At Last (After 17 Years)

On July 2, 2018, I received in the mail the approval notice for my I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; I have officially become a permanent resident of the United States!

I was born in South Korea and began studying in North America in late 1999, at age ten. After nearly a couple of years in Vancouver, British Columbia, I moved to the US, in 2001. I spent much of my adolescence complaining about having to go to the Embassy of the United States in Seoul and change my visa status each time I moved to a new location as a typical foreigner when I grew up in America and felt culturally American. Only when I accepted my role as an international recruitment specialist for the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) just under three years ago did I see the value in having been through every possible step an international student could undergo, from F-1 to Optional Practical Training (OPT) to H-1B to, now, green card. I could educate and emotionally connect to many international students from Korea and other countries with my unique extensive global background.

While on OPT from 2014 to 2015, I was repeatedly misinformed my opportunity to be sponsored for a work visa had passed because I missed the deadline. Regardless, I continued to feel I would somehow find a way to remain in the US and was prompted to Google this subject myself, right after which I read I still had a chance to be sponsored by a university and/or research-based institution. I immediately went on HigherEdJobs and found my current job with UNK that had just been posted. Reading the description, I had confidence God would send me here, and I was soon hired, during the 60-day grace period of OPT. In June 2016, although no colleague really understood the green card process, I proactively contacted the university lawyer, which led to the eventual agreement of my office to sponsor me and pay my application fees. I do take pride, not in a boastful way, in that I earned my permanent place in America through merit rather than being freely handed the privilege. The new presidential administration did delay my application process many months with the addition of an interview and even kept me stuck in the country for a year while my travel document was pending. My medical exams, lasting one year, had only two weeks left until expiration by the time of the interview, which saved me hundreds of dollars; my medical insurance does not cover immigration-related fees.

Following my interview, the final step of this 17-year journey, on June 27, 2018, either a flying object or a dishonest person left a ding in my car, which I noticed upon return home. Satan always pokes at you with petty matters before something great happens, so I did not bother being upset over this issue. Less than a week later, I was notified of my status change to a permanent resident.

I thank Jesus, first and foremost; His timing is always perfect, whether we admit or not initially, and our job is to simply trust Him. I also would like to thank my employer, UNK, for allowing this to happen. Next, US citizenship!

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Positive Ending, Positive Beginning

Times Square!

With my green-card process, 16 years in the making, reaching the final stages, my lawyer and his assistant advised against my leaving the United States until my travel document is approved; therefore, I had to postpone my original plan to travel to Europe for a second consecutive December and closed out 2017 exploring New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, with family and friends. I find traveling an efficient way to free myself from the stresses of my lonely and unhealthy environment, living in the present of freedom. This decision also encouraged me to reflect on the past 365 days of roller-coaster rides.

Holiday markets

I try not to focus on the negative so that I do not blur out all the blessings I have been gifted with in 2017. Most memorably by a mile, I finally accomplished my ultimate athletic dream of covering the 100-mile distance, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, (plus two) in April. When I think about how long and consistently I and my close ones prayed for this former fantasy, the hundreds of dreams I had on competing and finishing, all the free time I sacrificed for training (even on business trips), and of course race days and what I had to endure to complete this ambitious goal, this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment from over half a year ago still feels fresh and surreal.

The Starry Night at MoMA!

Central Park in the evening

One dishonest individual who made my life and the lives of my close colleagues miserable for years and really should have been imprisoned was finally removed from our workplace after bizarrely slow two years of investigation. I felt relieved, more than happy, to observe justice semi-served; however, now, I feel slightly embarrassed that I as a Christian never even attempted to go out of my way to love this enemy and severely disliked him as a person rather than hating Satan in him. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

A few days prior to my end-of-the-year domestic vacation, I received joyful news my Employment Authorization Document for the green card was approved, implying I should receive my green card soon and will finally feel and be free in America, where I grew up since 2001.

How could I, mere mortal, comprehend the plans of my Creator? However, confident my Father watches over me and only provides me with the best for me, I cannot wait to experience what the Author of my life has in store for me in 2018.

Learning to Be Content

For Thanksgiving 2017, I returned to Pickrell, Nebraska, for my second consecutive Wild Turkey Chase 13.1. As Nebraska rapidly reached freezing temperature in October, I assumed winter approached early this year and quickly registered for a half marathon to potentially conclude running for 2017. Nevertheless, when I felt the temperature gradually bounce back, I somehow put myself in position for back-to-back-to-back half marathons in just under four weeks.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I did not want to let any negative thoughts enter my head, tough task with my unhealthy work environment that affects me both mentally and physically. Being alone with no family or close friends anywhere near the Midwest makes this situation even more difficult to cope with. Each time an upsetting thought crept into my mind, I tried my best to empty my head and solely remain grateful for what I have rather than concentrating on what I lack.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The race temperature commenced in the upper 20s, and a female runner to my right called me crazy for wearing solely a T-shirt for the top; I replied to her, who had on three layers of clothes that included a thin jacket, “You are going to sweat a lot. You are crazy!” She after the finish thanked me for this warning, as she took off one layer and still experienced much sweating. I kept an easy pace halfway through, and many runners passed me. At the midpoint turnaround, my pace arbitrarily automatically picked up, and I landed three feet behind a runner who has completed an IRONMAN and became my inadvertent pacer for the majority of the second half. As I spotted his continuously looking down at his GPS watch and consistently running at a 9:05-per-mile pace, I figured I would safely collect a sub-2:00:00 finish as long as I stayed close to him. Multiple runners who had passed me in the first half began to slow down, and I passed about 20 of them in the second half. I did not look for my distance on my Garmin to avoid being caught up on “Am I there yet?” When the tall buildings towards the start became visible, I checked my GPS watch and was surprised to notice I had less than one mile to go. Because I knew based on the year before and the distance my Garmin gave me at the midpoint I would be running slightly over 13.1 miles, I to be certain to finish under two hours immediately substantially increased and maintained my speed, almost sprinting, for nearly a mile, shaving off five seconds per mile in the final stretch.

For the first time ever in a race, I hit an immense negative split the second half of the course. Crossing the finish line full of energy and not even remotely out of breath in 1:58:20, third place in Age Group 20-29 and my second official sub-2:00:00 half marathon, I wondered if I could potentially run much faster than I believe I am physically able if I pushed myself harder to the point I have nothing left at the end. As I always do, I spent the next half an hour chatting and making friends with fellow runners. I aimed to give every runner a thumbs-up throughout the race, and I may have succeeded in doing so; I truly enjoy the aspect of strangers cheering one another on to accomplish our respective goals. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 probably wrapped up my most active race year to date, with one 102-miler and seven half marathons in nine months. I still feel fresh and would not mind running another race soon, but no upcoming running events near me offer a far-enough distance I prefer, likely due to the anticipated cold.

Golden Corral

Following the event, I headed to Golden Corral in Lincoln for the Thanksgiving special buffet and celebrated the holiday alone. Words cannot describe the loneliness of where God has placed me to train me at the moment, but I also understand this adversity will soon pass and how abundantly He has blessed my life. As one of my church pastors said, “When we focus on what we lack, we lose perspective on what we have.” I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, while hundreds of millions of people around the world live in poverty. I drink clean water. I have a job and make a solid living. I rent my own apartment. I own a car. I have a laptop and a smartphone. I have health. I was blessed with a family who fears and passionately loves and serves Jesus. Most importantly, I have the privilege of calling the Creator of the universe my Father. I cannot count the amount of blessings I have been freely given by grace, and my every day should be Thanksgiving. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

One Year Down

First business card!

First business card!

A little over a year ago today, I joined full-time the staff of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) as an international recruitment specialist. Neither had I worked on a real-paying job nor recruited on any platform, major or minor. I felt nervous momentarily initially but then reminded myself even David did not count himself worthy to be anointed by God through Samuel, boosting my confidence; He decided to use me, and nothing can get in the way of His plans for me. I was merely delighted to finally have the opportunity to pour my workaholic and goal-driven energy into building my career from interning unpaid for two nonprofit organizations simultaneously for almost a year.

NAFSA 2016

God placed me in the Midwest, which had not once crossed my mind prior to my discovering this position availability on HigherEdJobs.com, for a reason. Believing this, I solely cared about pleasing Him, executing my tasks to the best of my ability regardless of results, and letting my neighbors see His work through me; I prayed I progress only by and in His will. Even though new to the recruiting world, from the first day, I knew step-by-step what I had to do in order to commence and move forward, pleasantly surprising many of my colleagues. Recruiting takes time to simply lay a foundation and additional time to begin receiving clients: students, in my case. I rapidly formed, reinstated, and renewed partnerships with numerous academic institutions and agencies in Korea, and I continued to expand my regions of specialty and covered also Nepal, India, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, and the United States. In most universities I have visited, I became virtual friends with the representatives, many of whom send UNK students primarily to help me personally score points. In less than a year, I brought to campus 66 students, a combination of degree-seeking, visiting, exchange, language, and short-term, a transparent miracle especially for someone with no prior background in recruiting, and I have faith that number will only multiply each semester. Every time an individual comments on the constant positive outcomes I produce, I use the stage to glorify His name; I am just a hammer of my Carpenter.

The Kearney Hub

Upon arrival at UNK, I had no choice but to educate myself on Korean history. A vital and prideful past Korea shares with Kearney, Nebraska, had been virtually buried for almost a century until I unveiled the story. The Omaha World-Herald, along with local newspapers, published my interview and research paper on the topic, and from that exposure, I occasionally received requests to speak in various venues, requiring me to learn at a minimum the summary of the profound 5,000-year history of Korea, beginning Gojoseon, through the dynasties, to today.

Above all, He has been using me to rescue His lost sheep. In the first short-term program I directed, the Holy Spirit in me constantly made me say to one student what he needed to hear spiritually, resulting in his accepting Jesus towards the end of three weeks. Many neighbors were encouraged to rely more heavily on God by my faith. I half-jokingly told my close ones, “I’m not an international recruiter. I’m a Heaven recruiter.” I understood my purpose in Nebraska to be more than simply recruiting international students.

Presenting at the annual Family History Fair

In spite of all the positive, this journey has been the furthest thing from easy, and I am still fighting daily to overcome my current adversity. I face no struggle fulfilling and even shattering my occupation expectations; however, like in most of my hardships, my trouble stems from people. In the past few months, I dealt with enough to consider walking out of my job several times; if anyone is aware of how much remaining in America and ultimately becoming a permanent resident and then a citizen means to me, he or she would understand how much I must have gone through mentally for abandoning my work visa, relinquishing the green card process, and leaving the States to even enter my head. Loneliness outside work certainly has not helped. Nevertheless, I had faith He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear, but when I am tempted, He will also provide a way out so that I can endure it, giving me courage, strength, and patience to stick around another day.

Global Leaders Scholarship Program and World Leaders Camp

I have not the slightest clue how much longer I will be with UNK. If my environment turns healthier, I will likely stay longer than if not, but I have already experienced countless times God always guides and directs my path. If He tells me to stay, even if I try with all in my power to leave, I will stay. If He tells me to move on, no matter how much I might like to linger, I will be carried over to my next destination. Until then, I will continue to work on appreciating what I have rather than complaining about what I lack. How could I not be grateful for a job that lets me travel to Korea twice a year and stay with my family while working, an answer to years of my mother’s prayers? I acknowledge His plans far exceed my plans, and nothing will proceed by my will but only His.

5,000-Year-Old Diamond

Gojoseon, the first official kingdom of Korea, is most commonly believed to have been founded in 2,333 BC by Dangun Wanggeom, who is depicted as the grandson of Hwanin, the “Lord of Heaven.” A legend says his mother turned from a bear into a woman after surviving a hundred days on garlic and mugwort without sunlight. Gojoseon covered all of Korea and much of Liaoning, China, and Manchuria. With the fall of Gojoseon emerged the Three Kingdoms of Korea: Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, established in 37 BC, 57 BC, and 18 BC, respectively. Silla and Baekje were located in South Korea and Goguryeo in North Korea of today. The three kingdoms, covering the entire Korean peninsula in addition to China and Russia, were significantly influenced by China and its culture and continued to battle one another for dominance over the nation of Korea. Goguryeo and Baekje took over most of the era, stopping multiple Chinese invasions along the way. However, Silla steadily rose in power and eventually overthrew the other two kingdoms, giving birth to the Unified Silla in 668 AD. This new dynasty lasted 267 years prior to King Gyeongsun’s submission to Goryeo in 935; a warlord by the name of Taejo Wang Geon defeated his rival and became ruler of the succeeding Goryeo Dynasty, from where the name “Korea” derives. This era introduced legitimate laws and a civil service system, and, with the impact of China, Buddhism became Korea’s predominant religion. In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire invaded Goryeo six times and overruled Goryeo for approximately eighty years, but Goryeo regained independence in 1350.

Baekje vs. Silla

Baekje vs. Silla

General Yi Seong-gye, or King Taejo, conquered Goryeo and became king, beginning the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. The king moved the capital to Hanseong, the present-day Seoul. Joseon held the entire Korean peninsula, but because Korea carried the impact of China and its culture, Koreans mainly remained Buddhists and abided by the teachings of Confucianism until missionaries from Europe came over and spread Christianity. In 1443, King Sejong created Hangul, the Korean alphabet; previously, Koreans wrote in modified Chinese characters, still taught in Korean schools today. Japan invaded Korea between 1592 and 1598; Admiral Yi Sun-sin, although killed at the end of the war, led Korea and pushed away the force of Japan. In the 1620s and 1630s, the Manchu Qing Dynasty invaded Joseon numerous times.

To this day, Korea, excluding North Korea of today, has never been the instigator of any battle. This 5,000-year history of Korea’s constantly being invaded yet preserving independence and the country’s own identity proves the persistence and pride of Korean ancestors. After Japan triumphed in both the First Sino-Japanese War from 1894 to 1895 and the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905 for control over Korea, the Japanese invasion of Korea became inevitable; Japan annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945. During this time, Koreans were banned from speaking Korean or even learning about Korea, and Korean history became deliberately distorted. Whatever Koreans did had to be under the Japanese flag, and tens of thousands of Korean women were used as sex slaves to Japanese soldiers. The regime tortured or even murdered courageous Koreans who retaliated.

Prior to the intrusion, as Japan’s seizing Korea became apparent, many Korean families who lost hope immigrated to other parts of the world for a chance to lead greater lives and opportunities. Simultaneously, patriotic Korean men moved to mostly nearby countries to prepare a rebellion against and bring independence back to Korea from Japan. A handful immigrated to Kearney, Nebraska, to receive education and military training. This group of Korean nationalists worked as houseboys in exchange for room and board. In 1908, Yong-man Park, a renowned name in the Korean independence movement, enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while studying political and military science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. On a farm roughly a mile west of the Buffalo County Courthouse in Kearney, Park established The Young Korean Military School in June 1909, four years after the foundation of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney. This military school offered courses in English, Korean, history, and agriculture and military training to nationalistic Koreans willing to fight for the preservation of their roots. Hastings College, where Park went to school temporarily, lent him additional twenty acres of farm on which to train his student-soldiers.

Park met South Korea’s eventual first president, Syngman Rhee, in imprisonment, fighting for political reform. Park accepted an editor position for the Korean National Association in San Francisco, California, and asked Rhee to take over the military school. Rhee was pessimistic about Korea’s chances of escaping the Japanese colony and abandoned the school, which led to the school’s closing in 1915. Park was murdered on October 17th, 1928, in Tianjin, China. Henry Chung, another protagonist of this journey, attended Kearney High School and graduated from the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney in 1914 with a degree in political science. He briefly partook in Park’s military school but primarily focused on academics. Ironically, he served as ambassador to Japan under Rhee’s presidency. Chur-hoo Park, a cum laude student out of the Nebraska State Normal School at Kearney, taught at Chosun Christian College upon his return to Seoul, South Korea. Ilhan New, the most respected businessman in Korea to date, immigrated to Kearney in 1904 at the age of nine from Pyongyang, North Korea. He enrolled in Park’s military school in 1909 and learned the history and mentality of Korean ancestors. He established La Choy Food Products in 1922 and the Yuhan Corporation in 1926 under the belief “only healthy citizens can seek sovereignty.” The latter company became the first to work for the benefit of all Korean citizens rather than its own.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” said William Faulkner. These ancestors may be gone physically, but their influence lives on. The freedom in which South Koreans live testifies to this; we breathe and taste independence because of the unconditional sacrifice of our ancestors for our future. Will we take pride and keep their legacy in the present or push this pivotal chapter back into a dusty past?

The Turnaround

To reflect on my 2015 in detail would require an anthology rather than a simple blog post; however, I feel obligated to leave even a brief summary of the year, an emotional roller coaster ride to say the least.

In spite of my belief Jesus had a plan for me in the United States upon my graduation from Emory University in May 2014, the longevity of my struggle of finding a company or an institution willing to sponsor me with H1B to legally work in the country appeared more than the maturity of my faith at the point could handle. For the first half of 2015, I grew more and more irritable by day; my complaining to my Father, especially at night when emotions are heightened, became louder and louder. When I acknowledged this, I felt the need to desperately travel to a nature-driven destination where praising God could come to me more naturally and easily, which turned out to be the turning point of this adversity. At peace and in awe of His creation of magnificent Iceland, I repented of all I had expressed to Him in frustration over the previous several months and opened my heart to what He wanted in my life instead of what my human heart desired. My Father within days of my turnaround presented me with a global entrepreneurial position, consisting of all I sought and hoped to do upon college graduation, in the Midwest. This reminded me, “Always be grateful for what I have. His plans are greater than mine. He is timeless; His time and my time do not always match.”

Presenting to Korean high-school students on UNK

With the first half of my 2015 off aside from the two nonprofit internships for which I worked thirty hours a week on average, I, goal-oriented workaholic, needed to find a new arduous objective to overcome so that I would stop thinking I was wasting my time while most of my classmates had already begun graduate school or full-time occupations. The goal became physical, and I constantly challenged myself in long-distance running, what I despised more than any other activity until roughly four years ago, to see how far my body and mental toughness could push. This led to my running a 15K, half marathon, marathon, 50K, and 50-miler, all in 2015, which would have been unlikely to accomplish with a full-time job. (Let’s not forget all the required training for these grueling events.) Through these races, especially the 50-miler, I experienced God in ways I could not have imagined, and I have no regrets in my body having suffered various hardships and even injuries along the journey.

As grateful as I have been to God for my creative comeback story of 2015 He wrote, I firmly believe the author of my life has greater plans for me for 2016. I am honored to be starring in the 2016 Book of Jake Kim as the protagonist, and I cannot wait to witness firsthand how the story of the titular character unfolds.