How Community College Gave Me a Second Chance

How Community College Gave Me a Second Chance

How Community College Gave Me a Second Chance

Feb 22, 2024

By Guest Contributor Seong Kim

Seong Kim is a student of Northampton Community College-Monroe in Pennsylvania. He is Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s International Vice President for Division I. In 2022, Kim was named a Jack Kent Cooke Semi-Finalist, and he received the Quetcy Dueno Leadership Award from his college and the Oberndorf Lifeline Scholarship and Guistwhite Scholarship from PTK.

“Okay, just one more try,” was my life’s motto. My parents being North Korean refugees led to much scrutiny while living in South Korea, so they eventually decided to move to the U.S. for a better future. I remember my parents always reminding me, “We’re here for opportunities.” Before those opportunities arrived, I faced many hardships. From family finances to the language barrier, and the moment I realized I was different. I was in second grade; I would shout loud profanity across the room and struggle to sit down longer than 10 minutes. Tourette’s they would call it. Bullying would be a constant issue, but no more than trying to learn. For what it was worth, I still did “okay.”

It wasn’t until my father passed away when I was 10 that I started completely shutting myself off from the world. I recall watching movies and films 24/7 to numb the emotional pain. There would be days when I would ditch class and skip assignments. Watching all my friends graduate and get accepted into prestigious universities, I was envious, while I sat there without even applying to a single college let alone knowing what I wanted to do in life. Sure, I was interested in math and technology – which branched off from my love of entertainment, particularly sci-fi movies like Star Wars. But this passion felt undeserved for someone on the verge of giving up.

I almost thought I wouldn’t make it to higher ed until my counselor told me about community college. As a first-generation student, all I knew were the traditional rules: graduate high school and attend a four-year university. With admission deadlines so close and the desperation of wanting to change my situation, I enrolled in Northampton Community College.

At first, everything seemed daunting for someone trying to start over. Growing up, I watched my mother work tirelessly to provide for our family, but navigating the intricacies of academia was uncharted territory for all of us. As I stepped onto the campus of my local community college, I was met with a whirlwind of emotions—excitement mingled with apprehension, hope intertwined with uncertainty. The initial weeks at community college were a tumultuous period marked by personal struggles. Imposter syndrome gnawed at my confidence, whispering incessant doubts about my worthiness to be among my peers. Anxiety became my constant companion, casting a shadow over every assignment and exam.

However, a student leader on campus told me about how student-run clubs and honor societies, like Phi Theta Kappa, helped her transfer into her dream school. Everything she discussed felt foreign to me, especially the idea of leadership. Even then, as if some invisible force controlled my lips, I asked, “Are you looking for new members?” I got involved and with each passing semester, I found myself in leadership positions, gaining confidence and momentum. Through grit and determination, I conquered social and academic hurdles that once seemed insurmountable. I sought out resources such as tutoring services and counseling to address my academic needs. I experienced the wealth of opportunities provided by the school but most importantly the platform to rebuild myself through clubs and organizations.

Community college is a beacon of hope—a community of fellow students, faculty, and mentors who embraced me with open arms. Study groups became sanctuaries of shared knowledge where I found camaraderie in the collective pursuit of academic excellence. Professors and advisors offered not just instruction but unwavering encouragement and belief in my potential.

Slowly but surely, I began to redefine my narrative—from a problematic first-generation student plagued by self-doubt to someone capable of achieving greatness.

The “community” in community college is often referred to as the locality of the college. However, I see this from a different lens. It’s where bonds are forged through shared struggles and triumphs from various identities from parents to incarcerated students, immigrants, and people like me looking for second chances. I found a sense of belonging within a community that celebrated diversity and embraced each individual’s journey with empathy and support.

As I prepare to transfer to a four-year university, I carry with me the invaluable lessons learned from my time at my community college. Although my journey may be long and windy, I face it with newfound confidence and tenacity. I am no longer defined by the obstacles I’ve overcome but by the resilience that propelled me forward.

In retrospect, community college wasn’t just a second chance. It was a lifeline that rekindled my passion for learning and empowered me to defy the odds. To students embarking on their own journeys, I offer this advice: Embrace the challenges, lean on your community, and never underestimate your story. The path may be laid with obstacles, but with perseverance and commitment to grow, the possibilities are endless.

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