March 4, 2015. This is the day I first stepped foot on a land beyond my home country — not for a vacation, but for a life-changing purpose. This is when I officially started my high school education in a science-gifted institute here in South Korea. I still remember the first shivers I had as the wind from the unfamiliar winter climate blew over my face. Quite a daunting decision for a fourteen-year old boy, as you may think, but back then my thoughts were filled not with worries or fear, but with excitement and anticipation of whatever lay ahead of me. Ever since, I have been on a rollercoaster ride. I have been molded into a better version of myself and have also gone further to greater opportunities, the biggest of them pursuing my undergraduate studies at KAIST. Consequently, my study-abroad story has become the spring of resounding compliments from my family and friends. Their inevitable amazement and sincere wishes do, of course, flatter me. Sadly, though, people are bound to admire the beauty of a story that merely scratches the surface.
Honestly, I sometimes feel undeserving of this opportunity. My three years of high school were enough for me to understand the characteristic intensity of the Korean education system. Though a separate curriculum for foreign students in our high school was designed to align to our respective adjustment needs, the flow and depth of the original curriculum nevertheless remained similar. I am in no way implying that international students had it easier. Truly, the admissions process itself is rigorous, and passing it would sufficiently give credence to your abilities. However, it is fair to acknowledge the difficulty, sacrifices, and the level of competition Korean students had to go through in this vicious education system just to land themselves a spot in a reputable school. Plus, I should rightfully admit that I am behind these people in terms of skills and talent. Obviously, they would have been more deserving of my spot. Probably, they would have achieved more than I did. Moreover, there were undeniably intelligent students back in my country that could have done better. Unfortunately, not everyone got the chance to apply, let alone even hear the news of an overseas admissions program in progress.
Which is why hearing people’s compliments, though pleasing, can be a bit disappointing. While I believe my experiences gave way to my overall development, I don’t think I’ve maximized all opportunities available to prove myself worthy of bearing our high school’s reputation with me. This burdens me more now that I am a university student. I’ve met new faces and watched their eyes glimmer in amazement every time they hear of my education. But then, there comes their elevated expectations for me to perform well. Though motivating, for most of the time it is frustrating. I feel like only carrying this badge of honor without being able to live to its embodiment. Besides, the only advantage I see from a graduating in a science academy is the capability to transfer credits and, arguably, the maturity and mental fortitude to survive the demanding life that awaits. Other than that, as soon as university life begins, you are back to square one, regardless of where you came from.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not insecure nor lacking in self-esteem. Rather, these thoughts just remind me that my successes are not just a product of my sheer hard work. Safe to say, luck played a huge role in it. Somehow, these thoughts keep me grounded. It endows me a stronger purpose to give justice to the impression people have of me. But most importantly, I learned not to overlook one’s credentials, including mine. It indeed measures the extent of your capabilities, but growing doesn’t end there! You can exceed what you have achieved, and these mere badges of honor on your shoulders should never stop you from doing so.