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Jang-Yeon Park

Jang-Yeon Park

South Korean Pro-Democracy Activist & Nuclear Physicist

Born: Seoul, South Korea
Heritage: Korean

One great and good tradition is respect of elders and the teacher. That is what I really want you to know. Keep trying. Every culture has its own virtue. The other thing is to keep trying to find out what you want in your life. I want you to keep trying it. If you are very lucky you will make a living with a job that you really want to do. Why don’t you keep in mind that the work you are doing is something helpful to others. Not only for you, but the kind of work that can be really, really great. Those two things I would like to give you today.

Jang-Yeon Park

South Korean Pro-Democracy Activist & Nuclear Physicist

Jang-Yeon Park
South Korean Pro-Democracy Activist and Nuclear Physicist

My name is Jang-Yeon Park. I was born in 1970 in Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is the capital of South Korea and one of the biggest cities in the world. Over 10 million people are living in Seoul. More than one-fifth of the whole population lives there.

When I was 27 years old I met my wife and one year later she gave birth to Do-Hyoung. It was a very happy time for my wife. We are a very happy family. Our names come from Chinese old letter. My name is Jang-Yeon Park. “Jang” means scholarship. “Yeon” means let it be with nature. My wife’s name is Eun-Mi. “Eun” stands for graceful beauty. “Mi” means beautiful. “Do” means to cover the world. “Hyoung” means to shed the light. Our youngest boys name is Do-Yun. “Do” stands for law. “Yun” means to be rich and prosperous.

When I was in high school I really liked to study, especially math and science. So I wanted to go to college and major in physics. So my major in college was nuclear engineering. I then went to graduate school majoring in the philosophy of science. I came to the United States and studied medical physics at the University of Minnesota in 2001.

For 20 to 30 years in Korea the military army took control of the government. It was not a democracy. The students were in front of the fight against the government for a democracy. A very important part of my life was involvement in these kind of student movements. I fought for freedom and democracy.

In Korea there is a very big tradition to respect the elders. In a New Year there is a tradition you have to visit the elders you know. When you meet someone you bow and say hello, put your hands on your thigh. In the New Year you get down on your knees and hands and bring your head to the ground and wish him good health in the rest of his life.

In Korea we are faced with North Korea. I know it is a very tragic history. In Korea a man with a healthy body and mind has to go to the military. It is mandatory. I went to the military in 1991. I went back to normal life in 1993. It was seriously scary. In the military it is stressful. There is a lot of training and practice. There is no respect; you are isolated. It was a very terrible feeling.

Now religion is important to my life. The concept of truth has been changing. I’m always interested in the ultimate truth. I didn’t give up on religion. I had a lot of questions. Science didn’t answer all my questions. At the very moment I felt the love and felt Jesus, lots of questions were almost solved, but not logically. Even though there are terrible things in the world, even though lots of things in the world don’t make sense, we don’t understand now, we will. There just might be something more.

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To Have Respect

Honoring Jang-Yeon Park

To Have Respect

To have respect for your elders
To have respect for your teachers
To have respect for each other
Have respect for yourself

My name is Jang-Yeon Park
I come from South Korea
My hometown was very small
Along the Sea of Japan

Where I swam and where I ran
In the mountains along the hillside
A scientist I wanted to be
Since young I don’t know why
I was small not too tall
I sat in the front of my classroom
Where the teacher paid attention to me
Honestly I liked to study

To become a nuclear
Engineer was my ambition
Both positive and negative
Forces made up my decision
At that time democracy
Was not stable in my country
The military took control
Several years I did not study

With classmates we organized
On the streets with several million
Until the military stopped
Controlling Korea
From engineer to philosophy
To analyze the basic
Concept of modern science
Became my new ambition

Until I met my wife
Eun-Mi filled with graceful beauty
Through our love we had Do-Hyoung
And Do-Yun my light and riches
A woman prayed for us
Before we came to Minnesota
For a happy life beyond my field
Of medical physics

While searching for the truth
I found strength in Jesus,
Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg
and quantum physics
A paradox I can explain
In Newton’s Determinism
And Heisenberg who says you can’t
Determine velocity nor position

Yet Einstein said, “God never throws
dice.” (With elders’ wisdom)
All will meet at one point
May love be life’s ambition

Words by LARRY LONG with Mari McCauley’s 4th & 5th grade class from InterDistrict Downtown School
(Minneapolis, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI

Listen: To Have Respect