s a first-generation Korean-American, I have always been proud of my heritage and wanted to find ways to act as a liaison between the Korean community and the American community I grew up in. One of the biggest reasons I was so grateful for the opportunity to intern for Senator John Kerry was because he supports many of the same ideals as the Korean American Citizens League of NE (KACL) and myself. For example, I was in the office when the Korean Ambassador visited Senator Kerry to discuss the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement in an effort to boost bilateral trade. As a summer intern, I was able to see the way in which politics goes beyond what is portrayed by the media in the news. In reality, it is much more rooted in interpersonal relationships. While large issues such as the economy, healthcare and education may be at the forefront of political debates, the basis of these issues stem from the concerns of individuals in local communities.
On a daily basis, I was asked to converse with constituents on the phone, research grants, and write citations and response letters. I was assigned to work with Meghan Leahy, the policy advisor who deals with disability, environmental, and small-business issues. At my interview, I was asked what kinds of issues interest me most, and there was no doubt in my mind to respond with small-business issues. I have seen first-hand what it takes to keep a small business afloat because my father has owned a Korean-Japanese restaurant for over twenty-five years. Since I have seen how much the economy has affected my father’s restaurant, I was more personally invested with helping constituents who needed assistance with their businesses. In particular, it was great having the Small Business Association as a resource to provide government loans to support small businesses because they are such an essential component of the Massachusetts economy in terms of revenue as well as employment.
A unique aspect of the internship was the opportunity to participate in community service because it was a way to improve people’s lives without having to go through the political processes such as policy reform. I was able to work directly with various communities in Boston doing things such as serving lunch at the women’s shelter on Newbury St., organizing an elementary school field day, and painting a middle school. My favorite community service activity was teaching English at the Jewish Vocation Services in Boston because the majority of the students had just arrived in America, and were looking to learn English to start their lives in America. It reminded of how the KACL helps members of the Korean community fill out their paperwork to apply for American citizenship because there are so many Korean immigrants who do not speak English, but are capable to become successful citizens of the United States. The refugees that I helped often needed help with preparing for interviews as well, and it was so rewarding when they would return informing me that they had received job offers.
I also happened to be working in Senator John Kerry’s office during the time of the debt crisis, which was a chaotic and significant time in modern American politics as well as the office. The phone was ringing of the hook with calls from concerned Massachusetts residents, and the best thing we could do is reassure them that Senator Kerry was doing his best to work out a deal with the Republican Party and preserve social security checks. It made me realize how many people depend on Senator Kerry to help keep the nation going, and to make their voices heard.
Aside from completing tasks given by Meghan, I also became much more aware of what was happening in Massachusetts because I was encouraged to read the news whenever I had free time. Becoming aware of current events made me realize just how big of a role politics plays in our daily lives because politicians such as John Kerry are proactively striving to solve problems that face our daily lives. John Kerry also recognizes the accomplishments of citizens who better the community through their work. Throughout the summer, I helped send out citations to these individuals and I think that receiving a citation, or congratulatory note from someone as esteemed as Senator John Kerry inspires community members to continue their positive contributions and inspire others as well.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Kyunghae Kay Lee, President, and the KACL Board of Directors, who provided me with this once in a life time opportunity. I will carry experiences from this internship on with the rest of my life, and apply what I learned to my future endeavors. I took this internship as a rare opportunity to insert the Korean identity into American politics, which is a field dominated by white Americans. Korean Americans have the ability to play a significant role in the future of American politics, and deserve to represent their people who enrich the population of the United States.
by Soo Mee Yoon
(뉴잉글랜드 시민협회 정치인턴)
ⓒ 보스톤코리아(http://www.bostonkorea.com), 무단전재 및 재배포 금지