On Wednesday, November 12th, former AAFE youth program participant, Yuan “Julie” Jin, was invited to the annual Korean American Community Foundation (KACF) gala as their grantee partner speaker. The event, held at the Waldorf Astoria, brought together leaders, philanthropists and supporters of the Korean American community, and celebrated KACF’s work. In her speech, Julie acknowledged the mentorship and support she received from AAFE’s Program Manager of Youth and Family Development, Diana Yi, and Douglas Nam Le, Director of Policy and Leadership Development.
Julie emigrated to the U.S. in 2009 and graduated from Flushing High School, where, as a 9th grader, she first got involved in AAFE’s Immigrant Youth Leadership Program. She is currently studying Dietetics and Nutrition at SUNY Buffalo State University. Julie’s full speech is printed below:
Good evening everyone. My name is Yuan Jin, Julie to my friends, and I’m very happy to be here tonight to speak about my American journey for the last five years.
I am of Korean ancestry but I was born and raised in China. My family came to US in 2009 to give me more opportunities, but at first, the new language, culture and food made me feel like I was on another planet. Everything was difficult.
I started school as freshman at Flushing High School. I was very shy and could’t even make eye contact with people. Language was always the biggest problem. I couldn’t understand what my teachers were saying. I wanted to talk to people and make friends, but I was afraid that I would not be able to carry on conversations. So I always sat in a corner and waited for people to come talk to me first. It was a lonely place to be.
One day Diana from Asian American for Equality visited my history class and told me about their Immigrant Youth Leadership program. I found out that I would have the chance to learn about college and go on college trips for free, so I decided to join. I’m glad that I did, because that started my journey which led me to where I am today.
I think it is important for organizations like AAFE to exist and KACF to support youth leadership programs, because these programs help Immigrant students like me and make them feel safe and comfortable when everything feels intimidating and confusing. I looked forward to going to the weekly meetings and learning new skills. I made friends in the program and my English started improving.
In my senior year, I was selected to be a Youth Leader to help my classmates makes their college choices and complete their applications. I was motivated to help them, because my own road to college acceptance was not easy. For the past 4 years, I felt reassured that I had someone and a place to go when I needed help. Diana helped me a lot, not only on school issues, but also with my personal problems. She became my second mom. My parents were also relieved because they wanted to guide me but didn’t know where to start.
I am proud to be freshman this year at SUNY Buffalo State and first in my family to go to college. I know I am here today because of my parents, support that I received from AAFE, and many others who have helped me. Because of that, I want to give back and be a mentor to somebody in the future, too.
I really want to say “Thank you” to AAFE, especially Douglas and Diana, for what they did for me and many other students. I also want to thank KACF for funding AAFE to be able to help teens like me. And thank you for inviting me to share my story. When I was asked to make a speech in front of almost a thousand people I was so happy but also worried, nervous and a little scared. But as I was writing this, I had a chance to reflect back on my journey, and I am so grateful. I am the confident person I am today, because of the experiences.
Last but not least, I want to say thank you to my parents: I think this is the first time I’m saying this, but Dad and Mom, thank you for raising me. I love you.