We Speak A Universal Language

"Even though there were barriers, numbers told my stories."

Alyssa X.

Yeon Cho: Immigrated from Seoul, Korea

December 16, 2019

From across the table, I see puddles of tears growing beneath her chestnut brown eyes. I lean forward, straining to listen, “I was ready to go home but they wouldn’t let me.” In broken phrases and long pauses, Yeon Cho continues her story. “When I first came to America, I was an outsider with only my husband. Because I grew up in Korea, my English wasn’t proficient. My lack of language was the reason I was isolated and an outcast to everyone else.”  

Yeon explains that her connection with math was her portal into society. “My job as an actuary didn’t require me to speak fluent English because we communicated through math.” I could see her face brighten as she described bridging connections with her colleagues. “Even though there were barriers, numbers told my stories. Being a foreigner, math was a language that I shared with the people around me.”  

I ask her how her life is different because she is an immigrant. She takes a deep breath and begins her response. “When I first came to the United States, people thought I was stupid or silly because I couldn’t express myself in English.” Even after receiving deprecatory remarks, she never doubted her intelligence and that propelled her to acquire better language skills.  

“After 12 years I have found my place in the community. I still may not have fluent English, but to me that is a privilege. My accent is a piece of my cultural identity that can always remain with me though I am living in another country.”