My Korean American Story: Kyung Won (Tim) Park
In Genesis of the Bible, there is a story of Abraham being tested by the Lord to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. When Abraham was about to kill his son, he is stopped by the Lord and is instructed to sacrifice instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby. Abraham called the mount Jehovah Jireh, meaning that the Lord knows what is needed and will provide.
My story is a testament to Jehovah Jireh from day one of immigration to the present time. My family came to the US in January 1975, shortly after my graduation from junior high school in Korea. My mother, who had attended the International Congress of Nursing in the US the previous year, had decided that it would be best for me and my sisters to be brought to the US and be educated here. She had been widowed four years earlier and had to be the decision maker of the family with 3 young children. She was at the peak of her nursing career in Korea at the time, as the Vice President of the Korean Nursing Education and the Chief Nursing Officer of one of the most prestigious hospitals in Seoul. Yet she gave it up all, so that her children could be educated better.
Initially we landed in southern California and spent two months before moving to the East. In a town called Bellflower, CA, I got my first taste of American education in the high school there. On my first day, I met a history teacher who took an interest in my predicament in a new country. She told me to come back to see her at the end of the school. She then gave me a copy of the history textbook and said that, if necessary, I could write on it in Korean to help with my understanding. Learning that I was a Presbyterian, she then took me to a nearby Presbyterian church to introduce me to the youth pastor. She was like an angel prepared for me by the Lord.
We moved to the East shortly thereafter, so I did not get to spend a lot of time with that history teacher. My cousin was in Princeton, NJ, so we unpacked there temporarily. With us kids tucked away in my cousin’s place, my mother went to visit friends in Flushing, New York. On my mother’s first day out in New York City, she was able to get a job as a registered nurse with a simple phone call. The hospital she was to work in was on the same street as the high school I would attend and the apartment where we would live. She got an apartment the same day and then made arrangements for us to move out of Princeton to Flushing, NY. How conveniently the Lord provided for us!
At the high school, I was blessed to meet a lot of great teachers. One of them was the chairman of the science department, Mr. Robert Weinberger. He took me in under his wings, so that I could study beyond the high school curriculum. At the end of each day, I would go to his office and spend time with him one-on-one. He gave me extra material to study and sent me to courses at the City University of New York. I also acted like his teaching assistant for other Korean students who needed extra help to catch up. He certainly played no small part in me graduating as the salutatorian of the class two years later and getting admitted to Yale University. Because the school year starts in September in the US whereas it starts in March in Korea, I had a choice of whether to skip ahead by 6 months or fall back. I chose to skip ahead and yet was able to get into Yale, an unprecedented feat at Flushing High School at the time. My cousin said it was a miracle, but I knew in my heart that it was the Lord’s grace and provision that made it possible.
Though I got into Yale, my conversational English was still poor. Before the first day of school, I got to visit one of my cousin’s friends in New Haven. The madam of the family might have thought that my prospect of surviving at Yale was not good. She recounted the story of another Korean student who came to Yale the year before and fared poorly, coming to her in tears. Who could blame her? By all objective assessments, I was certainly at a disadvantage compared to other Yale students. But again, the Lord provided for me. After the first two years, I was one of a dozen or so students who were elected to become a member of Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, based on my academic records. After 4 years at Yale, I obtained not only a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude, but also a master’s degree as well. My master’s degree thesis was on a computer model to predict the three-dimensional structure of a protein based on the amino acid sequence. I carried the emblem of my residential college on graduation procession, an honor given to just two students from each residential college with the best academic records. Once again, the Lord had accomplished through me what would normally be considered nearly impossible.
Since graduating from Yale, I have gone on to become a medical doctor. I received my medical education at the University of California San Diego and then did my residency at the Beth Israel Hospital of Boston, one of the teaching hospitals of Harvard Medical School. Afterwards, I was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for 14 years, attaining the rank of an Associate Professor. I moved on from there to eventually become a full professor and a hospital administrator at the Ohio State University. Currently I serve as a medical director of an anesthesia practice in Ohio.
Throughout my school days and professional career, I have been blessed to meet key people at key moments. Mr. Weinberger in high school was certainly one of those. In college, I was aided by Mrs. Han, one of my mother’s long-time friends, as well as a host of others at the Korean church I attended. In medical school, I received timely help from Rev. ES Park and his family, even staying at his home when I had no suitable place to stay. The list of helpful people goes on and on; they all are people that the Lord has prepared for me in my life journey. And because of that, I am where I am and have gladly met the challenge of an immigrant life in the US. Praise the Lord!
Kyung Won (Tim) Park, MD, MBA
Current Residence: New Albany, OH