Until Next Time

It is over now: a year of developing close relationships, meeting new people, humanizing a country and culture to best of my abilities, and living-learning at a different academic institution.  Towards the conclusion of any program, I tend to mentally relive the experiences and ask myself if I would have done anything differently.

There is probably only one thing. I wish I would have reached out even a month earlier to all the Mitchells for early-year meet-ups. At the very beginning of the year, we were all busy acclimating to our respective, immediate surroundings. Towards the year’s end, I found myself wanting to spend even more time with them. Joey has an out-of-this-world personality. Behind Deirdre’s sweet smile exists a serious attitude for social justice. I always appreciated Steven’s truly kind yet stern demeanor mixed in with his playful jabs and accompanying smirks. Kyle’s insatiable curiosity was something that kept me constantly learning throughout our months in Dublin together. As a Midwesterner, I truly valued Ryan’s New York attitude and his ability to explicate even the most complicated ideas. Ibrahim’s global perspective was never taken for granted—while changes were taking place in Northern Africa and the Middle East, I recognized how essential this vantage point was for moving conversation and ideas forward. Stephen’s Southern magnetism and passion for social change reenergized me whenever we walked around Dublin together. And Fagan is one of the most empathetic individuals I have ever known in my lifetime—it has been a privilege to get to know him and learn about his life experiences.

As excited as I am about my own future experiences, I am equally thrilled to learn about the life directions of each of the Mitchells. Throughout the year, the Mitchells shared their gratitude for the people in their lifetimes who have given time and energy to help them. Regardless of political affiliations and philosophical differences, we all seem to share a hope that our generation can effect changes to make the American Dream more accessible to all Americans.

Policy decisions that were made in the 1960s affected my early life in the 1980s. As a Head Start student, I was able to adjust to grade school more easily. Many of my grade school teachers took the time and effort to help improve my writing when my English wasn’t as clear. A number of my high school teachers provided the support that was necessary for me to be admitted to Swarthmore College. Swarthmore Alumni blindly provided financial aid for me to learn, question, and question again in academia. I received guidance from Professors and classmates to start a public health organization in Latin America. Advisors from both local and national foundations believed in what only began as a simple idea. I feel blessed and lucky to have lived and learned in Vietnam on a Henry Luce Scholarship. And the Mitchell Scholarship offered an incredible opportunity for me to frame my practical experiences in an academic setting in Ireland.

Without a doubt, I worked diligently throughout my life, but I also recognize that none of these accomplishments would have happened without the seemingly inconsonant yet consistent support I’ve received throughout my lifetime. And for that I am truly grateful.  I am saddened by the fact that my experiences might be considered rare by many—I hope for a future where any hardworking individual’s dreams will be within reach. Although I am unclear about my future trajectory, I hope to always do whatever I can to offer similar opportunities for other Americans and global citizens.

About Yongjun Heo - University College Dublin

Upon graduating in 2009 from Swarthmore with a double major in Biology and Public Policy, Yongjun worked at the Institute for Population and Development Studies in Hanoi, Vietnam as a Luce Scholar. After his second year at Swarthmore, he traveled to Venezuela to assist a physician at a medical clinic in the Pemon indigenous villages of Uriman. His experiences led to his founding Pemon Health Inc., a public health organization committed to improving the health of the Pemon people through a college internship program that focuses on preventive measures to combat the causes of adverse health conditions. Yongjun has been awarded grants from the Clinton Global Initiative, Wal-mart Foundation, Project Pericles Foundation, and Swarthmore College. At the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, he was awarded a Clinton Global Initiative University Outstanding Commitment Award by President Clinton. In his final year at Swarthmore, he served as the Student Body President. He was also a four-year sprinter for the Men’s Varsity Track and Field team. Yongjun concluded his MPH program in the summer of 2011 and received his degree in December. He lives in San Francisco and Indianapolis where he manages Midwest Design Lab, a web design and development company.
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