When she first enrolled in Ewha Womans University majoring in education in 1977, professor Park was one of the brightest students in her class and was surrounded by expectant professors as a promising future educator. Thus, when she decided to change the field of pursuit to special education, she faced many objections from most of her peers and mentors in school. Despite the concerned opposition of many, she did not meekly withdraw her decision. She knew what she wanted. She wished to select a field that combines her passion, academics and career.
“In a world where everyone cultivates themselves to elevate their own values, there are those who are not even able to support themselves, and they have always existed, even since the prehistoric times,” Professor Park said. “I was fascinated with a field that enables someone to professionally lend a helping hand to the marginalized in a society of endless competition and individualism.”
After graduating from university, professor Park entered graduate school at Syracuse University in the United States in 1981, expanding her academic boundaries and knowledge as a special educator. She returned to Korea in 1991 and took a position at Ewha, teaching students as a professor ever since. As a passionate educator, she not only loves students wholeheartedly but also extends her affection and takes care of people with disabilities with her heart.
Professor Park launched the first university-affiliated program for young adults with developmental disabilities in 2001 at Ewha’s School of Continuing Education, under the title of “Ewha Academy for Community Living of Adults with Developmental Disabilities (E-ACOLA).” As the pioneer of such program in Korea, E-ACOLA provides a post-secondary education for those with developmental disabilities. With her strong attachment, professor Park has taught her students of E-ACOLA without any compensation.
“I always try to maintain an equal balance among education, research duty and service,” professor Park said. “By serving those with intellectual disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders, I simply am awed by the blessing given to me. As a special education professor, I endeavor to make everyday contact with them.”
A few years after E-ACOLA was established, professor Park submitted a research proposal to the Korea Employment Agency in 2008 for the disabled, which eventually led Ewha to be the first university to employ those who are mentally handicapped. Currently, a total of seven are hired as part-time staff members in Ewha.
Professor Park stresses the importance of human understanding attained through her service. She does not serve people out of pity or obligation, but in hopes to elevate understanding human nature.
“It is just normal that innocuous but peculiar feelings are generated when people confront others with intellectual disabilities,” professor Park said. “But those feelings are themselves valuable, because humans are all linked together in one large society, and through those feelings a sense of connection to minorities in society is aroused, which deepens the understanding of what being human means.”
Professor Park gently urges Ewha students to reflect on their prejudice toward those with developmental disabilities.
“The people with developmental disabilities are indeed different from most of us,” professor Park said. “Yet, once you begin to take a closer look at them, you will realize that in fact, there is much less difference and a lot more similarities.”
Professor Park believes that people with disabilities are just like the rest of us. They desire and give love, and they wish to be appreciated and dislike being ignored.
“If we just climb over the barrier, we are all fundamentally alike, and this paradigm is all you need to accept them as who they are,” professor Park said.