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I'm Going to Change the World by Creating Spaces for the Homeless, Immigrant and International Kids

Minhee Choi

  • Practice Method:
    Management in Human Services/Social Policy and Evaluation
  • Practice Area:
    Community and Social Systems
  • Scholarship:
    Geeta Dutta Memorial Scholarship
  • Field Placement:
    The University Church, Toledo

If your life is going to be completely disrupted, Minhee Choi thinks fourteen is about the best age for it to happen. That's when Minhee came to the U.S. from South Korea with her parents. (She has remained a South Korean citizen.) "The cultural adjustment was hard," she says, "plus the language barrier and not having had a childhood in the U.S." Fourteen turned out to be the right age for Minhee to absorb the English language-and American culture--while being able to retain her original language and identity. Her struggle to assimilate also inspired her. When she eventually came to Michigan as an undergraduate, she worked with young immigrants and international students who could relate to her story. "What I went through helps me be a role model," she says. "Someone young people can talk to."

Minhee began at UM as an undergraduate student with an architecture major. In her junior year she studied abroad in Southeast Asia, working with Habitat for Humanity in the wake of floods in Thailand. The next year, back in Michigan, she and her classmates worked on social justice architecture projects. Minhee was moving closer to social work. She knew the number one Social Work School in the nation was at UM, but tuition was an issue.

She recalls, "I was interested in the delineation of four different practice methods here, and the focus on macro practice, which is rare for schools of social work. I heard so many good things from students. As an international student, and we don't financial aid. I was thinking about postponing a year because of lack of funds." Then came word that she was the recipient of the School's Geeta Dutta Memorial Scholarship, established by Kalyan Dutta and Kristine Siefert in honor of Kalyan's mother.

"Because of this scholarship," Minhee says, "I don't have to work during the school year. I am able to do more in the community. I really appreciate that." This includes work with Mission A2, a nonprofit that helps our local homeless population. Minhee's architecture background helps her advise them on an accessory dwelling unit they are building on Stone School Road. She assisted in an after-school mentoring program with Toledo Medical School students. She is also involved with UM's International Center. "I'm passionate about international students coming to," she says.

Going forward, Minhee hopes to work in nonprofit management. "I am interested in social enterprise," she says, "in what is needed to make nonprofits run and be able to advocate for clients, especially in terms of funding streams." Minhee plans to stay in Ann Arbor, as she is so deeply involved in the community here, but she is looking forward to exploring the greater Detroit area. Ann Arbor is great," she says, "and I want to bring what I've learned in school to the wider community and beyond. Next year I plan to visit Korea and share what I learned at UM."

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