This year marks the first time that DACA recipients were eligible to apply for the oh-so-prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, and Jin Kyu Park just became the very first beneficiary of the program who can add “Rhodes Scholar” to his resume.
Park was among 32 Americans selected for the 2019 Rhodes Scholarship, which allows a handful of postgraduate students from across the globe to study at the University of Oxford in England. It’s the first year in which DACA recipients were eligible for the prestigious grant. The DACA program shields some children brought to the country illegally by their parents from deportation.
Born in South Korea, Park, 22, came to the United States with his parents at age 7, and grew up in Queens. The Harvard University senior is finishing up a degree in molecular and cellular biology, with minors in ethnicity, migration, and rights. His majors speak to his talents, while his minors speak to his life experience. The combination of the two shape his future goals.
“Now I want to give back,” he says. “I want to come back to the United States, maybe work in a public health department to create policies for undocumented immigrants and for immigrant health.”
“You learn this basic orientation to the world that your talents, they don’t belong to you in the sense that a lot of people think it does, that you have to spread it around,” he says. “And the fruits of your labor also have to be shared with other folks.”
He is hoping to do two, maybe three years at Oxford and then wants to return to become a community doctor.
The American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, Elliot F. Gerson, celebrated this year’s winners, who come from all walks of life.
(He) said this year’s recipients reflect the “extraordinary diversity that characterizes the United States.”
“Almost half of the winners are immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans,” Gerson said in a Nov. 17 statement, in which he announced the names of the Americans chosen. “They are certain to enrich our future.”
Park agrees with that assessment, even as he fights against the negative stereotypes that undocumented immigrants face—especially ones who aren’t white—in today’s political climate.
“If you give immigrants an opportunity, we are going to improve everything in America,” he believes.
When President Trump moved to end DACA last year, many in the program were anxious. So Jin wants to concentrate on the larger immigration issue.
“That’s where I want to keep the focus,” he says. “Who is an American? I consider myself an American. Who belongs? Those questions.”
Curious about what it takes to win the Rhodes Scholarship? Check out Park’s jaw-dropping resume and see if you (or anyone you know) would measure up.
He started a nonprofit organization in 2014 called HigherDreams, which helps undocumented students applying to college. He is also director of the Phillips Brooks House Association’s Chinatown Citizenship program, which works with adult immigrants in Boston’s Chinatown. Meanwhile, he is the managing editor of the Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal and a research assistant at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Saying he feels an “immense responsibility to give back to the immigrant community,” Park describes the Rhodes win as a “humbling experience. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life really trying to live up to it,” he told WABC.
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