|Park (second from left) does not waste a second in her daily life. On her way to SilverNetNews on subway, she reads countless articles and books which are basis of her writing. Photo provided by Park Yoon-ja.
A pure white wedding dress and a dark solemn graduation gown could not be granted at the same time to then 23 year-old Ewha undergraduate. Since its establishment, Ewha had maintained a regulation that only single students could be admitted and those who got married before graduation would be expelled. Park Yoon-ja (62’, Psychology) was one of the students who had to quit school due to early marriage. In 2003, Ewha abolished its regulation, which opened its gate to Park to re-enter Ewha in 2004.
“On hearing the news that the regulation had been abolished, I booked a flight to Korea,” Park recalled. Park was staying in the U.S. to look after her daughter for postnatal care.
During her second campus life, Park put all her efforts in studying and fulfilling the last 40 years’ yearning for diploma. However, over studying brought deterioration of her health.
“I thought I could die writing my theses and even so there would have been not a single regret over my decision,” Park said. Park’s eyes were brimming with tears. Being referred to as the oldest graduate in Ewha’s history brought her so much honor and pride.
Park earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in August 2005, and graduated from Ewha Graduate School of Social Welfare and School of International Studies as minor in August 2008. Thinking over further academic path, Park visited the late Dr. Lee Sook-rye (1924~2014), the second Ewha student to receive a PhD and the former dean of graduate school of education. The advice from her mapped out the path of Park’s rest of life.
“I was thinking of going to the U.S. and getting a PhD,” Park said. “However, Dr. Lee encouraged me to pay my debt to our society until I become 80 years old and then continue my studies in the U.S.”
Since then, Park aspires to become the oldest student in the world to earn a PhD abroad. During the remaining ten years until her destination before she becomes 80, Park is pulling up the anchor to get close to the dream. To make a basis for her study, she is currently writing articles in four different foreign languages in SilverNetNews.
Working as a reporter for the SilverNetNews gives her unceasing challenge and motivation. SilverNetNews is an online media organized by the elderly with an average age of 67. Park summarizes the organization as “standing by the silver, for the silver and of the silver.”
As a vice managing editor in Foreign Affairs, Park covers news in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese. At the same time, she also reviews her junior colleagues’ articles. Park states her lifelong duty as a SilverNetNews reporter of “playing a bridging role of society where old and young generations live together in harmony through my news coverage activities and a field of my studies hanging between 20th and 21st century as a late bloomer.”
With the invaluable experience of having studied in two different centuries, Park finds her merits in linking the divided society caused by generational conflict with her deep understanding in the life of today’s youth with whom she had studied in the campus.
Besides being the oldest PhD recipient in the world, Park dreams of becoming a teacher for the young.
“If I were allowed a few more years after I get the PhD, I hope to open up a cozy house in outskirts of the city, and gather children in the age of my great-grand sons and daughters,” Park remarked. “I will teach them Korean, French, Spanish, Chinese and so on, and feed them with organic food from the garden I have put care on.”
She thinks that one of the solutions for two generations to understand each other is through bequeathing the traditional values to the young through education and sharing the duty of nurturing with the educated elderly like Park herself.
“These days, I think young people have been raised with not enough love and care, as today’s education focuses only on relaying knowledge,” Park said.
She thinks the loss of warmth and importance on personality in education often lead to conflicts between two different generations. “If an elderly like me could work as a ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa’ teacher, we can possibly close the generation gap by relaying education on our traditional values with love and care,” Park said.
To achieve the dream of becoming a ‘grandma’ teacher, Park is constantly writing articles in various foreign languages. To teach future great grand-sons and daughters, she is constantly challenging herself to store more knowledge and wisdom to convey to the young of the society.
“One of the fellow reporters told me that I seem like a person not mature yet, meaning that I keep on challenging myself with conviction to fulfill my goals, which I agree to a certain degree,” Park said.