’t even register. I had a little pause, and then I just broke down in tears. That is the moment where I realized that all my hard work had paid off and I would finally get the opportunity to hopefully be the role model that so many others were to me.

JM: Looking back on this journey, is there anything you wish you could tell yourself?

NJ: I’ve always believed that you are your own worst critic. Sometimes I might be a little bit too hard on myself. I think, “I should have answered my interview question a different way,” or “I could have played my piano piece better.” Looking back, I wish I could tell myself to lighten up a little bit. It’s been an amazing, incredible year and I have been trying to soak up every moment of it because I know it’s not going to last forever

JM:  You are making history by becoming the first Asian-American Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. What has your experience been like being an American teen with Asian immigrant parents?

NJ: When I was growing up, I was almost embarrassed of my ethnicity. All of my friends were not like me and I wanted to change who I was. Being different made me feel isolated from everyone else. But now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that embracing my ethnicity and being proud of my culture is extremely important. Being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s actually a positive because it makes me unique.

JM: Do you have any advice for girls who might be having trouble embracing their ethnicity?

NJ: First, I would tell them that they are not alone. I went through the same process of accepting myself, so I understand what they are going through. I would also encourage them to be proud of their culture, because it is special, and at the same time not remember that it doesn’t necessarily define who you are. Yes, your culture is a part of you, but you are also the actions that you take, the way you treat others, and if you are accepting of others. Coming from a different culture gives you an amazing opportunity to show other people to include others and to be welcoming and accepting of all ethnicities.

JM: We just celebrated the Chinese New Year. Do you have a favorite memory of the holiday?

NJ: Chinese New Year is one of my favorite holidays of the entire year because I get to celebrate it with my family. Everybody in my entire family goes to my grandparent’s house and we eat a big Chinese feast. At midnight we eat special dumplings that my grandma makes which represent prosperity and luck for the future year. When I was a little girl I got to help make the dumplings, which has always been a favorite memory of mine because it made me feel so special.