My Shelter

March 5, 2001, the day I was born again, I will never forget. My cousin and I were involved in a potentially fatal car accident in Vancouver, British Columbia. Not old enough to make rational decisions, he and I used to sneak and drive out of our apartment more or less every midnight to computer game and karaoke stations, as he had somehow made a copy of his mother’s car key. My cousin, too young to apply for a driver’s license, took a risk of driving illegally. With my uncle being a councilor, the license plate on the back of the car had this title engraved.

I sensed God’s warning us a few times prior to the ultimate clash with the police. First, a police car landed next to us, and the policeman looked right at us. My cousin’s instinct made him desperately drive away, but the lazy cop did not bother chasing after us. Second, my cousin drove out alone and unknowingly threw a cigarette at a police car; again, he drove away and the police did not pursue him. Third, my cousin drove out alone in the snow, and his family wanted to drive this car a few hours after his return; the snow miraculously melted without a spot within this short time frame. I accepted God’s warnings and told him, to which he did not care.

One midnight, on our way back from the karaoke station, a policeman followed us, as he felt suspicious of a councilor car being out this late. Coincidentally, my cousin had told me for the first time to apply my seatbelt, as I never had. God made sure already I remained safe throughout the soon-to-come disaster. My cousin pulled behind the police and bragged, “This is how you avoid the cop,” with a confident smirk on his face. Neither of us realized two police cars had come after us, and the other one pulled to our right. “Hey, yo, stop right there!” the cop screamed. I, terrified, repeatedly said, “He’s telling us to stop,” but my cousin again thought driving away would be the safest option. With cops staying right behind us like magnets, we initially encountered two mammoth narrow-spaced trees, which we were barely able to go through without crashing. We then came on the verge of falling inside construction work but astonishingly pulled right out. My cousin continued to drive away without realizing one of our back tires had popped from the most-recent encounter. He tried to make a right turn, but the damaged tire gave him no choice but to go straight and hit the first available obstacle: two tiny branches. These two puny branches managed to stop a car moving fifty miles per hour, for which I am forever grateful as an immense building stood behind them. As the police later revealed, they were beginning to aim their guns at my cousin; had he kept going, they would have started shooting.

My shelter from the storm

I saw my cousin visibly intimidated for the first time, yelling, “Mom, what do I do?” I then noticed the windshield in front of me had shattered in a circle, which I soon noticed to be my head. The airbag, angel, had protected me. We saw three police cars, and the policemen instantly held us at gunpoint and put us in handcuffs. They proceeded to severely beat up my cousin while somewhat playing with me; they may have taken me as a victim of the near-death incident. One cop asked me if I liked sushi, while another revealed he knew my elementary-school principal. I was scared beyond measure, assuming I would be expelled from school. Around thirty minutes following, the police were prepared to imprison my cousin, and I immediately got down on my knees, begging them to take me instead; I actually was unaware I had done these before the policemen revealed the next day they cut my cousin loose for me. He awaited trial for months due to its constant postponement and took an x-ray to see if the cops had broken any of his bones; as the police were forbidden to inflict physical damage on anyone unless physically threatened themselves, they would have nullified trial had my cousin broken a bone. Nonetheless, he only had severe bruises, and his lawyer told him to move to America, as the family was already planning to anyway. Consequently, my cousin cannot reenter Canada without being arrested.

Not only did God save the lives of my cousin and me, but He also prevented this ghastly story from being on the news, which would have caused an uproar due to my eminent family status then. On March 5 of every year since the episode, I cannot help but take a moment and thank the Lord for giving me a second opportunity at life. Without His protection, I could have easily died or become a vegetable. When God puts a shield around you, nothing can ever hurt you.

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I Choose Adversity

First half marathon with my best friend

Prior to participating in my first running event, I detested and feared long-distance running more than words can describe. Exhaustion and boredom aside, I could not stand the notion of wasting so much time moving aimlessly. About a month before the end of my military duty, a newspaper company in Gangwon-do, the province in Korea where I was stationed, hosted a five-kilometer running event. As much as I disliked the sport, I was obsessed with any sort of tangible awards, specifically medals. The second I discovered the event included medals for finishers, I was convinced to partake. I surprisingly enjoyed the race, as I was amused by the idea of running with hundreds of strangers cheering on one another. Once I was honorably discharged, I had over four months of vacation before returning to America. Having grown up in North America since age ten, I hardly had any friends in Korea and thus did not have much to do for leisure aside from catching up on academics. I believed participating in another race in Seoul to be a wise way to meet people and decided to run another five kilometers. From that point forward, taking part in running events rapidly became an addiction. I ran in two additional five-kilometer events, one of which I placed second in in Age Group 20-24, in Georgia before taking this newfound hobby to the next level. My best friend and I, scheduled to travel in Korea together for a couple of weeks in May 2013, registered for a half marathon in Yeoju. Having planned many places to visit, neither of us had time to train for the race aside from a round of suicide and one-hour jog a few days earlier to ensure our bodies could keep up. We had one goal, to finish, and our time did not matter. We kept a slow pace until the final sprint and were able to complete the race without injuries.

Publix Georgia Marathon 2014

Although I repeatedly told myself to take my irrational desire of fatiguing my body down a notch, I signed up for the Publix Georgia Marathon, one of the most physically demanding marathon meets in the world due to the course’s ceaseless hills and set to take place on March 23, 2014. Completing the ATL Challenge 39.3 became my new objective, requiring me to successfully finish the marathon within six and a half hours and the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon later that year. To keep from becoming lazy and attempt all categories of running events, I entered two ten-kilometer and a ten-mile competitions in Seoul, London, and Atlanta, respectively, all of which failed to break me. I began training for the marathon a few months prior to the event, working out my leg muscles and running two to four days a week, between thirty to sixty-five minutes each time. Needless to say, not having had sufficient training camp, my body was not as prepared as average dedicated marathoners’. In addition, I journeyed in Italy for five days the week before the race and caught shin splint-like symptoms from excessively running to make up for the lost training time in Europe.

Due to insomnia, I did not fall asleep for a split second the night before the marathon, adding a minor headache to my list of obstacles. Regardless of these barriers, I had to believe I could overcome this race, which had been my athletic aim for almost a year. The first fifteen miles could not have gone more smoothly, but then I caught unanticipated stomach cramps that refused to fade until the end of the race and continued to whisper in my ear to quit. The second half of the course contained mainly steep uphills, and the run turned into a war. I questioned the purpose of my enduring this grueling process, but my ego helped me carry through to the finish line. I walked a few times towards the end, which initially made me feel like a failure. Though proud of crossing the finish line, I could not help but be disappointed with the slowing of my pace due to the cramps, as I completed the first half around two hours but the entire race in 04:52:44. Fellow runners and volunteers encouraged and complimented me by informing me of the difficulty of a first-timer’s finishing under five hours, especially on a brutal course of the Publix Georgia Marathon.

My entire body cramped up like never before.

My entire body cramped up like never before.

After letting this bittersweet experience sink in, I registered for the Michelob ULTRA Atlanta 13.1® Marathon and set my eyes on this new test to fulfill the ATL Challenge 39.3. Will I enter a tougher contest in the future? I would not be surprised if I do considering I originally never imagined running past five kilometers. I have already begun thinking about the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, triathlon, and ultimately IRONMAN in Kona. Being physically and mentally challenged helps me grow as a person and appreciate my privileged life; hence, whether through running or other hobbies, I will continue to seek challenges.

When in Rome… And Florence

Since the return from the British Studies Program, not having utilized the traveling opportunity to the fullest haunted me. While numerous students on the program explored various countries in Europe, I, lacking self-assurance in my sense of directions, only set foot in Oxford, London, Stratford, and Bath. Understanding my chances to travel for leisure after college graduation would likely diminish, I supposed visiting another region of Europe for spring break to be a rational path to eliminate this regret from Britain. After being on the fence between Italy and Spain for several weeks, influenced by the experiences of friends and traveling websites, I chose Italy.

In spite of my eagerness to journey in a group, friends either had plans or could not afford the trip; therefore, I had no choice but to take a risk and enter a country infamously known for pickpocketing by myself. I had also been told repeatedly prior to the trip that the majority of Romans spoke English, which I found to be false the minute I arrived at the Fiumicino Airport. I immediately headed to the tourist information center to obtain the direction to my hotel. One employee offered me an utterly inaccurate direction, leading me to a location over ten miles away from my destination. When I arrived in Termini, a seemingly kind middle-aged woman who spoke no English approached and attempted to assist me with purchasing a ticket. Little did I know she was really asking for money, and once I received my ticket, she began rubbing her stomach, implying she was starving. These two consecutive peculiar events foreshadowed the rest of the trip, as I was constantly led astray and begged for food and drinks. As I sought my hotel the first night inside a metro station, a man helping me with directions warned me to watch out for the lady beside me. When I turned towards her, I spotted her eyeballing me. The man informed me of her notorious pickpocketing history in that specific metro station.

I spent four days in Rome and a day in Florence, accumulating approximately thirty-five hours of walking and piling up solely pizza, pasta, and gelati in my stomach. I was slightly disappointed with Italy’s lack of food options. I spotted mostly Italian cuisines with a couple of Chinese restaurants, and I could not help but become fed up with Italian food. The country also charges two Euros—close to three US dollars—for a cup of water, refill not included, and my morals did not permit my buying any drink in any restaurant. Unaware of the Vatican Museums’ closing on Sundays, I chose to attend the Vatican on Sunday, allowing me to visit practically every important site in the city but the museums. The following day, I took the high-speed train to Florence, once again without the knowledge every museum in Florence is closed on Mondays. Moreover, because I bought my train tickets on the spot, I ended up paying five times as much as those who acquired their tickets months before. I refused to dwell on these mistakes, however, as these cities, even excluding the museums, still offered plenty of historically significant places for me to explore. Not to make the same frustrating miscalculation again, I began researching each planned stop prior to visiting, mainly to be assured the venue was open. Unfortunately, the website of one location provided incorrect hours; thus, I was again misled.

Traveling alone in a country of which I had no prior knowledge, though overwhelming, boosted my confidence in my ability to survive in unconventional domains. Being in Italy, arguably the most ornate and thought-provoking country I have been to, increased my desire to visit more unfamiliar sites to learn about and appreciate their natives and cultures. My objective of the journey was accomplished, as the experience let me escape from my regret of having barely traveled on the British Studies Program.

Cherish Every Moment

Throughout the first two years of college, I constantly fantasized about studying abroad for a semester in the United Kingdom. I knew as little about Europe as atheists understand Heaven, but a British accent alone, unbeknownst to me, contained the power to magnetize my attention and affection towards England. Nevertheless, fitting a semester of studying abroad while having to fulfill the two-year compulsory military duty with Korea in-between college felt unmanageable. In the midst of my army career, I discovered that two of my best friends, along with a number of classmates, joined a six-week British Studies Program over the summer. Receiving a postcard from Britain revived my hope of studying in the country, as I had not known Emory University provided a summer study abroad program in England. Returning from the army and proceeding to my junior year, I gradually lost this longing; eventually, even when I was granted the opportunity to study in Britain, I refused to participate.

1999 Pulitzer Prize recipient

I planned to take two English courses over the summer prior to senior year, because fulfilling the general education requirements the first two years in college prevented me from concentrating on my major in English literature. I then noticed that the summer sessions on campus offered hardly any legitimate English major courses. On the contrary, most of the British Studies Program classes, in addition to being unique and only offered on the program, were geared towards English majors. “Should I do it?” I asked my best friend, and he answered almost simultaneously, “Yes. These were some of the best experiences of my life.” That evening we conversed, I explained the situation to my mother over the phone, and she approved this abrupt plan. I immediately submitted my application and days later received the email of acceptance. Thinking about the opportunity to explore the foundation of my major and concentration in British literature, I had faith I was traveling to the unfamiliar country of England in God’s will.

Korea and (mainly) the British Studies Program over the summer of 2013

I had hardly watched any plays in my life, but the program required weekly examinations of a play or two, most over three hours, as well as culturally shocking videos for these six weeks. I also could not help but take pride as an English major in standing inside the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe, historically renowned stages for William Shakespeare’s plays. Being the nerd I had developed into since the return from the military, while most students on the program prioritized traveling, I put my focus on classwork. This became transparent from the start to the British professor who taught both of my literature courses. Seeing my constant enthusiastic willingness to contribute and the significant age difference between me and fellow classmates, he asked me after our second meeting to take on the role of leading other students to participate, for which I felt honored. I was even granted the privilege by the director of the program to describe one of the classes of and express appreciation towards the professor on behalf of my classmates during the concluding ceremony.

Likely due to my being five to six years older than most students on the trip, I never felt a close bond with the majority. While all of the members began hanging out as a group the first week, most of us quickly found splitting more convenient. Furthermore, not having done research on Britain as my parents had suggested repeatedly before my arrival, I did not travel as much as I should have, which I regretted once I returned to America. Throughout the program, I only thought of leaving the United Kingdom and returning to the States. I told the few students to whom I emotionally connected I would likely start missing England soon after leaving the country; just like that, in less than three days since arriving in America, watching the video and collage I created speedily formed into unforgettable memories I wanted to relive. I had taken my experience on the program for granted; now that I can only replay the moments in my head, I miss Britain and the expedition dearly and consider attending graduate school and living there down the line.