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Korean student's goal - medicine is key

Other international students urged to connect and communicate

By Doris Brogan
On May 13, 2014

  • Environmental engineering major and international student, Heejeon Kim. Staff Photo Doris Brogan

This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles featuring international students at Richland.

Heejeon Kim, 21, is an international student from Seoul, South Korea, whose major is environmental engineering. Her ultimate goal is to become a doctor.

Kim has currently been in the U.S. one and a half years. This is her second visit to Dallas. She was previously here in 2008-2009 as a foreign exchange student at Hillcrest High School.

When Kim returned home, she didn't want to study in her native Korea.

"Schools are more like factories," she said. Most students spend up to 12 hours a day studying. There are a lot of suicides among middle school and high school students who fail to get the highest grades. Competition is fierce and Kim said, "I didn't like the competition. I didn't think it was productive."

"One thing about a lot of Asian students ... they're very motivated. Education is almost everything to them. Going to school, getting a degree, that is everything in life. A lot of parents push their children towards higher goals and accomplishments. For me, I always push myself a lot. I always have a higher set of dreams and goals."

"I always wanted to live overseas," she said. One of her goals was to expand her views and experiences by living abroad. After her exchange student experience here, she discovered that attending high school in the U.S. would be extremely expensive.

After some serious research, she discovered, "School is very cheap in South Africa."  So when she was 16 and her younger sister was 13, off they went to Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the next three and a half years. When she graduated from high school, she briefly attended a South African university. Unfortunately that didn't work out for personal reasons as well as security concerns. It was very dangerous there at that time.

After a brief visit to Korea, Kim returned to Dallas to live with the host parents from her time as a foreign exchange student. She initially came to Richland College because it was close to where she was living.

"I heard about other community colleges," she said, "but I think Richland is the best." She describes Richland as "a student-friendly school."

"There's so many international students in Richland. It's like half of them are foreigners which is very interesting for me." Kim said, "I love learning new languages. It's one of my passions."

Her native language is Korean, of course. She said in addition to that, "I can speak English, Chinese, and German. Even though I have been trying hard, I still have an accent and sometimes it is hard to understand [English] idioms or phrases."

She still has trouble with strong Southern accents and accents from places in the Northeast, especially Boston.

Kim's father is a missionary and her mother is a college professor. Her father's calling as a missionary has influenced her future direction, she said.

"My ultimate goal of my life is to go back to Africa to live with the people who need me."

Her younger sister also wants to become a doctor and go to northern or central Africa where there is a great need.

After she finishes her homework, Kim likes to hang out with her friends. She doesn't have many Korean friends and she thinks that may be a good thing. She has more of an opportunity to improve her English and work on losing her accent with her American friends. She also likes to play the piano in her spare time because she says it helps her to relieve stress.

Kim would like to urge international students, especially Asians, not to be so reserved, to reach out and make new friends, to connect and to communicate.

"You can just be open to anyone," she said.

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