But then my dad decided to go to theological seminary, and my mom had quit her job as a pharmacist to take care of my older sister and me. We moved away from New York City to a middle-of-nowhere town, Springfield, Missouri. For 4 years, my parents struggled a lot to make ends meet. My dad's church had a congregation of no more than 10-20. Although my family was poor, as I was growing up, I could never tell. If I had thought about finances back then, the signs would have all been there. Free federal lunch at school, not being able to get that happy meal at McDonalds that I really wanted, etc. Four years later, my dad graduated with his M.Div. from AGTS and a job opened up in Vancouver, WA.
This job in Vancouver was not a highly sought-after position. The church had been around for about a decade at the time, and averaged a new pastor every 10 months. Why? Because whenever they fell out of favor with the church members, they would kick him out. I can proudly say that when my dad left that church (due to reasons I will explain later) about a year and a half ago, he had been the pastor for 13 years.
Due to my dad's occupation, we managed to make connections with fellow Christians wherever we went. As a result, I got highly discounted piano lessons during elementary school and I learned taekwondo for free for over 7 years from 4th to 11th grade. These were just a few of the many benefits we received.
I was an excellent student in elementary school. According to proficiency tests, I read at a 12th grade or higher level when I was in 2nd grade. Things looked to be the same way in middle school, when I was one of 7 people in the 6th grade to finish the year with a 4.0 GPA. However, when I was in 7th grade, my grades suddenly dropped and I got a handful of Bs and even a couple Cs. at the time, my sister was applying to colleges. Due to her good grades and test scores (perfect 1600 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT), she was got into a lot of top universities that were willing to give her a lot of money. I knew that my parents were extremely proud of her, and that motivated me to also do well. I turned it up a notch in 8th grade, and managed to be one of 15 students in the 8th grade class to graduate with a 3.9 or higher cumulative GPA. Some might wonder why so few students at my middle school were getting good grades. I went to the poorest middle school in my district. The school had a poverty rate of about 40%, and over 60% received some sort of reduced or free lunch benefits. With that being said, I believe I received a quality education in the Challenge Program and I am really grateful to the Vancouver Public Schools.
High school was more of the same. I was involved with 15 extracurricular activities (most being 2+ year commitments), and I managed to get decent enough grades (I beat my sister’s GPA by .02!) as an IB diploma recipient to get into universities with generous financial aid. In high school I received reduced lunch; never had a car (or a driver’s license); and never had a cell phone. Most of my peers in my IB classes were from well-off families, and could afford (what felt to me like) these luxuries.
When I got to my university, USC, I was extremely worried. I had already felt that I was poor, relative to my public high school friends and it would just be magnified many times over at a "spoiled rich kid school" like USC. My parents weren't able to afford me any sort of allowance, so I picked up a work-study job and made my spending money that way. I can proudly say that I have never had to ask my parents for money, even for airfare or textbooks during my 4 years at school. It does suck to not be able to go anywhere during spring break, when all your friends are making plans to spend $800+ for a trip to Mexico. But what can you do?
During the 2nd semester of my sophomore year, my parents decided to move from Vancouver, WA, to Atlanta, GA. My maternal grandparents were both having serious health issues (advanced stage Alzheimer’s and degenerative arthritis of the knees and spine). Due to cost, nursing homes were out of the question, so my parents moved into my grandparents’ house to take care of them. When my parents told me about their decision, I decided to stay on campus and work for the summer. At that point in time, I would have just been in the way if I had gone to Atlanta. I worked 3 jobs to support myself. With the money I made from that summer, I was able to pay for everything I needed during my junior year. My junior year, I was selected to be a Resident Advisor, and I am currently holding that position for my senior year, as well. This job provides me with free housing and a monthly food stipend, and greatly relieves the burden on my family to help support the cost of attending university. I’ll be graduating in four years this May, with a double major in Biological Sciences and East Asian Languages and Cultures.
Upon moving to Atlanta, my dad quit his job as a pastor, and is now working full-time to take care of my grandparents. My mom works part-time as a telephone medical and legal Korean-English interpreter. Our current annual income is about $10,000. It’s kind of strange, because up until my parents had moved to Atlanta, it looked as if things were looking up for us economically. We had been able to buy our own home; my sister had finished her undergraduate degree and was working on her Master’s program; and both my parents’ jobs were very stable. It feels like my family has regressed financially, but since I know it was for a good cause, I feel no bitterness.
Things do look good for the future, though! My sister is currently in her 2nd year of optometry school, which is a doctorate level program. After some serious deliberation this summer, I finally figured out what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to be applying to podiatry school (also a 4-year doctorate-level program)—but not just yet. After graduation, I will take a year off to live with my sister in the Miami area. I still haven’t taken my MCATs or shadowed any podiatrists yet. I will also need to work 20-30 hours a week so I can help pay for rent, gas, insurance, and groceries, and also so I can afford the cost of applying to these schools and flying out for interviews.
Although this blog mentions finances a lot, I don’t care about being rich. I just want to be able to live comfortably so that I don’t have to worry about living from paycheck to paycheck, or not being able to provide for my family. I believe that my parents did an admirable job doing what they could with what they had. They’ve really been an inspiration to me, seeing what they were able to do with so little. I’ve already promised them that once I start making my salary I’ll be sending them a monthly allowance of $1000. And of course, I’m going to make sure they get to travel to exciting places, go on cruises, and in general do things for themselves that they weren't able to do when they were younger.
One thing that has remained constant is that my family has always been happy together. Looking back, even though we didn’t have much, I can’t recall ever being truly unhappy or unsatisfied with what we had. I’ve been fortunate to always have a safe place to sleep at night, food to eat, opportunities to gain further education, and most importantly a loving family. I think an important thing to remember is that although money can definitely make things more comfortable, it alone won't bring happiness or joy into your life.