Two local students, Sooa Kim and Sara Park, decided they wanted to spend their summer break creating a self-funded program that gives students from South Korea a chance to visit the United States.
To do so, they created a GoFundMe, sold concessions at local events and sold clothes online — all in an effort to show a student a different way of living and expose them to American culture.
Kim, who is from Korea and now studying in the Santa Clarita Valley, and Park, a Korean-American born and raised in the SCV who’s currently attending Valencia High School, are highly critical of Korean work and academic culture and created their sponsorship program to show Korean students a different way of trying to achieve their dreams.
During a visit to Korea, Park said she noticed students would constantly study — even through their summer and winter breaks. Study sessions would start early in the morning and would continue later in the night, sometimes until 2 a.m.
“They don’t get to choose what passion they want to pursue in the future,” said Park. “They just continuously study and that was shocking to me when I heard that. In America, we have these opportunities to pursue our passion, but also know what we want and have the courage to pursue that with opportunities that we have here.”
The model of the program, called Breaking the Barrier, was to bring a student to the U.S. for 10 days, have them experience its culture and meet with mentors to discover different avenues for achieving success. Mentors include entrepreneurs, a NASA scientist, students at the University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles and college consultants. The program was founded in March.
“They don’t know how to start their own journey, they don’t have the resources,” said Park. “So we wanted to provide them with the resources to help them guide through their future.”
The selection process to determine the program’s winner became tough when over 40 students applied for it. Kim, who documents her experience as a Korean student studying in the U.S., posted about the program in one of her vlogs and the response was surprising.
Kim and Park were only able to choose one student that would be able to visit and so they had to create a criteria for who they chose. First, the student had to be open-minded — with so many cultures in the United States, the candidate needed to be open to the country’s melting pot of ideas and backgrounds. Second, the student had to be fluent in English — most of the mentors and people Kim and Park wanted to introduce to the student spoke English exclusively. Third, the student had to be younger — as most older Korean students would be too busy preparing for exit exams and applications to colleges. The candidates also needed to have a passion or desired field of study that would be difficult to pursue in South Korea.
Through all of this, 15-year-old Lucy Choi was selected and spent ten days here before leaving on Friday. Choi is a burgeoning environmentalist and wants to pursue environmental justice and study Ecology — studies and subjects Park and Kim say can be difficult to pursue in South Korea.
“We learned so many things from this journey, and we love to help other people and we found the significance of building a strong community,” said Kim.
“it was incredibly worth it, even though we had many challenges along the way… when she would talk to the mentors you would see the light the light in her eyes light up and it was really fulfilling for me and (Kim) to see how like she became enlightened and so knowledgeable of different cultures,” said Park.