A lot is asked of Dublin students. The academic demands are high; participating in athletics can be intense and living away from home for the first time can be challenging. Now imagine those challenges when you are 14 years old, 7000 miles from home, speaking a second language and in a new culture. That is the daily experience for many of our international students.
Jung Yun, Dublin's recently announced International Student Coordinator first came to Dublin in 1998 as a freshman from Seoul Korea. Having faced the issues of cultural dislocation herself, she sees her job, working with the Dean of Students and the advisor system, as being the bridge for international students to finding an appropriate adult presence in their lives. "Everyone needs an adult. Often that is a students' advisor, but not always. Being so far from home, these students often don't have a natural advocate - the language and cultural barriers mean that their parents cannot be involved in ways that domestic parents can."
In Yun's view, international students may need an adult presence even more than domestic students do. "They have to feel they have an adult they trust here... its important for them and its important for us." Yun channels her inner Tiger Mom when she says," If we don't have a connection, how do we help them when things aren't great? There has to be a strong bond otherwise it is too uncomfortable. If someone doesn't care about disappointing you or impressing you, why would they even listen to you?"
Dublin's strong culture of support doesn't necessarily come naturally for those from other cultures. Yun points to her own experiences. The Korea she grew up in only honored winners. While that emphasis may have been critical to Korea's national development, it reinforced Yun's self-described Type-A, competitive nature. When she first arrived at Dublin, the idea of healthy competition was foreign to her. At the time, Dublin's girl's sports were at a nadir and losing was common. Yun says, "I cried on the bus after every game. My teammates may have enjoyed the game and the ride and the team, but I struggled. I was the wild horse of competition. In Korean, the word we use to describe athletic competition is to 'fight', here it is to 'play'. That is pretty different."
That difference was foreign to Yun. The fear of failure drove her, as it does with many international students. "You have to learn to try things that you are not good at and to be willing to fail. Enjoying the moment, finding fun, discovering happiness in the process. Those are all things that I had to learn at Dublin. They were not part of the culture I was raised in..."
In many ways, Yun sees those years as shaping her. After four years at Boston University, she returned to Dublin working for eight years as an advisor, coach, teacher, dorm parent and an admissions officer. "It took the four years away from Dublin to fully appreciate it. I came back because Dublin's values had seeped into me. The school had the same values that I have, and the longer I have been here, the more I appreciate that. While I am not exactly Americanized, I am no longer Korean either. I am a fusion of two cultures. I feel kind of claustrophobic now when I go back to Korea."
Yun's experience points out an underappreciated paradox for international students. For many international students, if they become Americanized, it can be difficult to go home. While English proficiency and an American degree are highly valued in foreign cultures, it can be hard to exist in a deeply hierarchical society after being exposed to American culture. Yun points to things as simple as college choices, "It's great to go to one of the best liberal arts colleges in the US. You learn to think critically and get exposed to great ideas. But sometimes when you go back to your home, you can struggle because no one has heard of the college. Despite going to a better school, the lack of familiarity may hold you back for years..."
She sees her job as finding the right balance for international students, whether their goal is ultimately to return to their native culture or otherwise. In that, she will be working with other members of the Dublin team throughout the full life-cycle of an international student's experience -- from the pre-admissions process through college admissions and beyond.
Ms. Yun lives in Slopeside Dormitory with her husband, PRISM Director Eric Nemitz, and her two young children, Gus and Juneau.