About Karen Chung
Special Learning caused my divorce. It did. Because I chose my business over my marriage. I poured my my heart and soul into this business the minute I decided I had a new mission in life – to help parents of kids with Autism. Maintaining this business has been a challenge. Statistics will tell you that 50% of businesses fail after 5 years.
After 10 years, only 30% remains… And Special Learning will be celebrating it’s 12th year on May 15, 2022.
Why do I share this? Because in studying the new BACB Ethics Code and thinking through the section on Diversity, I started to think about what this really means to people. What does examining your own biases mean? How does this translate into my actions and behaviors? Because of some poor choices my father made in Korea, my family was forced to immigrated to the US in 1975 when I was 9. I am the oldest of the 4 siblings. With the exception of my dad, who spoke some English, none of knew even a single word of English. According to him, we came here with just $500. I believe him. We lived with my aunt’s family of 4, in their cramped 2 bedroom apartment in an area of Chicago that was probably considered the “projects” – i.e. inner city / poverty stricken, for a month. This was very temporary as my uncle had taken a job in Detroit so they were scheduled to move. During that month, my dad found a job so we were able to move to the only place we could afford, a furnished roach-infested studio apartment located in the basement of a brownstone.
Within about 6 months, my dad got laid off from his job and found another one working in a factory. He was able to find a job for my mom as well. From October 1975, I became the primary caregiver for my 3 younger siblings, the youngest was 3. While we lived in Chicago, the kids attended a public school that offered ESL. Unfortunately, both ESL teachers were Korean and there were many Korean students in the ESL program so while we were able to develop a social network, we didn’t learn much English during the one year we attended.
In 1976, my parents had saved up enough money to put a down payment on a townhouse in a suburb of Chicago so we moved to Streamwood, IL. We were the second Korean family in Streamwood. School was a blur. Kids are amazingly resilient! In spite of fact that we didn’t know any English, all the kids managed to attend regular school (the school didn’t offer an ESL program) and somehow learned to not just read and write but progress academically. While we were living in Chicago, my parents extended an invitation for my half sister to come live with us. She was 16 when she immigrated. Like us, she didn’t know a word of English, but somehow, she not only managed academically, but figured out a way to apply and get accepted into a university. She and I recently connected at a much deeper level when I spent the week at her house during my mom’s PTSD crisis. In spite of her lack of college education (she dropped out after the first year due to family circumstances) I learned that she is one of the strongest and smartest person that I know. Because of the adversities she was forced to face and was able to overcome, my mom also fits into that bucket. This is an interesting reflection for me because neither of them have what I have worked so hard to acquire, higher education and a professional career, but yet when I think about the adversities they had to overcome, I don’t know that I would have had the same strength…
While living in Streamwood, my father secured a part-time job for the paper delivering daily circulars. Most mornings, we would wake up at 4am and load up our station wagon with thousands of individually wrapped newspapers (mostly of Ads) and head out the door. My dad would drop each of us (with the exception of my baby sister) at strategic locations in neighborhoods we were assigned to cover and we would walk door to door placing the bundles of papers that we were carrying on the door knobs of people’s homes. My dad would drive around to replenish the papers so there was never much downtime. In looking back, that was a logistics feat. He ended up in later years working for the post office but he would have made an amazing logistics person! We saved enough money delivering circulars for my parents to put a down payment to build a new house in a nearly suburb about 15 minutes away. We moved to Schaumburg in 1978, I think. I started freshmen year in Schaumburg. That was the year we got to pick our own names. My Korean name is Eun Jin. It means precious jewel.
Schaumburg is the first time I remember facing over discrimination. I was walking to my job at Burger King (I had tons of jobs growing up), minding my own business when I heard someone call out “hey chink.” Chink is a derogatory word for Chinese but is used indiscriminately by ignorant people to whom all Asians look alike. The connotation of the word would be equivalent to calling a black person “nigger.” I don’t remember what my reaction was. Probably shock. I was as shy as a mouse back then so I probably stopped, processed the word and kept walking.
My high school years were fairly routine. We continued to deliver papers, but mostly on the weekends. I was responsible for cooking and cleaning so I rarely did anything social outside of regular school. But I was involved with orchestra (I used to play the Cello) and choir and remember performing. I think our orchestra made it to state one year to compete at U of I in Urbana, IL. We didn’t place, but the experience of staying at a hotel with a pool (It was a Holiday Inn) for the first time in my life was amazing!
I continued to have various jobs throughout high school. I never spent anything that I made. Everything went to my dad to contribute to the household finance. I got a scholarship to attend University of Illinois but was unable to attend because of personal reasons. When I was 19, my father and brother got into an altercation he got kicked out. The person that I had just started dating was amazingly kind hearted and invited my brother to live with him and his 3 room mates. My brother spent his summer living there. He later moved back home to finish off his senior year in college. I ended up marrying my ex-husband when I was 19.