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PHD Psychology, Korea, Physical Disabilities

Coming from an activist family of humanitarians, studying psychology appears to me to be a natural choice since I am drawn to the helping professions and deeply inspired by positive thinking and optimism. Thus, I hold the psychology program at UPenn in special regard since I am a disciple of the positive intellectual direction of your department. So very much looking forward to becoming a participant in your program, I am deeply devoted to research and I feel strongly that I am now sufficiently mature at 29 to achieve my optimal performance in your program, contributing to its diversity as a Korean American woman. Born in the US but raised mostly in Korea, I am completely bi-cultural and bi-lingual and this will have an indelible impact on the directions of my professional development.

My mother runs a foundation for underprivileged children in Korea called Woori-Nuri. Most of the children that we work with have been the victims of not only of acute poverty but domestic and sexual violence as well. My father is the president of Rehabilitation International-Korea, an organization serving the physically disabled. For me, having been raised by compassionate parents whose lives have long been geared towards the service of those who need us the most, preparing myself for a life of service seems especially appropriate, and psychology is what most appeals to me intellectually, providing me with an avenue to combine the scientific study of human nature with humanitarian initiatives for society. Other than my passion for positive psychology and positive thinking, I have no fixed or rigid professional interests; yet, I am also very attracted to your program because of the way that students are largely free to define their own unique fields of interest or special focus for research. I especially look forward to a rigorous exposure to the vast range of theoretical, historical, and philosophical foundations of psychology, which will prepare me to eventually contribute to the field in some way that speaks to my Korean-American identity. My long term professional goal is to help institutions and agencies assist marginalized or underserved populations. It is my hope that the training that I will receive in your program will help me to be able to employ and disseminate positive psychology at the service of humanitarian organizations and the development of their policy initiatives, doing research concerning and training students in and professionals engaged in the helping professions.

In 20XX, my father ran for a senate seat in Korea. For this reason, I had to take a break from my undergraduate studies in the US, and go to Korea to assist his campaign. While my father was ultimately unsuccessful in a very close race, campaigning on his behalf was one of the most vibrant learning experiences that I have ever have, exposing me to the profound complexity of political intrigue and the interplay of socio-economic variables in human interactions. For the first time, I had broad exposure to many people from the lower socio-economic levels of Korean society and this afforded me with the invaluable opportunity not only to appreciate my own heritage, but to better understand how entrenched often insurmountable the obstacles are to the achievement of a full human fulfillment. I am now able to much better appreciate the need for humanitarian programs that help to fill voids in the social sphere that are simply not met by governments. After graduating from college, I started doing volunteer work and founded an organization named Polaris along with seven friends. Polaris is a non-profit charity organization that seeks to provide support for underprivileged children by delivering appropriate care and attention. As a result of contacting several organizations for children, the Save the Children Foundation of Korea informed us that they needed tutors for abandoned and abused children staying in the Joyful Group home. In this way I began to teach these children math and English and once a week all Polaris members would take them on a picnic or to a baseball game or musical. This experience helped to reflect upon the important needs of neglected children and how to best go about addressing those needs in ways that will be lasting and provide solid foundations for development into adults.

My interests soon led me to earn a Master's Degree in Social Work at XXX where I became most passionate about the need for hope and empowerment in order to achieve success and find happiness. During my clinical experience, I learned a great deal about society from my clients; one lady, for example, a domestic violence survivor, illegal immigrant, and mother of four children who worked as a cleaning lady and sought solace in marijuana struggling to help her overcome her depression was indeed a mammoth challenge. Victims of acute physical violence, most of whom suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome have been my most powerful mentors to date, not only helping me to appreciate the depth of human agony, but also the courage of hope and the resiliency and possibility of love. Seeing many of these women succeed, finding employment and leaving the women's shelter brought great hope and joy to me as well. These experiences have left me with a lasting commitment to the concept of empowerment, something which I hope to build upon in your program.

Returning to Korea, I was privileged to be offered an instructor position at Soong-Shil University by the professor who was also the dean of the School of Social Work and served as an advisor for XXX. I began teaching English in the context of life skills and social issues and was able to work in basic theories and principles of psychology into course materials by, for example, assigning students to design recreational games that incorporate theories of perception and explaining personality disorders by using characters from popular TV shows. After I got married, I worked as a social worker at XXX Family Welfare Center, providing me with hands on experience in addressing family needs, dealing with handicapped adults, struggling against learned helplessness, and developing a greater appreciation for the importance of understanding and empathy for alleviating depression.

When I came back to the US to finish my degree, I did an independent study with Dean Yoshioka about Developmental Life Course Theory and I came across positive psychology; it was exactly what I was searching for: a perfect approach to the empowerment of people who feel hopeless and this helps to explain why I am so very excited about the prospect of studying in your program. Through my social work experience, I have come to realize that without learning the tools and developing sufficient intellectual maturity for doing professional research, I would soon face a wall. I need to learn how to think critically and systematically, collecting data and evaluating evidence, and testing hypotheses so that I can someday publish about empowerment in the most effective way possible, thereby making the meaningful contribution that I crave in this area.

My application to your program is bolstered by several invaluable professional experiences such as working with the University XXX C-Stars Project studying immigrant parents and children and their acculturation challenges, as well as working at a Korean resource center, researching the prevalence of dementia and depression among older Korean immigrants. These experiences have helped me to better appreciate how research and practice should go hand in hand. Your program is the optimal program for me to learn how to fulfill my central professional dream of disseminating positive psychology to organizations working on behalf of disadvantage and underserved the most vulnerable members of our society. I deeply appreciate your consideration of my application.

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