In middle school, Bohoon (“Bo”) Shim was already considering what a successful path toward college would look like for him. And when he graduated from 8th grade at an international school in Korea, he decided that going to high school in the U.S. was part of that path.
He had already spent some time away from home for schooling in the U.S. from 3rd to 6th grade at a small, Christian school in Antioch, Illinois. When he came back home for 7th and 8th grades, his parents expected him to stay for high school. But they allowed their only child to make the call to go back.
“They let me know: ‘You have your own choices to make.’ They never forced me to do anything but trusted me to do what I needed to do. They were supportive and would always ask me what I needed for what I was doing,” Bo said. “They gave me that trust, and all my life, I’ve never wanted to break it. I want to do what I need to do because they trust me to do it.”
Discovering his voice
That trust in Bo to be independent propelled him into an environment in which he found himself to be the only Asian student in a class of 200 at a private school in the Chicago suburbs of the North Shore. It was here where he found his voice.
He wrote in his Common App essay about a pivotal moment: “I raised my hand high. That moment, I forgot I was the shy kid … . But the very fact that I was Asian allowed me to answer a question that drew a blank for others. … My teacher gave a short clap and, with a smile on his face, asked what I ate for breakfast. I told him an apple. Then he told the rest of the class, ‘Everyone, make sure to eat an apple tomorrow morning.’”
Bo had previously perceived himself as an outsider and put himself in a box as the “smart and quiet Asian.” He thought the best he could do is get straight As but then came to realize: “My contribution as a learner and classmate was much more powerful than a letter grade,” he said.
Growing beyond the classroom
His parents’ support also inspired him to try various activities to expand his interests and abilities beyond the classroom. Devoted to his high school soccer team all four years, he led team-building activities. At church, he became the youth praise band leader and sought to step in whenever he saw a need or an opportunity to help worship services run smoothly.
Wanting others to experience the same self-respect he had gained in the classroom, he sought opportunities to share with others the education he was receiving. “I felt for students who had never gotten past limiting self-images,” Bo said. “I wanted other students to discover their voice, too.”
As a sophomore, he began assisting middle school students (many who were under-resourced academically and financially) to understand and complete their homework. Soon after, he mentored a scholar of Monster Education Foundation, an organization that identifies young changemakers in struggling neighborhoods of Chicago and supports them toward higher education. Bo helped a boy brainstorm and plan a community service project in the summer of 2015 and another one this past summer.
Heeding wise advice
More Than Scores And Tests led Bo to these tutoring and mentoring opportunities during his college consulting, in which he was nudged toward experiences he would enjoy. “In doing them, I was able to see more clearly what I had a passion for and who I am as a person,” he said.
Bo believes that a key part of self-discovery is heeding wise advice. He did so with his uncle, his guardian with whom he lives along with his grandparents. This uncle connected the teen to More Than SAT and has been instrumental in the boy’s life since the previous time Bo stayed with him in grade school. At a time when the boy frequently lost his belongings, the uncle showed him how to use a paper planner to make him more mindful daily. He also encouraged Bo to express his emotions and affections, especially to family members. Bo further appreciates the way his uncle influences his studies by first observing and asking questions before making any suggestions. “I welcome his feedback and actively respond to it,” Bo said.
Passing on wisdom
Hence one thing Bo would advise fellow teens to do is: “Be willing to listen to what others have to say. Don’t be offended by criticism or feedback.” While Bo doesn’t shun the counsel of others who offer it to him, he admits that he has to get better at seeking it on his own. “That’s the next step,” he said.
Another thing: It’s OK to set high expectations for yourself. “Setting high expectations for myself helped me,” Bo said. “I wanted to meet those expectations because I didn’t want to disappoint myself.”
On a more practical note from Bo: “Spread your school work throughout the week. This will make your life easier, help you get more sleep, and keep you on a consistent lifestyle. Just because you don’t have work due tomorrow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any work today. Planning ahead made my life more manageable, less stressful. And when I’m less stressed, I can focus better on what I’m doing and produce higher quality work. I hate working under pressure. I have to feel that, in everything I’m doing, I have it under control. I want to feel this certainty that I know I’m going to finish my work when I need to.”
Listening to feedback, setting high expectations, and planning ahead are principles that will help anyone—not just those heading to Johns Hopkins! More importantly, they help maintain parents’ trust.