Picture it: College graduation
Excitement. Relief. Anticipation. For Soo, that moment wasn't a given. Her family emigrated from Korea and she grew up of modest means. In spite of her big dreams, some people suggested she lower her life expectations—maybe even give up on her school of choice—because of cost.
"My father told me, 'When you work, work hard. When you play, play hard.' That stayed with me. So, I didn't believe the naysayers. I knew that if I wanted it enough, I could do anything."
After being the first in her family to graduate college, what Soo wanted was to serve others. "Over the years, there were people outside my family who believed in me. Teachers who pushed me. Friends who loved me. Strangers who'd been kind to me. I wanted to give back to the world for all I'd already received. It was my thank-you."
She headed into the Peace Corps for two years after college. Destination: Togo, West Africa.
Picture it: Dirt roads
Dwellings made of dusty aluminum sheets and brown mud. No electricity or running water. People with many unmet basic human needs.
With the ink on her diploma still drying and her loved ones across the world, Togo was a huge adjustment. "For the Togolese, survival was a daily challenge. Folks, especially the young, would die from things like snake bites, dehydration, malnutrition. The nearest town with electricity—spotty at best—was 10 miles away, and carrying enough water for one day was practically a full-time job."
Soo stayed for two years. Besides speaking English and Korean, Soo's fluent in French and put it to good use in Togo as she got to know the villagers. "Despite the harsh challenges, the Togolese were grateful, hard-working and optimistic. Everyone was smiling all the time and it was inspiring. No matter what your struggles are, there's always someone who has it worse. To this day, I can't bring myself to let the water run while I brush my teeth. I truly know how precious clean running water is."
Coming back to the States took some adjustment. "I had a hard time readjusting to the sheer abundance I once took for granted."
Soo's continued volunteer efforts have included leading book drives for kids, toiletry drives for homeless women, running a marathon to raise money for cystic fibrosis, mentoring young women who are early in their professional careers, and serving on the board of a local non-profit committed to eradicating tuberculosis worldwide.
If you ask Soo what she’s most proud of, she’s too humble to have an immediate answer. Besides her 3-year old son, she said, "I'm most proud of just doing my best every day because goals change." She added, "And never accepting the limits other people put on me."