Philanthropist and business owner, international student

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Wanting to redistribute the wealth to the disenfranchised and poor


Matt Wuscher/Courtesy Photo
Hongjae Ryu, a South Korean International Student, is not the typical international student.

Hongjae Ryu, a South Korean International Student, is not the typical international student. Before coming to Pierce College, he followed a Korean tradition and served in the military. He also ran a small nonprofit organization in Vietnam which makes him a lot older from many other international student.

While living in Ha Giang of Vietnam, Ryu saw the children of his company that were sixteen or fifteen years old experiencing poverty and homelessness. He also witnessed how people in Hanoi lived and how they were able to drive luxury cars and thought the economic disparity was unfair.

His motivations to study abroad and to major in economics stemmed from this experience. “I organized a nonprofit business to provide free food for the community because the people of Vietnam and other countries are still developing and experiencing poverty. I wanted to give them hope and sustainability. I strongly want to make funds for people in third world countries and that’s why I’m wanting to study economics here at the U.S,” Ryu said.

Ryu talked about his struggles in education and the opportunities given to him by South Korea. According to Ryu, “I was born in a small city called Geochang and it was hard to obtain the resources for education to study internationally liked the United States. I didn’t know about the universities or colleges there besides the Ivy Leagues until I went to Vietnam and learned more.”

He researched community colleges elsewhere until deciding on Pierce as it had a small Korean society and the ratio of International students was balanced. “It was the perfect place and I could even improve my English skills,” he said.

The culture shock he experienced from moving from South Korea to the United States was mostly related to his education expectations. “It’s a great opportunity to talk with a lot of people from different countries. It’s not like my country’s education because I can take whatever courses I want and choose my professor,” Ryu said.

He gained more than an education while living in the United States. He gained insight into an environment different from his roots. “When I was in Korea I competed with a lot of students because we all wanted a good job and career. It was about survival and the U.S. is different in how there are more friendly and helpful. I had to learn how to live with others and cooperate with them in order to survive in society,” he said.