Translated by Kelly Choi
Yo-han Kye, turned the ordinary upside down, balance of daring and optimism
Yo-han Kye(19), who could barely speak English when he arrived in the U.S, was admitted to Harvard University. In addition, despite entering “0” on the family contribution amount section, he received a 4-year, full scholarship.
When the offer was made in May of 2009, when the economy was in great recession, Harvard’s only condition was to wait a year before entering. Mr. Kye, having had a chance to travel, hold part-time jobs and internship on his own, will start his first semester at Harvard this September.
His family came from a modest background, and he did not attend a high-tier school. He was not good at English. He had to do everything by himself because he was not able to afford a consultants’ help. Despite all this, he made Harvard University. Unwanted Studying Abroad, the Goal was Harvard
Soon after graduating from middle school, Kye came to Boston by himself at the insistence of his parents on December 23, 2005.
He hated Boston a lot. During that year’s snowy winter, he spent almost 24 hours alone at the house of a friend whose parents were both working at the time. There was no TV, internet access, or telephone. He was in a ghost town, but felt he couldn’t go out because of language barrier and heavy snow.
“I could spend 12 hours in bed,” Kye said, “but what to do with the other 12 hours was gloomy. So I read and reread my math textbook from Korea until I had almost committed it to memory.”
Even though studying in the U.S was not his desire, his goal was still to go to Harvard University. He was influenced by his pastor father Jin-young Kye, who planed to proselytize Harvard students. He said he did not know that other universities even existed. Peers’ Teasing Elicited Only Unknowing Smiles
From the beginning, school was humiliating. He had to eat lunch alone for a while, and then he had a chance to have lunch with an American friend of one of his Korean friends. Kye thought he could quickly learn English so he greeted this new friend in his broken English. The American friend insulted him, “Yo, dude why are you retarded?”, but Kye smiled at him because he could not understand.
Later when he heard from his Korean friend that the American friend had humiliated him, he resolved he would get his payback.
He had to take ESL classes in 9th and 10th grade. He said his English improved a lot from memorizing TOEFL vocabulary. Fear of being humiliated for his English drove him to study hard, and with clenched teeth, his classes got easier for him. Kye said he studied English from dawn to dusk during his 9th-grade summer vacation.
Kye chose to take Honors classes with limited English skills. He asked a guidance counselor if he can only take the tests from what would be his piecemeal coursework, and to spend the extra time and effort on other, more challenging subjects. A Low-Tier High School
Rindge and Latin high school is not considered a prestigious school in Massachusetts, where there are a lot of prestigious schools. However, the Rindge and Latin is geographically the closest high school to Harvard University, at only a block away. Oddly, the school sent 14 students to Harvard last year, which is above the average of most of the prestigious schools.
Cambridge, where Harvard is located, is socioeconomically diverse. Especially, Rindge and Latin high school has few academically excelled students, so the school’s average test score is in a lower tier. So, it is not easy to find Korean students in the school because of its unenviable standing.
The school offered a lot to Kye, who is highly self-motivated. “There are so many things to do,” he said. “The more questions I asked of my teachers, the more high-caliber courses, club activities, and internship opportunities I found myself taking part in.”How He Made Harvard
Based on his research from acquaintances and the internet, he concluded that getting into Harvard mandated a multilateral approach. He laid out a diagram for his academic study, athletic activities, and extracurricular activities. He started learning the drums, and joined a runners’ club. When he felt the runners club obstructed his studying, he gave up, and joined a Tae Kwon Do club.
He participated in various club activities such as Asian students club to build his leadership credentials. He did a volunteer internship at a research lab in a medical school because he wanted to go to medical school at the time. Impressed by his efforts, the professor assigned him a part of presentation. Through the Dean of Harvard Medical School, a friend of the family, he got an internship at the Dana Farber research lab, a Harvard University cancer research center.
He studied hard for his SATs, but his scores were not extraordinary. Kye mentioned “The most important factor is grades. The SATs and extracurricular activities only supplement the school report. ” He emphasized that school classes were enough to achieve sufficient SAT scores without any extra prep work.
He enjoys sleeping in. When he had his first class at 8, he would usually sleep until 7:30. However, he stayed up late to do homework.
He enjoyed hanging out with friends on the weekend. He did not hesitate to go partying, make American friends, and experience new culture. Kye said there is no better way to improve one’s English and learn about genuine American culture.
Kye’s father, Pastor Jin-yong Kye, is liberal to educate Kye so his father has never blamed for his social activities. He just suggested a direction and a general goal and recommended good books. The Problems of Studying in the US Alone
Because he came to the U.S and studied alone, he is against young people following a similar path. He concluded that most of them lose control. He witnessed that from his own experience, and in the students he tutored. So he appreciates his supportive family.
He came up against a few obstacles during the application process. The biggest obstacle for him was essay writing because he still had to contend with the language barrier. In response to not being accepted during the Early Admission process, he took special care to write his essays and solicited his teachers’ help. Also, it was helpful to have written several essays with several topics.
His other mistake was to put $0 on the financial contribution section. Because it was time of financial crisis, colleges were disinclined to offer a $50,000 full scholarship. He applied to 11 schools, but none sent him an acceptance letter, and 7 put him on the waiting list.
Even though some top schools like Harvard sent him an acceptance letter and a scholarship in the end, it was not easy to get. However, it seems like the top schools couldn’t pass up his optimistic outlook and a sense of daring verging on foolhardiness.