Justin is a former KYCC youth program participant who volunteered at TEAM and LEAD—two Youth Services program that eventually merged to become BRIDGE. A recipient of the four-year JUMP Scholarship offered by a generous Korean American donor who prefers to remain anonymous, Justin graduated from UC San Diego in 2020 with a degree in Business Psychology. Currently, Justin is working at Tech on Demand, which coincidentally is a firm that provides IT services to KYCC!

Where is your hometown?

I was born in Seoul, Korea and came to the States in January 2005. My family was living with my aunt, uncle and cousin in Hollywood and then we found our own place in Silverlake. When I first came to the U.S., I went to Cheremoya Elementary School in Hollywood right by my uncle’s house and then to Laurel Elementary School in West Hollywood. My parents worked in Koreatown, so the drive wasn’t too bad.

My dad used to own a pet store on Highland Avenue. It was mostly a dog-oriented pet store—lots of Malteses, lots of Yorkshire terriers, dog toys. We also had a pet grooming service. My mom worked at travel agencies—first, a Korean travel agency a little past Wilshire and Highland and another on 6th and Catalina which closed down. Now she works at Hana Tour booking flights and tours and my dad is a contractor who oversees paint and cleaning jobs for apartments and homes. I have one younger sister—she currently goes to Immaculate Heart.

We moved to Koreatown in January 2010 during my winter break in 6th Grade. It was very refreshing and a good change of pace because I had lived so far away from my friends, but now we could hang out together. There’s just more to do here. The two most common things I did was watch a movie at the Grove or play basketball with my friends, either at school or Pan Pacific Park. When I was younger, I didn’t do much in Koreatown with my friends and in middle school, we didn’t stay in K-Town. Once I hit high school, I started hanging around this neighborhood a lot to eat food. In the CGV Mall, we’d go to Doni Burger because it was cheap and filling—it’s a Chinese food place now. We would also go to a PC Bang on 6th and Western called Ari PC to play League of Legends.

Where do you go to school?

I’m at the end of my Fall Quarter of my Senior Year at UCSD. I am majoring in Business Psychology and it’s really interesting. I was originally a Clinical Psychology major and Business minor until I switched majors towards the end of my junior year. I realized that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in and I enjoyed my business classes a lot, so I switched over.

There are a couple of ways I see myself going. One option is that I really want to work in Human Resources. Not only does it feel most relevant to my major and gives me a chance to apply a lot of things I’ve learned throughout college, but at the end of the day, I think it’s what I’m good at: resolving conflict, evaluating performance, and finding ways people can improve through performance appraisals. IT (Information Technology) is the other option. At the end of my freshman year, I applied for an IT position in school and enjoyed it more than I thought. Ever since I was young, I liked messing around with computers and fixing common issues that people run into.

As a university student, what does it mean to you to be a JUMP Scholarship recipient?

The scholarship was from an anonymous donor and I don’t know who he or she is. Towards the beginning of my freshman year, Ernie [former KYCC Youth Services Manager, now Volunteer Coordinator] told me through email that I was chosen to receive this scholarship. At first. I was taken aback and wondered, “Why me?” It was intended to help students of lower-income families with any fees they might run into throughout college. I was really grateful and it meant a lot to me because my family hasn’t always been the most well-off, and to use that money for extra costs like textbooks would save my parents a lot of money. I felt that it could be used to alleviate a lot of pressure off of them and even me.

The scholarship awarded me $5,000 to use for school purposes, and I mainly used the funds for housing, textbooks, and a new laptop for school. Without the scholarship, it would have been a lot harder to get by—especially a big investment like a laptop.

If you could speak to the donor of the JUMP Scholarship, what would you say?

I would just say thank you because it goes beyond the money. Every year, there were expectations to meet, like a GPA of 3.0 or above, and to send a letter updating my progress. I fell short on multiple occasions and struggled a lot in college academically which was a real eye-opener. In high school, I was at the top of my class but when I got to college, I realized that high school was easy. College was a different animal and I think I felt the stress and pressure build up because of the shorter time frame of the quarter system. This scholarship was guaranteed to be renewed every year and I thought for certain, I wouldn’t receive it. Junior year was by far my toughest year in college. I struggled a lot academically and mentally with the realization that I would graduate in a year and would have to look for internships and job opportunities. I slipped up a lot in terms of meeting requirements so I didn’t think I would receive it again and would have to live with the consequences of my actions or inactions.

I was emotional when Ernie sent me the email saying that I would receive it again. It gave me a lot of strength to know that a person who has never met me has faith in me because I had always questioned myself in the past and self-confidence has always been a challenge for me. It was a tremendous honor to receive this opportunity and it gave me a lot of strength and encouragement to know someone believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

What are your thoughts on Koreatown?

Because I spent the majority of my time in San Diego these past three years, it’s refreshing to come back every now and then to see that for the most part, things are the same. I don’t know what the Koreatown community’s stance is on certain issues, like the incident with Little Bangladesh. The Korean community was very vocal about that.

One thing that worries me is that Koreatown is becoming gentrified right now. Even this place (Alchemist Coffee Project)—I didn’t even know was made. I’m not against gentrification as it can make Koreatown a tourist destination, which is good. But with gentrification comes a higher cost of living, and that’s a valid concern because residents who have lived here for so long are facing higher rental fees. That’s the one part that really bothers me.

I have seen my family’s rent rise. My parents pay more than I do for my apartment in La Jolla, and I would argue that my apartment is nicer. That being said, we are paying a cheaper price because we’ve been grandfathered in, so I can’t even imagine looking for a new unit. I don’t think they’re too stressed financially, but I’m not sure.

Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?

That’s a tough one. There’s a Korean BBQ place on Third called Tenraku. I wouldn’t say this place is necessarily special, but it holds a lot of meaning for me because whenever I come home from college, I go with my family. My dad really likes it there. The owner is also my sister’s friend’s dad, so they’d chat with us and give us some free things on the side every now and then. We order the combos that come with various cuts of meat. Tenraku has meaning for me because it’s one of the first places I go to when I’m back home and it’s become a place where I catch up with my family the most.