Saturday, January 26, 2019

my one, lone thankful student

A gyopo student from back when I was teaching at YB in Centreville, Virginia, has kept up a correspondence with me in the years since I had left that company to return to Korea. He just got into the University of Virginia, so here's the email I got this morning:

Hi, Mr. Kevin. I just wanted to let you know that I JUST GOT INTO UVA! I am very excited to be going to school with my brother and Rachel (she got in as well). I want to thank you for teaching a crazy little kid to focus on school. You helped me so much to reach my goal. Again, thank you so much.

My reply:


I doubt that I had much to do with your good fortune, but I congratulate you on getting into UVA. Good luck with the next four years of undergrad life. Stay focused on your long-term goals, but be open to the possibility of new life-paths. College is the place to figure out who you really are and what you really want out of life. I'm sure you'll approach your undergrad studies with the same focus and industry as you've done for your high-school studies.

I have only one humble suggestion for you to keep in mind: if you decide to pursue graduate-level work, i.e., going for a master's degree or a Ph.D., don't delay. Go into grad work right away. I made the mistake of waiting eight years, and I now know that I had wasted my time. Learn from my mistake and decide early whether you're going to pursue a graduate degree or not.

Aside from that, I wish you nothing but the best. I hope to hear from you, once in a while, during your college years. Thanks for your email. Take care!



I recall N as being smart, driven, and self-directed. He had an impish grin that hinted at occasional silliness, but overall, he was serious about life, so I was never worried about where he was heading. I often envy people like N, who seem so naturally goal-directed and almost destined to succeed at whatever they do. My own path through life can barely be called a path at all: it's been more of a mosey or a meander—or really, more of a stumble and a bumble, which is why I told N to be decisive regarding grad school.

How much of our personal life-trajectory is determined by our genes? How much comes from environmental factors, and how much from sheer force of will (which may also have a genetic component)? Personal destiny—if destiny is even a meaningful concept—is such a mystery.

1 comment:

Charles said...

It is nice to have thankful students every now and then.

Although I often counsel my undergrads not to stress about going into grad school right away. It is not a bad idea to take a semester or even a year off to figure out what you want out of life, instead of rushing into a graduate program because you feel like that's what you're supposed to do. The saddest thing ever is a grad student who doesn't belong in grad school and is just wasting their time (and money) there. Once you're in, inertia tends to carry you along, and various psychological traps (sunk cost fallacy, etc.) prevent students from seeing the light and getting out once it starts to become apparent it's not for them. Instead, they trudge along and suffer because that's what they're "supposed to do."

So I would be a bit wary about counseling a kid on grad school before he's even started his undergrad studies. That being said, I think if you do want to go into grad school, I would agree that eight years probably is a bit long of a gap. But there will be time to think about that later.