If you are reading this, you have been recruited for an important task. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to lend a helping hand (...full of cash) to join my epic coming-home story.
*photoshop credit to Jason Merges!
Homeward Bound: Return of the Joe-di
This story begins nearly 20 years ago in Korea: I was in the 2nd grade and still struggling with my ABCs when I was told that my father, an engineer, had been transferred to his company's branch in America. Suddenly, at the tender age of nine, I was bound for the wild and exotic Great State of New Jersey(TM).
Growing up in NJ wasn't so bad. After a few years in ESL, I began communicating with my peers in their native language, English. Although it took some time, I eventually embraced sarcasm and my personality began to really shine through the language barrier. Before long all differences were forgotten, friendships began to blossom, and life in the New World became enjoyable.
But as with all good stories, there comes a twist: following the tragedies of 9/11 and the global financial shockwave, my father's company went under and suddenly, our family was left behind in a foreign country without the sponsorship and support of a corporate employer. Despite my father's best attempts, re-employment as a foreign national in the States was nearly impossible. Despite receiving some offers from other firms in Korea, he decided that life in the States was better for me and my younger brother, particularly our education. With the risk of overstaying our visas, my father gave up his career as a telecommunications engineer. Historians may look back on this turning point and determine that golf may have also played a role in his decision to stay...
So life for us continued on in the States, this time undocumented. My father began work in dry cleaning and my mom, a homemaker of 15 years, began learning the delicate art of manicures. Without documentation, I could not get my driver's license in high school and ultimately, many of my friends became aware of our family's status. I was incredibly embarrassed at first of being what some referred to as a "second-class" citizen and having to hide in the shadows. However, I was blessed enough to make real friends in the States who looked beyond my status, who reached into the shadows and dragged me into the light. We ventured on road trips, where for 22-hour long rides all I had to do was DJ and enjoy the scenery. These friends were an integral part of my day-to-day, and they made me feel like I belonged.
(Jason, Luke, myself, and Mike at a Relay for Life event in high school, circa 2007)
(Four of us before our senior prom, 2007)
(Four of us at a summer luau-themed graduation party, 2007)
(The gang as superheroes at a Rely for Life event, 2009)
(The morning of my departure in 2011)
Upon graduating from university in 2011, I chose to return to Korea alone for mandatory military service. While I no longer faced the social burdens of being undocumented, I also had to say goodbye to everything I knew and loved: my friends, my family, and my sense of "home." Perhaps just as difficult, I also had to say goodbye to my friend's pasta and peas, good pizza, and fresh bagels.
Six years and a stint in Special Forces later, I'm now in a long-term relationship with my PhD research in computational biology at Seoul National University. Meanwhile, two of the clowns who got me through life in the States, Mike and Luke, claim to be marrying real-life humans this fall/winter season. I'm still skeptical, but as they say, seeing is believing -- and more importantly, everyone loves an open bar amirite amirite (hey-oooooo!).
All this is to say: it is time for me to come "home." I want to be there for my best friends, like they were there for me. I want to attend their weddings, to meet their future wives, to remain a part of their lives. However, due to my previous undocumented status, I am legally barred from re-entering the States until 2021. Fortunately, there exists an appeal process for certain cases like mine.
But it will cost me dearly: all in all, the entire appeal process will require around $4K for legal fees. Though I may be rich in good looks, as far as finances go, I unfortunately cannot afford this sum alone.
Full disclosure, the success for this appeal process is **not guaranteed** and the time for its review and decision could overshoot both weddings. However, we all agreed that this is the best shot I have at reuniting with my childhood friends even if it is not at their weddings.
As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and this young Korean boy once again needs help from his American "family."
So I beg you: please consider making a cameo musical performance on my new hot single: Coming Home ft. Skylar Grey by Diddy. Or in other words, please help me out in my quest back home to the ones that helped shape the person I am today.
Breakdown of how the donations will be used:
$3,500 for legal fees including consultation of legal counsel and appeals application preparation
$500 for application processing and submission fees
For transparency, as GoFundMe doesn't support Korean bank accounts, the donations will be going to my girlfriend's account. Caitlin Cronin, contact information is available upon request.