By Amy Kendall
Dong-Jin sat in the back of the classroom. He had never raised his hand and he didn”t say anything. The 11-year-old had migrated with his family to Long Island, N.Y., from South Korea only six months before, and understood little English.
At the front of the room, the teacher drew a circle on the board and divided it into quarters. Drawing a question mark in one of the slices, he asked the class a question. Somehow, Dong-Jin knew that the teacher had asked how many degrees were in that part of the circle. No one volunteered an answer.
Slowly, a hand came up.
Slightly surprised, the teacher pointed to Dong-Jin and asked for the answer. Numbers were among his limited vocabulary and Dong-Jin answered, “90.”
The teacher nodded and, though many of his classmates looked shocked that the Korean boy had spoken, Dong-Jin felt the return of a sense of confidence and strength.
That day taught Dong-Jin “Dan” Kim the importance of dwelling on his strengths rather than his weaknesses. This focus has led him to earn an undergraduate degree in economics at BYU, which he will receive with university honors, acceptance into the international relations graduate program at Cambridge University in England and the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, worth up to $300,000.
“Dan displays a quiet intensity about his life”s goals,” said Paul Kerry, an associate professor in the history department. “He does not rest on past laurels nor does he mention them.”
This is characteristic of what many have said about Kim. He is passionate about the things he works toward and credits his family with his many accomplishments.
“I didn”t win this scholarship,” Kim said. “It”s our family that won it.”
Shortly after migrating to New York, Kim”s family moved to Orem. Because job opportunities were limited, Kim”s father moved back to Korea to find work while his mother stayed in Utah with the two children.
Initially, Kim”s father was successful. The family even began the process of buying a house. However, the Asian stock market crisis in 1997 put an end to their plans.
Since then, Kim”s mother has worked long graveyard shifts to support the family. But after hearing of her son”s acceptance into Cambridge, she said the years of long hours were well worth it.
Kim said he appreciates his opportunities even more because of the great sacrifice of both his parents.
“I was always aware of how much they suffered for me to give me these opportunities,” he said.
The economic crisis, which so greatly affected his family, was the reason Kim decided to pursue a degree in economics with an international emphasis.
It was with this international emphasis in mind that Kim sought a research assistant position with Kerk Phillips, an associate professor of economics. Phillips is the international economist on campus, and with him, Kim worked on various projects specifically targeting North and South Korea.
These projects led to Kim”s thesis on the reform of the North Korean economy. In this project, there is a link to Kim”s heritage. Another link to his past is his goal of helping migrants. Kim said he is pursuing his degree at Cambridge in international relations in order to help world leaders discover remedies to the struggles of immigration, poverty and inequality.
“I believe he”ll represent BYU well as he goes forth to serve, both in terms of his personal service ethic as well as his long-term goals to help humanity,” Scott Miller said.
Miller is the former director of the Honors program and got to know Kim last summer on the Summer Honors at Cambridge study abroad program.
This program allowed Honors students working on their theses to take their projects to the university and study for a few months with a Cambridge professor.
Kim was mentored by the economics director who encouraged him to look into the international relations program with the promise of a recommendation letter. Kim said upon his application to the university, his acceptance was almost immediate because of his mentor”s recommendation.
Kim said after the initial excitement of his acceptance wore off, the reality of his financial situation set in.
However, after a long application process, Kim was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship which offers $50,000 a year for up to six years of graduate school. This scholarship considers many factors other than financial need and academic scores. Applicants also have to answer essay questions, which show their personality, community contributions and future goals.
Kim said he likes being a Cooke scholar because of this holistic approach. He said it is his family”s story that won this scholarship; he simply made the right choices as the opportunities were presented to him.
In an essay Kim wrote for his scholarship application, he said, “Each time I see a teacher draw a circle on the chalkboard it reminds me how far I have come and how grateful I should be to those who have sacrificed themselves to get me here.”