When Youthful Dreams Reach to the Stars

Moon Jung was born and raised in Busan, Korea. Korean society deeply reveres and honors the family name and heritage. The Jung family was no different, maybe more so, due to Jung’s father being a direct descendant of famed Korean scholar Confucius. Jung remembers traveling to the homes of relatives as a child to carry out ancestral rites for grandparents and others, as a regular part of his upbringing. Similarly in Korean culture, a very high value is placed on education, which is where his story really unfolded.

As Jung puts it, “It is well known around the world that [Korean education] is super competitive.”  Jung was committed to achieving academic excellence for himself and to honor his family. But he would discover early an internal question that chafed a bit against the grain. “Since fourth grade, I had dreamed of studying abroad. As I went through school, I sensed deep in my heart that my country’s education was lacking the interactive approach I saw in the United States.” That conundrum remained even as the young student poured himself into his studies. “I remember studying at a private academic institute until midnight every day after the normal school day ended at 3 p.m.” 

In a bit of providential irony, upon being elected president of his middle school student body, Jung saw a poster in his home room about studying abroad—at what seemed a reasonable cost—and Jung’s quietly-held question returned. “My family was living a decent life, but not affluent enough to easily include studying abroad.” But Jung had to act. “I told my parents during dinner that I wanted to study in America. I remember my father’s immediate response, slamming his hand on the dinner table and yelling, “Are you crazy?! Studying abroad from my family?” While the meal became quiet after that, the poster had sparked Jung’s dream and it was growing into a flame.

Determination Leads to Calvin University
Jung launched what he calls “a month-long ‘war’ with my parents.” He fasted and showed them how costs of Korean schooling and private after-school studies were no more burdensome than a ‘one-off’ payment to study abroad. “I continued to convince them in every way I could think of to show what the merits would be.” His determination ultimately won out and his family agreed. Jung began an American high school education, starting in Missouri and transferring to Grand Rapids, Michigan in his sophomore year, where he attended Grand Rapids Christian High School.


Entering Calvin, Jung recalls appreciating that he felt comfortable and familiar with West Michigan thanks to his high school introduction. “I was surprised by two things I encountered at Calvin relating to my Korean heritage: the large Korean student body at Calvin University and how different they were from me, who had been raised in Korea. Many were children of missionaries or pastors, so their lives bore little resemblance to mine, as a product of a traditional Korean family in name, practice, and geography. They gave me a new understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity – where they were called ‘MKs’ and ‘PKs’ (missionary’s and pastor’s kids), they called me and those like me ‘BKs’ – business kids who had come from families of Korean businessmen. When I first hung out and heard this jargon, I thought they were talking about some sort of computer game.”

Jung, who had envisioned himself as a successful businessman since childhood majored in marketing with a double minor in architecture and psychology. His study habits served him well in academics while immersing also into university culture. He recalls, “I wanted to be popular, and I was very active in the student body—I guess I achieved that by feeling that I was pretty well-known, eventually running for president of Student Senate.  I may have been too worried about popularity. It may be natural at that stage in life, but I placed too much emphasis on it. I truly think the relationships I built with my professors are the most rewarding aspect of my journey, in addition to my education. I felt such a connection with Professor Eames and Professor Jen. They taught me so much and were a big part of my daily life at Calvin. Not only were they always willing to listen and give good advice, their kindness, warmth, creativity, and wisdom – too many things to list—strongly influenced the person I am today.”

Crisis Cultivates Faith

When discussing the impact of Calvin’s faith foundation, Jung explains that his family’s strong Confucian heritage had not stopped Christianity from appearing in his life, although it was Calvin University that helped him apply it. “My mother became a Christian first, when I was in grade school. She was diligent about trying to convince my father to go with her to church. Finally, he said he would try it. After agreeing to attend, he was walking to his small manufacturing factory when a neon red Korean church cross fell from its peak and hit the back of his head. These crosses are very large – a call for worshipers whose red neon light stands for the blood of Christ. There was no wind or weather. It was a freak accident. He was gravely injured, but before losing consciousness, he managed to call my mom and tell her he was severely injured and where he was.”

“I found out about the accident late that night after my evening schooling. My father was not expected to survive. My mom would not let me go to the hospital, so there I was at home trying to distract myself with anything. My brain as a young boy panicked – I thought I would not be able to go to college or school because I would have to support my family. As a side note, I carried guilt over that reaction for years until one of my Calvin psychology classes taught about brain activity and thinking of people experiencing trauma. But that night, when nothing was working, I decided to try something I never had done. Prayer. I went onto our veranda and sat down. The moon was very bright, and I started to pray. I hated Christians at that point, but I had nothing to lose. I prayed along the lines of, ‘God, Buddha, Allah or any divine being in this world, please save my father this one time and I will do anything for you,’ My first-ever prayer was heard. While my father was bedridden for a month, he fully recovered. The doctors said it was a miracle—assisted by his rock-hard head.”

Once recovered, my father became very faithful at church. He was a very responsible man before that incident but had smoked since childhood and drank on a regular basis. With newfound faith, he quit everything and became kinder and more relaxed. To this day, I don’t understand how my father processed nearly being killed by that falling cross as a call from God. I think I would have gone in the opposite direction. But that was a seed of faith for me. At Calvin, my faith matured dramatically. I gained fundamental Bible knowledge in class and was free to ask many questions, which I did! I would even ask the same question many times until I fully understood. Calvin professors were not fearful of complex matters of faith.”

Graduation Launches a Life

As Jung’s academic, spiritual, and social maturity advanced, he hoped to gain permanent U.S. residency. He knew, however, that South Korea’s compulsory military requirement would call him back for at least a time. Following his Calvin graduation, Jung returned to Korea, working hard to become a commissioned officer for the Republic of Korea Air Force. “Even though becoming an officer called for twice the duration of service, I preferred it to the controlled life of a conscript soldier. I didn’t want to waste the investment my family had made so I could study abroad. I became an interpreting officer, in part thanks to my time at Calvin. The competition for interpreting officer is very challenging – an 8:1 failure to success ratio. I was blessed and proud to pass the exam on the first try.”

Jung’s military service was fruitful. “I made close connections with Korean officers. Strangely, or perhaps not, the ones I became closest to always turned out to be Christians. God always placed the right people at the right time throughout my life. This was also the case for my current career position.”

In reflecting on his pathway from Calvin, compulsory service and career building, Jung’s story demonstrates the blessings of knowledge, talent, connections, and work ethic.  Jung explains, “Thanks to my journey in America, to Calvin University and back home for military service, I received my first management position at Airbus Defense & Space. Throughout, as I shared, God strategically placed Christians on my path. Soon, I was managing campaigns for aircraft fleets like CN-235 medium transport aircraft and KC-330 Multi Role Tanker Transport for the Republic of Korea Air Force and C-212 small transport aircraft for the Korea Coast Guard. Then, an Executive VP at Airbus Korea office invited me to speak with him. It became a three-hour discussion. He was asking me to be his replacement, to oversee Korean space campaigns for Airbus D&S when he retired. We spent three precious years of me learning everything about the space businesses in Korea. What is so noteworthy is that he is also a Christian. During all the business trips we made together, we also talked a lot about our faith. All of this was from God.”

A Strong Foundation Fuels the Future

“As I look back on my Calvin University years, I encourage new students to truly appreciate and take advantage of the size of the school that allows you to learn from the wise and the best while you are young. Don’t worry about being “popular” like I did. I cared too much about how I was perceived. By hard work and respect, being kind and gaining knowledge, that is how to be true to yourself."