My Experiences of Education as a Privilege

I am an undergraduate junior. I go to class; I take notes; I go back to my place, and I do more work. It’s a routine that most students have, along with jobs, family obligations, the occasional or frequent free time, etc. Fifteen years ago, however, I never thought that I would be at this point. I didn’t believe that it was possible.

As this is my first post, let me introduce myself. Hi, my name is Nicole. I am a native Korean who came to America when I was 7. At birth, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition popular amongst premature babies that affects nerves and muscles of those who have it. This condition, like many others, has a spectrum; one person’s severity can be different from another and no two people are the same when it comes to physical ability.

Growing up with my disability in my home country was a battle. There were little to no ramp access in streets and around buildings; elevators were hard to find, if there were any in some places at all; my intellectual capability were heavily undermined by not only children but their parents, but above all else, I was denied a proper education from schools. In my younger childhood years from the day I was born to the day that my family decided to move to America, there were no anti-discrimination acts adopted. When I was 6, my parents tried to send me to grade school, just as most parents would, and every one of them denied me due to my disability. School administrators told my parents that I would be too much work for the teachers and that I would not have enough mental capacity to follow along academically with the other kids in class. All of the schools shook their heads to letting me in and pointed me to one of the only special education schools even remotely nearby. This school was an insult to disabled kids. The administration and a lot of the teachers taught down instead of up. It had seemed at the time as if they gave up on the students. When I started there, I was being taught the Korean equivalent to the alphabet for 6 months. I saw disabled students being treated as if they were helpless with no higher expectations, but that was the only option that they, and I, had.

I remember my parents taking me out of that school and putting me into private English classes in order to prep me for America. I was 6 years old, and the tutors there actually assessed what I knew. They let me show them what I was capable of before judging me and putting me into a box. That was the first time that I ever felt confident about my intelligence. I was able to prove myself to others as I was a young child in a class of 13-year-olds, the class that I tested into. The parents of my peers were furious to know that I, a kid who is supposed to be less capable than their children, was in the same class being taught the same material as the other students. Moms and dads were angry at the administration claiming that “the tests were too easy” and that I “can’t possibly be smart.” Everyone knew that I was different, and they felt that they needed to show it. After a few months of these lessons, my parents and I came to America, so I can go to school. I never had a kindergarten education, and I was in first grade for a week. I basically started school in second grade as a struggling foreign student. Now, I’m in college and it feels like a dream to me.

Since then, Korea has had an anti-discrimination bill adopted in 2005, but I am glad to have had a chance to succeed academically before that thanks to my parents. Looking back on my past now, I feel truly blessed for all of the opportunities that I have had in my life. It reminds me that education is a privilege, not necessarily a right.

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