IUPUI's Yu finally unlocks secrets to college success: involvement and connection

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Jaeyho Yu. Photo courtesy of the Office of International Affairs

This story is about a transfer student, an international student and a nontraditional student. But this isn't a story about three different people, just Jaehyo Yu.

To say "just" is a disservice to the native of Seoul, South Korea, who followed an educational path from U.S. coast to U.S. coast before finally finding his niche in mid-America at IUPUI. Fitting into so many demographic groups, each with its own challenges, has been trying for Yu. While he's battled each one, he's also conquered them.

Perhaps the biggest struggles have stemmed from language and cultural barriers. Although he moved to the United States at age 14, settling in tiny Pottsville, Pennsylvania, he still has to put in extra effort on schoolwork just to keep up. Early in his academic career, that meant he excelled more at science and math, subjects that didn't require as strong of a command of English.

Yu, an accounting and finance major in the Kelley School of Business, has relied on American classmates to help overcome his language and cultural obstacles.

"Good American friends have helped me with any aspect of whatever I was struggling with. That doesn't have to be 10 friends; just one or two good friends," Yu said. "The very first semester here, I joined Delta Sigma Pi. One of the brothers invited me to his family Thanksgiving dinner knowing I wouldn't go back to Korea just for Thanksgiving. I thought that was really great because it had been a while since the last time I had an American Thanksgiving dinner at an American house. Things like that really help you when you're struggling and having hard times trying to adjust here."

Another major challenge for Yu? Watching former classmates move on -- taking managerial positions, getting married, starting families -- while he is still completing his degree.

Yu began his college career at Binghamton University. His ultimate dream had been NYU, to which he was drawn by the excitement and bustle of New York City. When his acceptance failed to come through, he headed for Binghamton not realizing just how different, and thus disappointing, his experience would be.

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A native of South Korea, Jaehyo Yu has remained involved in the international community since coming to IUPUI as a transfer student. Photo courtesy of Jaehyo Yu

Then came the financial crisis in 2008, and he saw it as an opportune time to complete his mandatory service in Korea. He headed home and served as an interpreter and translator for the Korean military, and when he returned to the United States two years later, he enrolled at Seattle Central Community College. 

"Throughout that time, I always knew I wanted to do something in the business field. I knew that Kelley has a really great program here. I was like, 'IUPUI sounds good. I've lived on the East Coast for several years and Seattle on the West Coast. Why not the Midwest?'"

Yu had a new lease on his academic life that he wasn't going to squander.

"Things have changed a lot as a transfer," he said. "Since IUPUI is my third college, I promised myself that I'm not going to let this opportunity go. I think I kind of failed before, not being successful at college, so the first thing I decided to do was get involved as much as possible on campus, which I really love to do. I just didn't take the initiative to do so at my previous colleges."

His first move after arriving on campus in the fall of 2015 was to become a student transition specialist, guiding new first-year students through the ins and outs of IUPUI during summer orientation. Then he joined the professional fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and the International Peer Mentoring program and took positions with the Division of Student Affairs planning JagVenture and Weeks of Welcome to help others find their own niche on campus.

"I realized over time that the more you're active on campus, the more you're involved, the more engaged you are in both academics and non-academics. That was really crucial to the first couple of semesters here for me to actually settle here, make friends and also be successful at classes."

Yu is the perfect example of how committing to the total student experience can result in huge payoffs. His internship with Cummins turned into a full-time position with its supply chain finance group after he graduates later this month. He says he has been happier here than at any other of his other stops along the way.

While he hasn't always seen the silver lining to his situation, now he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Looking back, all those years that I spent in college elsewhere, they're all part of me now. Once you actually embrace all the things that happened and embrace that that's who you are and that's what makes you unique, those years could be very different years, very meaningful years that are unique to you."