Elementary school in South Korea was not an optimal learning environment for Holly Han. Her insatiable curiosity, keen intellect, and unbridled comments frequently landed her into hot water with her teachers.
“I experienced a rough time in elementary and middle school because the education system was very different. They discouraged students from asking questions. I would challenge teachers if they didn’t really make sense.”
Cross-examining her teachers was regarded as a direct challenge to their authority. This did not bode well for Holly. She was perceived as a troublemaker, and was often punished as a result.
- Newton’s Third Law of Motion - For every action there is equal and opposite reaction.
“It was very frustrating so my parents advised me not to not go to high school, study by myself, take a national exam and move on. That was our original plan.”
That plan might have worked, but Holly suffered from a universal teenage malady - inertia.
“It turned out that I did not have much self-discipline,” Holly laughed, recalling her futile self-taught efforts. I was not able to commit myself to a strict routine of studying, so I ended up playing with my friends and not studying at all.”
After three months of “just hanging out,” Holly’s mother approached her with the idea of going to school abroad.
- Law of Inertia - A body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, except in so far as it is compelled by external impressed forces to change that state.
“My parents didn’t have lots of money to send me to the States or somewhere else very expensive, so we looked into cheaper countries - but they were not known for a good education”.
After thoroughly researching their options, Canada proved to be the clear-cut choice for Holly and her family.
“It was safe. It was cheaper than the States, but it was also an English-speaking country, a very developed country, and a very peaceful country - with nature. Education was also good. So it was a perfect place. It was a good balance.”
Holly’s parents heard about Niagara Christian Collegiate through an education agency in South Korea.
“And it sounded perfect. It was exciting to think about attending a school somewhere else - but at the same time, it was nerve-breaking…a mixed feeling of excitement and concern.”
Holly faced many challenges while transitioning to her new home in Canada. Due to a setback in obtaining a study permit, Holly arrived in Canada weeks after school began. As a result, she felt left behind.
“Things move fast here (at the school). From Day 1 you start studying. It was kind of late to get caught up with everything. Everyone had already developed friendships, so it was hard to fit in because I saw friends in groups already. And we were in page 50 or 60 of textbooks, so I didn’t know where to start. There were many things to adjust to for the first time. It was beautiful, first of all, but also I didn’t know where to start so I felt quite lost.
“It was difficult to adjust in the middle of the first semester. Mid-term hit. It was my second day at school. I was in grade 10 math and they were having a quiz. I didn’t know what to write.”
Holly’s mid-term grades were poor due to the late start. She was then sent for tutoring which proved to be incredibly discouraging for this bright young student.
“I remember seeing the Honour Roll for the first time. I didn’t know what it was so I asked other students what this was about. They said these are people who got their grades above 80%, and this Honour Roll gets sent to your family. Then your parents know that you are doing well. There was another Korean girl who was in grade 11 and had arrived two days before me. She was late starting school, but she studied hard enough within that short amount of time and managed to put herself on the Honour Roll.”
- Newton’s Second Law of Motion - The rate of change of momentum is proportional to the impressed force and takes place in the direction of the straight line in which the force acts.
“Seeing that girl’s name on the Honour Roll really shocked me. I was ashamed of myself. What have I been doing while this girl has been doing her best? I had been really discouraged and I didn’t really try hard to adjust myself in the new environment. At that point, I felt like I got hit on the back of my head!”
Holly’s irrepressible determination bounced back in full force. She vowed that by the next exam, her name would be on the Honour Roll and she’d make her parents proud. By the final exam that same year - and every year that followed - Holly Han’s name was on the Honour Roll.
Earning this distinction meant more to Holly than just academic achievement.
“…not just to represent myself as a kid with high grades, but it was more meaningful to me that I was working with what I had been given, and feeling grateful, even though I was away from family and homesick - but at the same time I needed to do my job. It was then that I developed the self-commitment and determination to work really hard. I chose to do my best. Everything started to work out really, really well.”
With this fresh injection of determination, Holly saw that her learning style was encouraged at NCC.
“One of the things that stood out the most, was that in Canadian culture, people are respected; an individual is respected just for his or her being. People see you as a person. In Korea I was the same kid with the same level of curiosity - just asking questions and challenging when things are wrong and accepting when things are right. I was the same kid, but I was always a troublemaker. But when I came to NCC, I was a good student. I was perceived as a good student because I had my own opinion. I had questions. It was really different because I never changed. I was just the same kid as I was in Korea, but how people treated me, how people perceived me as an individual was shockingly different. That really helped me adjust in this new school environment. I really developed myself as a person who is always trying to learn and not being discouraged by anything that comes to block my passion.”
From that point, Holly gave it her all when it came to academic studies and developing her athletic skills.
“The academics were very demanding. Each class was 75 minutes long. It’s quite a long time for one class and you’re doing that every single day for four courses during one semester. It was very challenging for sure.
“I joined sports teams which was a great way to interact with Canadian students. When you’re playing sports, you don’t really need language. You need to communicate but the communication is done through body actions and athletic performance. It made it so much easier to develop friendships with Canadian friends. That gave me confidence. You had practice, you had games, you had tournaments…I missed a lot of classes. I had to catch up a lot. I think high school was the time I studied the most in terms of trying to keep a balance between the two. That balance was really good, but to keep that balance I had to put out 100% for sure.”
“I was good at biology and chemistry . I was not good at physics, but I ended up majoring in physics in university!”
Following high school, Holly attended the University of Toronto to obtain her undergraduate degree in Physics Specialist, with a major in Math.
In the middle of these studies, Holly took three years off to travel. She hiked in the Himalayas, went on an expedition in the Kyrgyzstan mountains, and walked cross country from the southern tip of South Korea to the border between South and North Korea in the spirit and hope of the reunification of these two countries.
With her wanderlust satisfied for a time, Holly returned to Toronto and completed her undergraduate studies. She moved on to graduate studies at McGill University, and will complete her PhD program in Geo Physics this year.
She continues to stay active and participates in intramural soccer at McGill University as a referee, a supervisor, as well as a player. Holly also has a passion for the traditional Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do and earned her 5th Dan. Seven years ago, Holly earned her Master Instructor certificate.
“Life at NCC definitely helped me. It sent me on to the next step - university - not only academically but in terms of the discipline that I developed here. The education was very demanding at NCC. I pushed really hard. This lifestyle and being committed to keeping a high level of academic and athletic performances really helped me to develop as a person who can be committed and determined to do what I want to do…what I set as a goal.”
Holly’s future plans include living well, continually learning and developing, and to keep loving.
“To be aware of what’s going on and always observe what I do and how I interact with people. I want to really use my skills that I developed through this PhD training as a scientist. I want to contribute my work to society and bring my passion into it. The reason why I chose to go into GeoPhysics is because I wanted to combine my academic background which is physics, with my personal passion, which is the outdoors and going out into nature, which is the earth. I am combining my passion outside academia then at the same time I am contributing to academia and science. So that’s my plan.”
In physics, when an object is moving, it takes force to stop it or change its motion. The more velocity it has, the more force it takes to stop.
It looks like no force on earth will be able to stop this kid from Korea!