Koh Yu Kyung, who just finished her studiest at the elite Gangwon Province-based Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, reminds me of a haenyeo diving into the sea. My first impression was stillness, but while having the conversation with her, I could feel a passion toward a wider world and a wider view of her life.
During her journey leaving home alone for the mainland, she has preserved her Jeju identity instead of becoming the same as others. Now she has grown independent enough to set foot in another world, where she is expected to make her own way in life.
I dare say that the spirit of the Jeju haenyeo is alive within her.
What subject did you like the most in high school?
I liked history the most.
How many Jeju students attend Korean Minjok Leadership Academy?
I was the only one from Jeju in our grade. Usually, there are one or two students from Jeju each year.
What were the problems that you had as a Jeju student in Korean Minjok Leadership Academy?
One big problem was that it was difficult to come home. Those who lived in the mainland could go home every weekend, if they wanted. However, if I wanted to go home, I had to skip some classes to board a plane, and the school did not allow me to do that. Sometimes, I stayed in school for months without going home. At first when I entered the school, I felt lonely because nobody was from my hometown. However, that did not jeopardize my school life. I enjoyed being in KMLA, knowing new people, and learning new things.
What was it like attending school in Gangwon Province?
Since I lived in a dormitory and could not come home frequently, I sometimes missed Jeju. However, I appreciate every memory in Korean Minjok Leadership Academy. While living in the dormitory without my family, I could become more independent and I could become very friendly with other students who were living together.
How did students react when they heard that you were from Jeju?
They became very interested. Most students only have the image of Jeju as a famous sightseeing spot, so they do not know much about how students in Jeju live. Some people do not even think there is a developed city in Jeju Island. They also took a great interest in Jeju dialect and made me speak some of it.
Did you try to introduce Jeju to other people when you were in high school?
Yes. My friends and I frequently talked about our hometowns, and I told them about Jeju Island. Ironically, I came to understand Jeju Island more after I left. I tried to learn more about my hometown in order to accurately introduce Jeju to other people. Moreover, I became very interested in the Jeju April Third Incident when I went to high school.
Why did you become interested in Jeju April Third Incident?
As my interest in history grew in high school, I started to pay attention to massacres of the world. They are the most tragic history that I could imagine, and I wanted to learn more about them. The closest massacre to me was Jeju’s April Third Incident, which happened in my hometown. I came to find out that even the village where I had lived was burned during the incident. Then I started to thoroughly investigate the history. I even did an internship at the Jeju April Third Peace Park and wrote several research papers.
How many students from Korean Minjok Leadership Academy go to foreign universities and how many go to the States?
About half of the students go to foreign universities. Most of them go to the States, but there are some people who choose to go to England, Hong Kong, Japan, etc.
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I wanted to experience more and learn more. I was actually preparing for Korean universities in 10th grade. However, after I went on a field trip to the United States, I changed my mind. We visited many universities in the United States, and I liked the atmosphere there. Students study not because they want to get good credit, but because they really want to study. I also wanted to meet new people from diverse backgrounds.
Why did you decide to go to University of Chicago?
Actually, I did not decide yet. Since I got admitted to the University of Chicago during the Early Action period, I was able to apply to more schools during the regular decision period. I only applied to two more schools though, and the results will be out in April.
I decided to apply to the University of Chicago in the early round not only because UChicago is one the of top-ranked schools in the world, but also because its curriculum corresponds to my educational desires. The University of Chicago emphasizes pure academics, and it has a unique curriculum called ’the core.’ With the core curriculum, all students have to complete certain credits in all academic fields, such as math, science, humanities, and social sciences. Moreover, the History and Economics programs, which I am very interested in, at the University of Chicago are some of the highest ranking in the States. This also helped me choose to apply to UChicago.
Do you have any advice for those who want to go to foreign universities?
Besides getting good grades, people who wish to be admitted to good U.S. colleges should have their own color. What I mean by color is that people should have things that they like and are enthusiastic about. When applying to Korean colleges, official scores and school records are the most important thing. However, U.S. colleges try to look at the person behind his or her score.
What do you think will be the problems faced by international students in American colleges?
Since English is not their mother tongue, they will face hardships in class. When writing a long paper or debating with other students, I certainly believe that international students will not be as good as students from English-speaking countries. Also, since they will be away from home, they might sometimes suffer from homesickness. However, nothing is earned for free. I actually expect and want those hardships because I believe that they will make me improve.
What was the biggest problem that you faced while preparing for U.S. colleges?
Writing college essays was the hardest thing. Essays are a very important part of admission in United States. I had hard time figuring out what to write and elaborating my essays. I had to show myself as much as possible in a few essays. When writing essays, I realized that experience was the most important thing in college admission.
Moreover, University of Chicago’s mandatory supplementary essay is notorious for its bizarre topic. This year the topic I chose was ‘find x.’ I had to think a lot and revise a lot when writing essays.
There must be things that you will get in the U.S. college. What do you expect from studying abroad?
I am a citizen of Jeju and Korea, but I am also a citizen of the world. Hence, I chose to study abroad to in order to learn more about and understand the world. I want to play in the world stage later in life. In college, I hope to meet and become friendly with people from different backgrounds. Moreover, I want to experience the United States, the dominant world society. It will definitely enrich my life experiences.
What do you enjoy to do besides studying?
Many things. When I was in high school I became fond of softball. I even became a member of the varsity softball team and participated in the National Softball Championship. When I have free time, I often stroll around. I love walking with my earphones on and enjoying the sights on the streets. I also like playing piano, singing, and reading.
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