Do your dreams differ from your parents’ expectations?

By Bon Jin Koo, 18, Crescenta Valley HS (La Crescenta)
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Bon Jin is writing a short story that he hopes to enter into a writing contest.

As early as sixth grade, my parents would ask, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I didn’t know. That was so far away, why should I care? “Are you going to be a businessman like me?” my dad would joke. They’d ask me if I was interested in being a doctor or lawyer, or going into business or computer science. They believed those are the jobs that make a lot of money. They want me to be successful, which to them means supporting myself and my family, and giving back to the community. I wanted that too, but as I got older I realized I wanted to do those things my own way.

Ever since eighth grade, I have liked writing for fun, but I didn’t think being a writer would be a job that I’d make a lot of money doing. So, freshman year I thought I would become a scientist, inspired by television shows on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet like MythBusters, Nigel’s Wild Wild World and Crocodile Hunter. I chose zoology as my career. My parents were surprised by my interest in science because no one in our family had ever gone into science. My family mostly consisted of farmers, teachers and business people.

At the beginning of sophomore year, I began to lose interest in science. Science was an easy subject for me and the classes got boring. My biology teacher called me the “sleeping genius” because I’d sleep through his lectures but still get As on his tests. I worried more about getting in trouble for sleeping than I did about my grades.

The more my dad asked me what I wanted to do, the more I realized how much I didn’t want to study science in college. On college discussion websites I read that a zoology major has to take sciences classes that I wasn’t interested in like chemistry and physics. I could make enough money to support myself as a scientist, but I realized that money wasn’t everything in a career. My parents wanted me to pursue a career that made a lot of money, but I wanted to discover what I really liked to do, not get a job that pays well but makes me miserable.

I got into the discussions in English class

That year English became my favorite class. When we read Lord of the Flies, a book about boys who are stranded on an island, I didn’t really like it. I thought it would be a fun, light-hearted story, but it was serious. We’d have discussions about themes, like good versus evil. The teacher would ask, “Do you think this character gave in to animal-like instincts?” I said I thought one of the main characters, Ralph, remained civilized, even when he was in a survival mindset and on the verge of murder. Some classmates disagreed with me.

There were five people who always raised their hands during these discussions, and I was one of them. At first, we raised our hands before we talked, but as it got more intense, we would start shouting our points out. “OK, let’s let other people talk,” the teacher would say to us. The discussion took a book I didn’t like and made it into something I could really think about. It was surprising. I could put myself in the characters’ situations and really think about my own morals and values. It turned a boring read into an amazing discussion.

When our class was reading the Shakespeare play, Much Ado About Nothing, out loud, I would say my lines in a British accent to make it more fun. The whole class got really into it! Some classmates also tried British accents. Best of all, Ms. Ruggiero, my English teacher, assigned free writes, which were writing assignments where we’d have a week to write about any topic. Most people would groan, “Another piece of homework.” But I’d say, “Yes!” We had to write at least a page, but I usually wrote two. I started to think of writing as more than a hobby.

Illustration by Amy Fan, 16, Temple City HS

Excited at my discovery, I told my parents I would become a writer. My parents gave me a quizzical look and asked me, “Why?” My dad asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to pursue medicine like being a doctor or dentist?” I said that science didn’t appeal to me anymore, and I liked English better. My mom added that very few writers become successful. I was disappointed my parents weren’t more enthusiastic. I didn’t talk back to them because talking back to your parents is a sign of disrespect in our family. “We’ll see what happens,” my dad said with a subtle smile on his face.

I continued to write. When I have an idea, I’ll write a short story, sometimes five in a month. I post them on Facebook as “Notes.” As of now, I have 287 notes. I love writing short stories. My short stories usually revolve around a character struggling to overcome an obstacle in life. The obstacle usually reflects what I’m struggling with at the time. I was a bit stressed out one week when I had math homework that took five hours to do each night. I wrote a story in which the main character was stressing over math homework, and his little sister helped cheer him up. My endings are usually heart-warming, with the intent to encourage anyone who happens to read them.

I like sharing my stories with others

I also write my reflections on Bible passages. I want everyone to know what I learned so I always set the privacy on these notes to “Everyone” so that anyone could read them. The whole purpose of writing is for someone else to read what I’ve written and understand it. My friends leave comments like, “Bon Jin, that’s amazing,” and “You have an amazing talent for writing.” Reading their comments is humbling and I think, “I’m not that good.”

During junior year when our family visited my grandmother for her birthday, I gave her a handmade card. I wrote her a note saying how our relationship wasn’t exactly perfect, and I looked forward to making it better. I’d written it in English, but my grandmother can’t read English, so my uncle translated. My grandmother said thank you and that even though it was a translation it still touched her. My mom responded, “Don’t you know? Bon Jin’s a magician with words.” I couldn’t help but smile. I was surprised that my mom gave me such a big compliment. I thought, “What’s with this change in attitude?” I saw that my mom was becoming more accepting.

Sometimes I doubted if I would be successful or happy pursuing English. My English teacher was getting her master’s in English and she would tell us that she had a 100-page writing assignment. Another teacher, who’d studied English in college said, “No matter what you study, you’re going to do a lot of work, but in English, you do more writing.” I worried about the workload but eventually I didn’t mind. Everything takes hard work if you’re going to be successful. Once I get my college degree, I want writing to be part of my future. I would love to teach English in high school and work my way up to teach writing in college.

My parents’ idea of success is financial security, but I see success as more than that. I want to make money and wake up every day happy to go to work. I can definitely see myself being successful financially by teaching English in high school, and I want to prove to my parents that I can make money by doing something I love.

When I asked my friends what they wanted to be, I was impressed by some of their answers. A good friend of mine kept switching from a doctor to an architect. Another friend wants to be an engineer. They all had high-paying careers in mind. But then I asked them if that’s what they really wanted to do. “I really want to be a singer though,” one of my friends said. “I wish I could go into art,” another said.

I wish parents would be more open-minded

My parents came from families that did all they could to earn money. I understand why our parents want us to get high-paying jobs so that we don’t have to struggle like they did, but I’m disappointed by how parents automatically assume some careers don’t make very much money.  Parents should realize that just because a job doesn’t have a reputation as being high-paying, doesn’t mean we won’t be successful if we work hard.

Last May I applied to my school’s newspaper and I was accepted. I had applied to yearbook my sophomore and junior year and been rejected. Instead of giving up I decided to apply to be on the newspaper. It was my last chance to get into a writing class. I had to take a writing test and be interviewed to get into journalism. I was surprised I was accepted because I’m a senior and I didn’t think they’d want me because I’d be around for only one year. They told me seniors get lazy writing articles, but I assured the editors in my interview that I would definitely not slack off.

So far, I’m having a lot of fun in my journalism class. I can’t write my fictional short stories here, but I use my creativity to make articles more interesting to read. My school’s journalism class produced two issues. I even got an article published in the second issue, which is saying something because there are a lot of staff writers.

I have a lot of options for my future. I could have easily chosen to become a scientist or a businessman. Instead of going for the job that pays the most, I know loving what you doing is more important. Writing is a passion I wouldn’t have found if I didn’t have the courage to decide to pursue it. I know I’ll succeed if I’m doing something I love.