I would confidently say that I am one of the most spontaneous people I know. For me, spontaneity has brought about so much in my brief lifespan, from meeting and forming unforgettable friendships with previously total strangers, gaining insights into opportunities that had priorly been outside my knowledge base and social circle, the list is extensive and remains never ending.
Maybe because I share my birthday with Bear Grylls, the king of survival and adaptability. I mean, regardless of our mutual appreciation for wilderness and the intrinsic desire to adventure, I’ve lived so many casual encounters in my existence to the point where I have stopped believing in coincidences.
After all, I am where I am and who I am because I have thoroughly embraced spontaneity, and taken intentional steps to develop this life’s greatest gift to shape my journey a little more dynamically than otherwise.
That said, I most recently stumbled upon
probably most likely the biggest spontaneity move. I am still a little awe-struck because of not just the sheer scale of it, but also because it literally is something that had never been in the main picture of my life until four days ago.
I’ll cut to the chase: By the end of this academic year, August 2019, I will be receiving my diploma from Emory University in Human Health B.A. (akin to Public Health) and Spanish B.A. . This is actually a whole year earlier than expected, because here in the States, undergraduate is spread out in four years. This is my 2.5th academic year in the ATL, and by May, when I walk the stage at commencement, I will have finished my third. Below I will explain the context to my best ability, although the stakes are high and I doubt I will be able to do it justice with my amateur story-telling.
(If you don’t have time to read, skip below to The Most Relevant Context)
As some of you may know, I spent 20 days of December and January backpacking the beautiful country of Chile. Admittedly, this was far from a spontaneous move. Back in 2012, when I was living in England, I met a group of Chilean catholic missionaries who were in the country for a brief four months. Coincidentally (can I still use this word though?), this was the first year I began my journey with the Spanish language; after studying Mandarin, Latin, and French in my early days, I at once became captivated by the novel-yet-familiar sounds of this beautiful romance language, its intuitive pronunciation, and the immediate application to every day life since, as a matter of fact, a large number of my friends at the time were exchange students from Spain. For a young Korean boy living across the pond in foreign territory of builder’s tea and western ironic humor, the newfound language acquisition had wonderfully palpable impacts. Soon enough, I became fascinated by the Hispanic world.
Clearly, I had very little idea of Chile – I even misspelled Chileans twice in the above Facebook post. Jaime, my friend who is to the left of the six-years-ago me, gifted me the Chilean national futbol shirt, on which I got the remainder of the Chilean cohort to sign their names and write messages. Fortunately for me, the school that I attended in England hosted another group of Chilean exchange students for the next four years of my time there, so I made it a personal mission to fill up the shirt with new names and more Spanish greetings.
One of those Chilean folks I met during my time was Guille, with whom I took this photo six years ago:
Guille and me recreating the moment just last week! A six year reunion. Among reuniting with other wonderful Chilean friends through the exchange program, I spent roughly ten days with Guille (Guille- me impresionó la simpatía tuya y la de la familia a lo largo del viaje. Muchísimas gracias weon, os mando un beso gigante), enjoying my first Christmas below the equator, being impressed with his large families (apparently large family structures are typical of Chilean culture), and trekking unforgiving glaciers in Patagonia.
The remaining ten days, I decided to solo travel, a habit which I always feel inclined towards to gain a more organic traveling experience at my own unstructured pace. I spent two days in Valparaíso, where I spent a whole day with Kathe, a Colombian woman from Cali whom I met through the Couchsurfing app and had been hitchhiking the entire South America in the past two years…
… and the next two days in Valle de Elqui, the birthplace of the Nobel Poet Laureate Gabriela Mistral and the Chilean national grape brandy Pisco…
… and finally to La Serena, a coastal city where Kathe recommended that I should stay with her friend Stephy, an active member of the Couchsurfing community who lives in the smaller municipality of Altovalsol, twenty minutes bus ride from the city center.
Stephy later invited me to meet her friends in the locality and share with them the bar’s Happy Hour.
Chile was incredible. More than anything, I thoroughly embraced Latin America and all its kind people. Some further highlights are the vibrant nightlife of Bellavista, Santiago…
…La cálida bienvenida de l@s latin@s al extranjero…
… the kindness of strangers! My new Uruguayan friends who took interest in the inquisitive Korean traveller…
… and the opportunity to share delicious Korean food even on the other side of the world!
The Most Relevant Context
So, how does this tie in with my early graduation? The very last day of my trip in Chile, I was sitting by the bayside of Coquimbo, finally starting to think about coming back to school for the upcoming semester.
I open my laptop and check my email inbox for the first time in three weeks. There, an email from the Center for Human Health, the department which oversees the course offerings for one of my B.A.s, Human Health. The email reads undergraduate students could petition to enroll in Masters in Public Health (MPH) courses at the Rollins School of Public Health. Ok, sounds cool. I look through the course catalog to find International Infectious Diseases. Amazing, the intersection of international development and global health is where I want to ultimately take my career. I start filling out the enrollment petition form. When I get to the section expected graduation date, I cheekily indicate Fall 2019 instead of my actual expected date Spring 2020, because experience suggests that students who indicate they’re closer to graduation have priority enrollment in fascinating classes like this. Then I forget about anything school related until four days ago, the first day of this Spring 2019 semester.
The Center for Human Health sends me an email on Tuesday, the first day of classes, letting me know that if I were to actually graduate Fall 2019, I would have to take these three foundational courses that are only offered in the Spring semester. Alright, I enroll in them last minute. Then I look at my overall academic history and evaluate my course credit hours to see how many I will need to complete this semester and next, if I were to actually graduate Fall 2019. 29 credit hours. Hm. Not as many as I thought, given that I never prepared to graduate early. Then, I think about my options: A) Spread out those credit hours between this semester (Spring 2019) and the next (Fall 2019), or B) Take 21 credit hours this semester and 8 credit hours from studying abroad in Portugal over five weeks of the upcoming summer, be done with higher education by late June and officially graduate in August 2019.
To me, the answer (B) became clear. Albeit none of this was planned, taking 21 credit hours this semester seemed nothing crazy considering my previous semesters, where I took roughly those number of credit hours, regularly worked a part-time job, competed in a fair share of cycling races, engaged in a handful of university extra-curriculars, and enjoyed a rather unrestricted social life. Besides, spreading out those credits in two semesters would have driven me crazy, because I have always preferred to live my life leaning towards being overwhelmed than underwhelmed*.
*I had a fairly underwhelming courseload my first semester of university, which left me feeling purposeless and ruined my work ethic. The trauma from this experience resulted in me preferring to rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed since then.
Well, then the upcoming 5 summer weeks of studying in Portugal works out perfectly for me for two main reasons:
First, it has long been a dream of mine to study the Portuguese language. Here in Atlanta, I have met so many great folks from university who have all recommended that I learn Portuguese, after I demonstrated my keen interest in learning Spanish and Latin American culture. I also met a lot of Brazilians on my hitchhiking trip in Chile, often bumping into them and observing their way of speech. Lastly, I listen to an impressive quantity of Bossa Nova and Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), both being Portuguese music genres (someone please help me befriend the MPB goddess Roberta Sá). Not even having taken a semester’s worth of Portuguese, I cannot be more excited to finally get to learn the language, all the while being immersed in the beautiful city of Lisboa.
Second, now that I’m not necessarily in any pressure to pursue a summer internship these upcoming months, and that my program lasts until the end of June, I can fly over to neighboring England to see my older brother Ryan Jin Hyuk graduate from the University of Wawrick in July, and also my secondary school friends in the country who are also graduating this July (Ryan took a gap year- he is a year older than I am- and university degrees in England are typically pursued over three years instead of four). From worrying about not being able to realistically reunite with my friends in England until later on in my young professional career, now I have all the right reasons to head over, in quite literally six months.
Understandably, my life has been almost completely flipped 180 degrees in the past four days, from having little idea on my upcoming semester, to planning ways to enjoy my now last semester of university. In that vein, life is going fast, but I cannot be more excited to embrace the spontaneity to the fullest. More exciting news are:
- I am flying over to Guatemala in March 6th for a three day work trip with my current internship at Social Enterprise at Goizueta. With my co-workers, we will be consulting small holder specialty coffee farmers on their current cash flow models, tracking their previous five years of income, evaluating their cost of production and profitability, devising suitable future price points for their delicious green coffee exports, and exploring means of improved B2B marketing through story-telling strategies. Because I have spring break immediately the following week, I plan on spending the remaining eight days of my time there bike touring the beautiful Guatemalan wilderness (until Sunday, March 17th). Más que nada, I cannot wait to be in Guatemala and empower those farmers and learn about how coffee is developed from commodity to product at the very beginning of the supply chain. Some of you may know that I have been involved in specialty coffee and social enterprise work for quite some time now; I am optimistic to catalyse social impact using what I know and how I can contribute to a more equitable global society. To my understanding, there is simply nothing more fulfilling than imparting knowledge, reducing the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots, and to empower those who live closer to the latter.
- I am applying for full time jobs! Well, I started last night. My passion still remains in international development and global health, for which I am applying for a full time position that combines both of those things at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), a federal agency that actually sits right on our university campus in Atlanta. To be honest, what better time to apply for a federal job than during a government shutdown? If that works out, I will be in ATL for another year or so. More than anything, to have the immense privilege of higher education, coupled with the opportunity to have garnered some serendipitous life experiences along the way motivates me to pursue a lifetime of service to those who don’t have those options. That said, I am now also discovering a multitude of career options; I’ll have a better idea on this note hopefully soon. In the meantime, please wish me luck, let me know if you may have any suitable opportunities that may fit my interests and I could do a great job in, and keep your fingers crossed for me!
I certainly don’t think that I have had another instance of spontaneity which tops this one, nor am I certain that spontaneity of this sort will occur in the years to come. And that’s the beauty of it; I will embrace it with open arms if it were to come my way again. From now till May, I am approaching my now-last semester of university with gratitude and a reinvigorated sense of adaptability. While the decision to graduate from university a year early is ironically and most certainly an impulsive one, I will remain intentional on the daily, seize the miraculous spontaneity in my life until joining the walk to the graduation ceremony with the Class of 2019 this coming May.