This is my final story for the Montana Kaimin this semester. I'm looking forward to working at the Santa Cruz Sentinel this summer as a reporting intern. Check back for updates; anything I write will be posted here.
When she decided to come to the United States for college, Min Sun Park was a 19-year-old high school dropout and international vagabond who had traveled in New Zealand for two years.
A month later, she arrived in Missoula.
Hailing from Seoul, the South Korean capital of 10 million people, Park said she was ready to leave city life behind. When deciding where to go to college, she first ruled out the East and West coasts. She then eliminated the South because of the heat and humidity. The Midwest was next to go — too flat. Alaska wouldn’t do because of its lack of winter sunlight.
That left the Rocky Mountain West.
Idaho, Park said, was a weird shape; Wyoming and Colorado were too square.
“It’s kind of risky,” Park said of her decision making process. “But if you don’t read anything and you don’t know anything, you don’t have any expectations. So, it’s always better.”
To choose between the University of Montana and Montana State University, she just looked at the mascots.
“I decided I should just go for the bigger (animal),” she said.
Now 22 years old, Park will graduate this month with a degree in political science and minors in international development studies and mathematics after seven semesters at UM. Although she’s always loved working on cars and wanted to be a mechanic, she said she chose to study a social science to have a stronger background for development work.
She has taken on her years at UM with the same fearlessness that brought her here, visiting more than 20 states and traversing the United States and Canada on a Greyhound bus.
Her boldness used to cause her trouble in South Korea, Park said. She dropped out of high school because she felt stifled by the conservative culture, which doesn’t allow students to debate with teachers or question authority.
At UM, she has been free to express herself, but the stereotypes of her more conservative culture have followed her.
“Some professors were surprised when I raised my hand to speak,” she said. “‘Oh, an Asian girl — an international student — can also speak.’ They didn’t really say that, but I could feel it from their facial expression.”
She hasn’t let the stereotypes keep her quiet.
Peter Koehn, one of Park’s professors, said she was the first, and so far the only, student to write and perform a play as the final project in his global migration class.
In her solo play, she was a successful diplomat between North and South Korea.
Outside the classroom, Park said she’s tired of politics and wants to do more hands-on development work. She plans to go into missionary aviation, involving flying into remote areas in developing countries to deliver goods on Christian mission trips.
Park said she’s enjoyed Missoula for its snowboarding, mountain biking and rock-climbing, but she’s been frustrated by the party-happy students she often encounters.
“All they have to talk about is weather, football, pot-smoking, drinking and sex,” Park said. “People don’t even understand why I’m dying to travel, dying to do more, dying to see more.”
After graduation, she’ll go home to see her family, but she said she plans to settle anywhere but South Korea.
As far a North Korea’s nuclear threats, Park said she’s not worried.
“American media is the only media freaking out,” she said. “We are fine. South Korea is fine.”