Faculty Profile: Youngkhill Lee July 23, 2009
Youngkhill Lee is enjoying his “limbo” state from a cultural sense.
"I am not truly American and I am not truly Korean, either,” said Lee with a laugh. He has lived in America for the past 25 years, after spending the first 25 years of his life in South Korea. Lee, who teaches recreational therapy at Calvin, enjoys taking the best from both cultures.
Outside the zone
"Korea is my home country,” Lee said. “It is the place where everything is familiar and you have people that you can easily talk to. You eat your favorite food. Everything is convenient, comfortable, easy, and friendly.”
He feels outside of his comfort zone living in the United States, but he also feels that God often calls people to leave their comfort zone. He attributes much of his growth as a Christian and as a scholar to being uncomfortable.
Lee remembered watching his first women’s soccer game in 1984.
"I laughed so hard because I had never seen a group of women playing soccer,” said Lee. “I think I must have looked like a crazy man, just laughing so hard watching women playing soccer. Now many Korean women play soccer, but, back then, it was quite hilarious to me.”
Expressions of friendship are also different in the two cultures, he said:
"The way that we express intimacy in Korea is such that if someone is your buddy, you can put your arm around them and feel comfortable. I did that once with my American friend, and that offended him,” said Lee. “That was shocking.”
Hospitality and love
America provided another shock for Lee in the form of Christian friends:
"My parents usually worshipped Buddha, moon, sun, trees, big rocks,” said Lee with a chuckle. “And I was encouraged not to have any particular religion. My dad used to say: ‘You will lose strength if you have any type of religions.’” But Lee found the evangelizing he experienced as a graduate student at the University of Oregon hard to resist.
"Many Americans didn’t show that kind of hospitality,” said Lee, “but this small Christian group, loved me, served me, talked with me, and listened to me.” He said it felt natural to listen to their stories about Jesus Christ and learn about salvation.
"I felt that this was really cool,” said Lee. “If you encountered a love and hospitality that way, it’s very hard to refuse.” Lee began to attend church and Bible study groups while at Oregon, but he began his relationship with God later on, when he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Georgia (UGA).
Lee remembered that it was a beautiful day outside, and he was walking to pick up a book from the UGA library: “All of a sudden I began to experience that God is real, and He sent Jesus to save me, not us—it is very personal. My head knowledge came down to my heart!,” said Lee. “All I could do in response to that was crying hard in the middle of UGA campus, although I had smiles on my face because of the joy that was overwhelming. In order not to be sent to a psychiatric hospital, due to the abnormal-looking behavior, I just came back to my office and cried more for a couple of hours because the joy was amazing. I was determined to follow him. I said: ‘Yes Lord, You are my LORD, You came to save me, and I’ll follow You.’”
Following the call
Lee has worked hard to stay mobile and follow God’s call since that time. After nine years at Indiana University, he left in 2008 to come to Calvin College because he felt it was God’s call to do so. Lee’s son Michael, now a junior, had begun attending Calvin in 2006.
"In 2007, I visited Calvin College to pick him up to go to Niagara Falls for a family vacation,” said Lee (adding that Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Dance, and Sport chairman Don DeGraaf had recently sent him an announcement of a job opportunity in that department.)
"At Niagara Falls the whole family meditated together every morning. We do the same thing now, but then it was the section where Jesus called the disciples and they left their boat to follow Jesus. I just passed that verse when I was reading, and then I just read it again, and, all of a sudden, I felt like God was nudging me to leave (Indiana).”
And so Lee came to a Christian college for the first time in his life. He is currently a professor of recreational therapy in the HPERDS department. DeGraaf, who is a friend from Lee’s days at Oregon, has helped him make the transition to Calvin smoothly.
"He was always a very genuine person,” said Lee, “I never imagined that we would work together in this way.” DeGraaf said the department was lucky to add Lee and added: “He is driven and he has very much of a passion to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.”
Transformation through recreation
Lee has produced 80 refereed article and more than 20 other publications, including two books, several book chapters, almost 90 professional presentations. He has earned 11 grants, focused on recreational therapy and totaling over $425,000.
"A lot of people associate recreation with fun," said Lee. "But thinking of using recreation for changing people’s lives through rehabilitation—I thought that idea was awesome."
Lee, who was the Spoelhof-Scholar-In-Residence-Chair for the past school year, has spent much of his time lately reading up on disabilities, recreation, and many topics in his research areas from a Christian perspective.
"I don’t know where my research will go in the next few years, but I feel very positive that my research will be deepened,” said Lee. “Exploring the Christian faith and the things I have done: I think that will improve my research in general.”
~ by Matt Decker, communications and marketing