To Bo-Mi Choi ’94, Calvin served as a gateway to America. “As a teenager, I had seen a lot of American movies, and I always had fantasies of going to the States,” she said. “Many of my friends were going to France or England, but I thought this would be so much better.”
Choi first heard of Calvin through a flyer she received in her honors English class. “Calvin was looking for a foreign language assistant for their German department,” said Choi, who is of Korean descent but was raised in Hamburg, Germany. “It was an exchange — a year at an American college for working in the department. I thought it was a great opportunity.”
Initially, Choi spent one year at Calvin — 1989–90 — then returned to Germany to work on a law degree. “I had really enjoyed the philosophy classes at Calvin, though, and often thought of returning,” she said.
In 1992 she did return, earning a degree in philosophy in 1994. “One thing I learned being at Calvin was the way in which faith is incorporated; it permeates everything,” she said. “In Germany church is a Sunday thing.”
Choi’s father was originally baptized as a Lutheran Protestant; her mother is an agnostic with Buddhist leanings.
“My parents are very free thinkers. They never thought that they would choose what I believe,” said Choi.
From Calvin, Choi went to the University of Chicago on a fellowship in history and then on to Boston, where she is a fellow at Harvard’s Center for European Studies. Choi studies modern European history with a focus on German culture and thought in the 19th and 20th centuries. She is completing her doctorate at the University of Chicago.
She recently returned to Calvin as the first presenter for the Alumni Lecture Series, speaking on Thomas Mann and Theodor W. Adorno, German exiles who fled the Nazis and landed in Los Angeles in the 1940s.
Having been in the U.S. for more than a decade now, Choi believes she has good insight into the American soul.
“Coming to America has allowed me to integrate all of my different experiences — Korean, German and American,” she said. “My biggest cultural attachment to Korea is the food,” she said. “I think and dream in English, but I still count in German.”
For her parents, watching Choi establish herself in America has been difficult.
“My dad thought it was a great idea to do a year abroad; he never envisioned that I would ‘get stuck’ in the States,” she said.
Choi plans to stay in the U.S. and would like to find a tenure-track teaching position when she completes her doctorate.
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