Hyo Jin Park

Recent graduate, City Colleges of Chicago

Location: Chicago, IL

"It is never too late to start dreaming. Never."

In South Korea high school is supposed to be a focused, high-stakes, demanding time. Every student starts studying at 7am and does not stop unit they fall asleep. This is to ensure getting the best possible score on the country’s Scholastic Aptitude Test and obtaining a spot in one of the few universities that are considered “worthy.”  I did not do any of this. For me, high school was an escape from my home life and I was near failing my classes because of my lack of effort. In the end I was lucky enough to get accepted to a decent school, but capitalizing on this would be the most difficult experience of my life.

If you had asked me on my first day of college what I wanted from life my answer would not have been very age-appropriate. While my classmates would said things like “obtain my dream job” or “have a family” my answer would have simply been “make some serious money.” There was no “dream job” for me, my only goal was to escape my family life and in my mind money was the only way out. I chose to attend a university solely on name recognition, and a financially lucrative degree path that I had no passion for. My family was not well-off so if I wanted to stay on this path I needed to work…a lot. On top of my full time studies I picked up several different jobs that I could work at during my non-classroom hours: I worked as a librarian for the university, a cashier at a local convenience store, a receptionist at the school’s sporting complex and finally a server at a bar near the university. The server job was by far the most demanding as my shifts would end at 5am each morning, and my first class would start at 9am. This endless cycle of school, work and sleep deprivation would have almost surely broken my sprit completely if not for an act of motherly love and the welcoming arms of family overseas.

My mother, who was living abroad, reached out to my aunt and uncle in Chicago to see if they would be willing to take me in, and in doing so give me a fresh start at life in America. This moment sparked to life something inside of me that I thought no longer existed: hope. I could start over and this time it wouldn’t just be about money or the need to escape, this time I would approach life with a desire to better myself and do something I cared about. Deep down, I had always been intrigued by nursing.   The human body is fascinating subject and to couple that with the chance to help others gave me a feeling of purpose that I had never experienced before.

My mother was helping me financially as best she could, but it was not enough to attend a 4 year university in the United States. She had two other children also making their way to the United States, so I needed to figure out a way to lessen my burden on her. I enrolled in the City Colleges of Chicago, which had a very reasonable tuition and more importantly was willing to accept international credits, something that is very difficult to find.

I transitioned into the American educational system by taking English 100, and found myself almost immediately overwhelmed. Even though I had faced great challenges to get to this point, my confidence and optimism had been slowly whittled down by life. I wanted to fold, as starting this whole new education seemed too daunting of a task to overcome. However, I steeled myself, and decided I needed to push through this.  I now had a fire and a dream driving me, and I was not going to let that flame be extinguished so easily. I gave it my all, fully investing everything I had into each class. From this effort came something totally new to me, a pure joy in education!

When I studied international relations in South Korea it was just something I had to do. I lost interest easily because none of the classes I was taking meant anything to me and most were not even relevant to the careers you might pursue. With nursing, every class was relevant and each fact you learned was something you would apply in the field when caring for your patients. I loved it but I also saw a gap in my skills: my English. While I could read English well, my written and spoken English lagged far behind.  As the say, admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards correcting it, so I decided to meet it face on. I took on a job as a student tutor in the City Colleges’ “TRiO” program, teaching native English speakers statistics, chemistry and biology. Through this process I gained great confidence in myself and honed the communication skills I would one day need as a nurse.

In the end, I graduated from City Colleges with a degree as a Registered Nurse. I was also chosen to represent Harry S. Truman College as the valedictorian for 2014. I had worked so hard, and so long that the sense of pride and fulfilment of achieving this is impossible to fully state. I had escaped a very bad family life, escaped my own self-imposed limitations, traveled half-way across the world, learned a new language and came out the other end on top. I still don’t fully believe it. I’m not done yet; I still have more work to do. This has only added fuel to my fire, and I plan to continue on to achieve a master’s degree and become a registered nurse anesthetist. This is my dream, and I will do everything I can to achieve it.

Somewhere out in the world there is a girl sitting in her room, thinking that her situation is so bad and so insurmountable that she can never escape. She thinks that her environment defines her and that she doesn’t have the right to dream her own dreams. I would like to tell that girl that nothing is further from the truth. Find what you wish you could do, what makes you happy and go after it. It is a blessing to feel a fire inside of you, telling you that there is something greater for you out there. Be fearless, give it your greatest effort and know that the journey alone is worth more than you can imagine. It is never too late to start dreaming. Never.