‘I may not be able to come back’: Harvard graduate, the first ‘Dreamer’ to win Rhodes Scholarship, pens op-ed on being undocumented

“This is a perpetual reality of being undocumented: I never know if I have a place in America — my home — even after receiving one of the most esteemed scholarships in the world.”

Harvard University graduate Jin K. Park, who holds a degree in molecular and cellular biology, poses at Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.  Park, who was named a Rhodes Scholar along with 30 other Americans in November, entered the U.S. illegally as a child, moving to Queens borough of New York City with his family. The undocumented student, who participates in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), is not sure if he'll be allowed back in the U.S. after his studies in the United Kingdom. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Harvard University graduate Jin Park poses at Harvard Yard in Cambridge. –Charles Krupa / AP

When Jin Park became the first “Dreamer” to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in November, the Harvard graduate said the news of the accomplishment came as “bittersweet.”

In an opinion piece for The New York Times on Friday, Park detailed the reality he faces as a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“[When] I leave the country in October to study at Oxford with my fellow Rhodes scholars, I may not be able to come back,” Park wrote. “This is a perpetual reality of being undocumented: I never know if I have a place in America — my home — even after receiving one of the most esteemed scholarships in the world.”


President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded the option for those with DACA status to travel overseas when he moved to end the program in 2017.

Park shared how he came to the U.S. with his parents from South Korea in 1997. He was 7 years old at the time, and his parents told him they were bound for a “magical place.”

“We settled in a Korean enclave in Flushing, Queens,” he wrote. “The language, people, smells and flavors reminded us of home, and that helped ease our transition into our new life. My mother found work in a beauty salon, providing manicures and facials. My father was hired as a line cook in a Korean restaurant, working 12-hour shifts six days a week.”

Park started attending school in a nearby Korean church, and in 2012 he received DACA status, allowing him to apply to Harvard. In 2015, the 22-year-old founded a nonprofit to help students without permanent immigration status navigate applying to college. He graduated from Harvard in December with a degree in biology and government.

At Oxford University, he said he plans to look at how undocumented immigrants can change the dialogue around their status in the United States and how Americans can “forge a common identity that respects human rights.”


“When I step on that plane in October and leave the United States for the first time since I arrived 16 years ago, I will think of the bustling flea market on 41st Street and Union Avenue in Flushing, and of the smell of freshly made spicy tteokbokki rice cakes in Korean eateries along Northern Boulevard that I pass on my way to the 7 train,” he wrote. “These are my roots. These are the sights and sounds that nurtured me as I became the person I am today. Walking through those streets has taken on a new meaning as I grapple with the knowledge that soon it may very well be the last time I do so.”

Read his full piece at The New York Times


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