At this time of year, the campus is almost empty. The students have gone home, the faculty are looking forward to their summer engagements, and the university staff are ready for a slower summer work schedule. All the challenges of the past academic year are over.

As usual, I find myself reflecting on my experiences. I remembered a special person who I don’t often think about but who had a big impact on my life. He was my unsung hero, from my life in Korea; someone I want to recognize after all these years of silence. His name was professor Cheon, the chairperson of the English department at my college. He was an expert in British literature, and besides being the chair of the department, he was fun to be with and a generous, considerate person. I received an academic scholarship for my tuition from the university, and this is where my story begins.

The story goes back to when I was about to become a junior. It was a long time ago, but I recall it as if it happened yesterday. On the last day at the dormitory, a few of us who remained in the dorm gathered around and had a party on campus. I don’t recall it being a wild party by anyone's standards – we had a few bottles of wine, some snacks and sang a few songs. I vaguely remember that someone knocked on the door and asked us to be quiet even though there were few students remaining in the dorm. Nevertheless, we had as pleasant a time as 19-years-old can have in the 1960s and the next morning we all said goodbye to our dorm friends and went back to our homes until the new semester started.

When I arrived back on campus to start my junior year, the university notified me that my scholarship had been revoked. I was devastated and felt a deep shame. Although I earned some money by tutoring students, it wasn’t nearly enough to cover my tuition. This was a time when no one had heard of student loans, government subsidies, or the low tuition rates of community colleges. What frustrated and shocked me was that my university did not explain the situation. I concluded that someone must have reported our party to the university authority. But why? What could I have done that caused such a serious reaction?

With great trepidation, I went to see professor Cheon to inform him of my situation and that I had to quit being a student due to the loss of my scholarship. He listened to my story carefully. Then when I finally finished, he asked me to accompany him to the university's business/finance office. I went along with him not exactly knowing what would happen next. There, he asked the finance officer to authorize the payment of my tuition directly from his personal account. I did not know how to react given his total generosity and trust in me. I must have mumbled to him that I would pay him back with the money I earned from tutoring. With a smile on his face, he tapped my shoulder to say that I could pay him back whenever I could — no hurry.

I was completely surprised by this conversation. As class president, I had gone to see the chairperson of my department to say goodbye and drop out of college. Instead, without any question, he supported me with his own money from the depth of his heart.

I will never forget how grateful I was for his thoughtfulness and unconditional generosity. With every penny I earned, I saved it first to pay back professor Cheon. I diligently paid him back every month for the next 24 months. He trusted and believed in me. I graduated from college successfully and worked diligently every moment, never wasting time or repeating my past mistakes. Upon graduation, I took a rigorous test to qualify as an instructor to go abroad to America. I left Korea for America one fine October.

Overall, I remember vividly how generous he was to lend such a considerable sum of money without any question. I became what I am now in part because he believed in me. He was the unsung hero in my life.

Shin Freedman (shinfreed@gmail.com) is an author, educator and writer.

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My unsung hero

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29.05.2024

At this time of year, the campus is almost empty. The students have gone home, the faculty are looking forward to their summer engagements, and the university staff are ready for a slower summer work schedule. All the challenges of the past academic year are over.

As usual, I find myself reflecting on my experiences. I remembered a special person who I don’t often think about but who had a big impact on my life. He was my unsung hero, from my life in Korea; someone I want to recognize after all these years of silence. His name was professor Cheon, the chairperson of the English department at my college. He was an expert in British literature, and besides being the chair of the department, he was fun to be with and a generous, considerate person. I received an academic scholarship for my tuition from the university, and this is where my story begins.

The story goes back to when I was about to become a junior. It was a long time ago, but I recall it as if it happened yesterday. On........

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