[OUTLOOK]Like Seo Jin-gyu, turn walls into doors“The walls that had blocked me turned into doors for me,” said Seo Jin-gyu, 58, who obtained her doctoral degree at Harvard University on June 8.
Ms. Seo migrated to the United States 35 years ago with only $100, determined that she could work, even as a maid.
Ms. Seo was born in a small fishing village called Walae, near Dongnae, South Gyeongnam province.
Her parents struggled to feed their children, and she was treated badly. Her father was a vendor who sold taffy and her mother ran a shabby tavern.
His father later found a job as a rail station worker in Jecheon, North Chungcheong province, so she went to a junior high school there.
She wanted to go to high school in Seoul, but it was a tough call, because of the expenses.
However, she went to Seoul. Living with relatives, she sold magazines and did tutoring to put herself through high school, which was like making a hole in a wall to change it into a door.
But after graduating she could not afford to go to a university and had a hard time finding a job.
At her cousin’s suggestion, she started to work at a wig factory.
After that, she had many other jobs such as a waitress at a golf course restaurant and a staffer at a travel agency. Every direction was a dead end.
In 1971, at the age of 23, she decided to emigrate to the United States, prepared to do anything. After going through all types of trouble and hardship, she became a waitress at a restaurant.
First, she worked at a Jewish restaurant in New York and later at a Korean restaurant called Arirang.
With money she earned as a waitress, she learned English at Queens College. She then signed up for a regular course at Baruch College and fulfilled her dream of becoming a college student.
However, her life was not straight or flattened like a paved road.
She married an instructor of hapkido, one of the Korean martial arts, but it turned out that he’d had children out of wedlock. He abused her badly. She was no longer able to attend school. She hit one more wall.
The only way out was joining the army. Training was hard. She completed logistics training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
She started her military career at the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, where the U.S. 2nd Division is stationed.
In the autumn of 1980, she entered officer training in Port Benning, Georgia. Although at the age of 32 she was the oldest candidate, she graduated with greatest distinction and was given the best leader award.
In 1982, Ms. Seo became a first lieutenant and was put in charge of oil supply. She then began to take an evening course of the University of Maryland, Yongsan Campus. At the age of 39, she received a bachelor’s degree, after changing universities five times for a variety of reasons.
But she did not stop there. Instead, she started afresh. In 1990, she signed up for a master’s course at Harvard University, a dream university for many people.
She obtained a master’s degree after two years of working hard. She then was chosen for a Ph.D. course which was only open for two students.
Returning to the army, Ms. Seo was transferred to the first reserve as a major in 1996.
Deciding to pursue her academic career rather than taking a promotion in the army, she returned to Harvard University. After 10 years of studying, she finally earned her doctoral degree in international diplomacy, from the East Asian languages department.
About the same time Ms. Seo received her degree, the World Cup was set to begin.
Soccer is like life in many ways. As a goalie is in the way of the goal in soccer, the walls surrounding our lives are the doors we need to penetrate.
Let’s face our fate. Let’s make openings in the walls that block our lives as if they are suffocating us.
And let’s make a fantastic goal which almost penetrates the net in our life. Let’s become a sign of hope, just like Ms. Seo did.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong