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.

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Never Too Late

Being accepted to Oxford College of Emory University has irrefutably been the most valuable and precious academic experience of my life, as my previous academic records and dedication as a student could not have led me into then-seventeenth-ranked university in America. My grandfather received his honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the school in 1983, uncle attended Oxford College, and brother graduated from Oxford College in 2007 and Emory College of Arts and Sciences in 2011. My father was also granted a full-tuition scholarship to the university but could not take the offer due to Korea’s refusal to give him a passport or a student visa. My brother currently works at the school’s Office of International Affairs as the program coordinator. Needless to say, Emory University and my family have shared a distinct history and bond for decades, and my desire to continue this tradition in the family made the application process more stressful. Dr. James T. Laney, former president of the university and ambassador to South Korea, had maintained a close friendship with my grandfather and kept close attention to my family. Thus, when my time to apply to college approached, Dr. Laney quietly kept his eye on me. Though my family never asked him for a favor, he saw potential in me, and I have no other way to explain my acceptance to Emory University than his influence and care. Obtaining the acceptance news, I burst into tears of joy, commanding myself to prioritize academics over any other matter but God from that point forward.

First two years of college

The first semester, predictably, did not flow as smoothly as I had hoped. I made the honor roll in high school only one trimester, and making a vast transition from this minor accolade to surviving at one of the world’s most academically renowned and challenging universities was intimidating. To make the matter worse, I enrolled in some of the most difficult and irrelevant classes, one of which I had to withdraw from, to commence my college career. Minutes after receiving my first college grade point average (GPA) of 2.473, I began to worry if I could even graduate from Oxford College and successfully move on to main campus, Emory College. Each time I faced academic adversity, however, I thought of Dr. Laney’s generosity, which gave me courage and determination to persevere. Though not drastically, my GPA consistently improved each semester: to a 2.956, to a 3.011, to a 3.520. I completed my general education requirements at Oxford College with a 3.059, along with two consecutive Merit List prizes for the semester GPA of 3.0 or higher and the music department award, a solid job putting my far less competitive yet lower middle and high-school grades into perspective.

Final two years of college

A Korean citizen, before making the transition to Emory College, I decided to fulfill my two-year mandatory military duty with the country. I kept this gradual academic progress in mind, and throughout the couple of years in service, I set two unprecedented goals: receive a 4.0 and get on the Dean’s List, awarded to the top twenty percent of all college students enrolled by semester GPA. (Bear in mind I declared a major in English literature before joining the army and had barely spoken the language in over two years prior to the return to the United States.) I contacted my professors for the first semester back before the return and asked for the list of books on which they would be focusing. I read and summarized the majority on the list, and, though I anticipated rust, I knew I had done all in my control to prepare for the new challenge, allowing room for confidence.

I do not care about being the best in the world; I care about being the best that I can be. As long as I have given my all, the result does not matter. Aware of the difficulty of getting back on track, I used my energy and concentration solely on academics. For the entire junior year, I relinquished social life and did not spend even a single weekend or holiday studying less than three hours outside class. Consequently, with the help of my best friend as my personal writing tutor and motivation, I felt no sign of rust but rather instantly catapulted to the pinnacle. Including the six-week British Studies Program in the summer of 2013, I concluded the two years at Emory College with four 4.0’s, four consecutive Dean’s List honors, and the Harry and Sue Rusche Scholarship, given to an outstanding rising-senior English major, added to my list of accomplishments. Not many international students choose the path of an English literature major because of the fear of the language being their secondary. Not only had I conquered my college career as a straight-A English major and music minor, but I had also received one of the most prestigious awards for English majors as a nonnative speaker at a school selected to be the best college for writers in 2011 and 2014 by USA Today College. Impossible is nothing.