Korean orphan’s college dreams come true with KKOOM scholarship

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 28, 2011 - 21:00
  • Updated : Dec 29, 2011 - 14:22
Hard-working teen first in his orphanage to win place at top university

Getting ahead in Korea’s highly competitive education system can be challenging for any student.

Many complain from an early age about their parents’ demands for top grades at school and the obligatory evening classes to give them the edge in the all-important college entry exams.

But high school senior Jin-dong was not lucky enough to have parents pressuring him, or the chance to go to college preparatory academies after school.

He has lived in an orphanage in Gumi since he was seven, a situation which sees most write off any hope of attending university at all.

But now the 18-year-old, who requested that his family name not be used, has won himself a place at the prestigious Busan National University after he graduates from high school in February. 

Uninspired by the career laid out for him at the vocational school where students are trained for hourly-waged jobs in electronics, the ambitious teen did extra study without the help of teachers.

Habitually studying alone until 2 a.m. while his younger “brothers” slept around him in his dorm at Samsungwon orphanage, Jin-dong trained himself in the skills more privileged children pick up through expensive after school tuition.

After passing an interview for special applicants, he is due to start a business administration course at the top Busan university in March, with the hope of becoming a management expert.

“Then, I will help children in poverty regularly,” Jin-dong said.

He is the first child from his orphanage to pass the Korean SAT and enter a four-year university on his own merit

But of course, it takes more than brains to go to college. While he is likely to receive a tuition scholarship on the basis of his academic record and personal interview, Jin-dong must also pay for dormitory fees, books, and other living costs.

His expenses are being covered by a Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission scholarship of 4 million won ($3,460).

“Starting in February, when Jin-dong leaves Samsungwon, the orphanage in which he was raised, he would have been on his own, without financial support,” KKOOM founder and president Aimee Jachym said

“The average part-time job for college students pays less than 5,000 won per hour, and Jin-dong needs about 4 million won a year to live relatively comfortably.”

The non-profit organization’s Post-High School Support Initiative aims to raise another 12 million won to help cover his living expenses throughout his time in Busan.

Jachym said KKOOM had been inspired by Jin-dong’s “unusually sharp mind, which is matched with maturity and discipline beyond his years,” as well as his goal of helping others in his career.

“He did this because he believes in himself; he believes that his future can be changed by education and hard work; and we believe in seeing his success through to graduation from university and beyond,” she added.

“KKOOM is inspired by Jin-dong’s story. We believe that if we work a fraction as hard as Jin-dong has, we can help influence great changes and improvements in the lives of kids exiting Korean orphanages.

“Jin-dong is a model and rare example of committed hard work, and we hope to inspire others by supporting him and seeing his success continue.”

On weekends, when he isn’t teaching himself college prep materials, Jin-dong helps his house mother with laundry or plays soccer with other kids at the orphanage, which is also supported by KKOOM volunteers.

Jachym praised Samsungwon’s house mother system ― where orphanage staff live at the facility to provide parent-like care for the children there.

“My house mother always inspires me,” Jin-dong said. “She didn’t bear me, but she has always supported and loved me, and my siblings at the orphanage.”

His house mother, Ms. Noh, has been raising kids at the orphanage for 30 years.

“I didn’t really do much,” she said of her help to Jin-dong.

“I just supported him and raised him as I could, just like I have the others. I tried not to interfere with his studies. He was really disciplined and did it on his own. I’m really proud of him.”

By Kirsty Taylor (

Volunteers celebrate at a recent Christmas party at Samsungwon orphanage in Gumi. (KKOOM)

How to help

KKOOM, which works with several orphanages across Korea, will host its second volunteer stay program at the at the Emmanuel Children’s Home in Gyeongbuk province from Feb. 19-25.

Fluent English speaking volunteers, aged 18-40, are invited to stay at the orphanage in Gimcheon to help teach English and mentor the kids who range in age from college students to newborn babies.

KKOOM’s Jachym said the program aims to develop long-lasting relationships between kids and volunteers.

“Visiting orphanages for a few hours once a week or month is great for teaching English and playing games, but it’s hard to develop deep connections in such short, sporadic visits,” she said.

“We believe the benefit of the residential week is that the kids can really connect with the volunteers, and mentoring relationships can form.”

Participants must already be in Korea or be able to travel here at their own expense. There is no fee to participate but a suggested donation of $250 will be accepted from volunteers wishing to cover food and living expenses during the week-long program. Applications are due by Jan. 20 with more information available at

The first Emmanuel Stay Program was hosted by KKOOM in August with nine English speaking participants attending from Korea and around the world. A third volunteer stay is also being planned for August 2012.

About 100 of KKOOM’s international volunteers also held a Christmas carnival at the orphanage last month where the volunteers enjoyed games and food with the home’s 120 kids.

The organization also visited Gumi’s Samsungwon orphanage family for a festive party on Dec. 10.

Donate to KKOOM

Donations to KKOOM’s post-high school support fund can be made via GlobalGiving: at or KKOOM’s website