Jung-Woong Yoon returns home for military duty.

After soaking in the New York Stock Exchange, serving in South Korea’s Air Force will be a big shift for Yoon, here with Drew classmates. Photo by Bill Cardoni
After soaking in the New York Stock Exchange, serving in South Korea’s Air Force will be a big shift for Yoon, here with Drew classmates. Photo by Bill Cardoni

Ask Baldwin Honors Scholar Jung-Woong Yoon a simple question and you might get a complicated answer. Like his age. “I’m 23 in American age, but 24 in Korean,” he answers. Or his cultural identity. “It’s complicated. I’ve been here so long I’ve adopted American culture, but I’m not American and I don’t feel Korean. I feel I’m stuck in the middle.”

Not that such things ever held him back. That’s good, since his life is about to get more complicated. Yoon, a rising senior majoring in economics and Chinese studies who just completed the Wall Street Semester, is taking a two-year break from school to fulfill his military service obligation to South Korea. He could postpone serving but wants it behind him before graduating and starting a career, so he’ll begin Air Force training later this summer. “To be honest, I’m not looking forward to it,” says Yoon, a class senator. “I’ll miss Drew, I’ll miss Madison, I’ll miss America in general. When I get back, all my friends will be gone. But it’s unavoidable.”

Yoon, who is here on a student visa, came to the U.S. at 16 with a younger brother while their parents remained in Seosan, South Korea. His mother, a professor, and father, a dentist, believed their sons would benefit from educational opportunities in the Raleigh-Durham area. The teenagers lived with legal guardians at first, but moved into a house after they became fluent in English. “My parents were kind of worried, but they trusted me,” says Yoon, who graduated from the Camelot Academy in Durham, a private high school. He visited Drew at the suggestion of a guidance counselor, and fell in love with the campus. His brother Jungin is a student at American University.

Despite increased provocation by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who has threatened to attack South Korea, Yoon does not worry he will be pulled into a war. “I’m not really nervous. In general, the media tend to exaggerate. He’s made these threats before.”—Mary Jo Patterson