“At the young age of 21, my son, Byung-Soo, left us behind. Why did he rush so much? He didn”t even give his mom and dad, or his friends, a chance to say goodbye,” Jung Sun Park said at a memorial yesterday on the one-year anniversary of her son”s death.
Park, the mother of Byung-Soo Kim, an international student who died last November of alcohol poisoning after drinking shots on his 21st birthday, addressed a crowd of about 50 family members, friends and faculty yesterday, honoring what would have been her son”s 22nd birthday.
“This is the fifth death of a Korean student at U of M since 1997,” said Dr. Daniel Pak, who was recently hired by the University to further address the issue.
A sermon delivered by Hun-Suk Bae, a Korean minister, implored those present to do three things: “I ask you to live by faith, to live with good motivation and to live with commitment, as if you”re fighting for something.”
University Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper also made a request.
“I encourage all of us to love each other, to support each other and to have compassion. The only thing to not make this a total waste is to change students” behavior,” Harper said.
Park said that in addition to honoring the memory of her son, the organizers of the memorial also hoped to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Her husband, Ha Young Kim, said the University should deal with the issue of excessive alcohol consumption.
“We need to start a campaign against heavy drinking, which is a bad habit, and need to educate freshmen especially,” he said.
While LSA freshman Jimin Oh, an international student from Korea, said she thinks Kim”s death has reduced the pressure to drink at parties, Harper is still doubtful.
“It”s not as if people don”t understand drinking is risky. I want students to know it doesn”t just happen to the others. It can happen to you,” Harper said.
Pak said the University has made a commitment to do more research on alcohol-related deaths of ethnic and international students, but he already has a theory as to why drinking seems to be such a problem among foreign students.
“The students feel disconnected with the community, from other student groups, from the faculty. The challenge we face now is how we connect (these students) to the community,” Pak said.
Harper said in addition to an increase in available counseling services, students will also receive a birthday card on their 21st birthdays. The card, constructed by the leaders of the Michigan Student Assembly and the Greek community, points out the dangers of excessive drinking and encourages people to use caution when drinking, she said.
Park said her son may have felt forced to consume so much alcohol on his birthday.
“The custom of forcing a person to drink 21 shots for his or her 21st birthday is somewhat similar to Korean college students” drinking customs. Perhaps, my son believed that he had to drink the same number of alcohol shots to be accepted as an adult.”
Harper agreed that peer pressure seems to be a central reason as to why students drink. But the solution, she said, is “understanding what it means to love and have compassion for others. (It means) I don”t let you do things that hurt you. And it”s a matter of loving them more than you want to be accepted,” she said.
As people lined up to pay their respects to Kim”s family, they received small crosses to wear around their necks.
“If we cannot overcome death, let us live by faith,” Bae said.
Park concluded her sentiments by expressing what her son might have said if he had been at the memorial.
“In heaven, perhaps Byung-Soo is saying something like this: “Mom and Dad, I came here leaving so many things behind. Please ask someone to carry on for me. You taught me how to drive so carefully, but why didn”t you teach me that alcohol can kill a person?””