Student Profile - Mary Kim

Greatest gift found in serving others

Mary KimMary Kim is preparing to pursue her passion of helping others with a nursing degree from Lamar University. The sophomore pre-nursing major from Beaumont is a member of the Zomi tribe in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

She has few personal memories of Myanmar, as she immigrated to the U.S. at age 3 with her mother and older brother to join her father who had entered the U.S. on political asylum a couple years earlier to escape persecution from the military dictatorship that ruled the nation of around 50 million at that time.

Although the population of Myanmar is 68 percent Bamar (Burmese), is also home to more than 20 distinct minority ethnic groups. A military junta in 2000 led to hundreds of thousands of displaced persons among minority ethnic groups. Prejudice, class-stratification and religious intolerance contributed to human rights violations recognized by the United Nations, Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, as well as lack of access to basic human needs. Multi-party elections in 2010 ended five decades of military rule and the nominally civilian government has moved closer to becoming a free democratic system.

The Zomi people (Zomi means Hill people) are a large group of related Tibeto-Burman Hill people spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Myanmar, and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. There are about 5 million Zomi in the world.

“Our tribe was looked down upon by the Burmese people because of our low state of development,” she said. “Therefore, my family had little access to education, health care, or opportunities.”  

That reality contributed to the early death of her grandmother, Kim said. When her grandmother had become ill, the family had no money for treatment. “I would like to give to others what I did not have the opportunity to have,” she said. 

Kim has chosen to pursue a degree in nursing because the major combines scientific knowledge and genuine caring. “The interactions I hope to have with patients will be priceless and beyond any paycheck,” she said. “God is leading me toward nursing and hopefully I will get to care for his people.”

Outside the classroom, Kim has taught and worked as an assistant manager at Kumon Learning Center and as an oral surgery assistant. She has volunteered at Baptist Hospital for two summers, helping nurses with a variety of tasks as a hospital volunteer and nurse assistant.

“The experience that I gained volunteering in the hospital has allowed me to see and experience hands-on patient care,” Kim said. “Each day, I continue to learn new things through the relationships I build.”

She serves her local church, Calvary Baptist, in working with children throughout the year, as well as Vacation Bible School and mission trips during Spring Break.

“Although I will still be in school and working in the hospital, I plan to spend any free time I have volunteering in my community and church,” Kim said. “The greatest gift I receive is in serving others.”

In the summer of 2016, she and her family were able to spend time in Myanmar where they visited with extended family. It was an eye-opening experience for her as she could see instances of continuing prejudices and hardships that she has not had to deal with growing up in Southeast Texas.

She has learned more of her parent’s struggles in Myanmar. When her mother was a teenager, “she was forced to help build the railroad there, and her father was killed by someone in the government. Then it was all up to my mom,” Kim said. “She worked as a street vendor selling clothes and other things to get money so her brothers could get an education.”

Kim’s mother read about America in a newspaper. “It seemed so glamorous to her, so nice,” she said. “In Burma, we didn’t get meat or milk but once a week, and even then it was just a small amount. When my dad came to the U.S., we remained behind, and things got worse.”

When they were reunited in the U.S., they were one of very few Zomi families in the country. Those numbers have grown, with a significant enclave in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“At home, we only speak our language because we don’t want to forget our tribal roots,” Kim said. That desire to keep their cultural identity is shared by other Zomi as they celebrate cultural holidays, and attend conferences in the summer with others from the Zomi tribe.

“I know that my parents came here to find a better future for me,” Kim said. “Whether or not they get to enjoy the luxury that my mom read about, it was more for their children and grandchildren that they came.”

While Kim knew she would pursue a degree to, in part, fulfill her parents’ wishes, she settled the direction through her own experiences. Although in a better situation than in Burma, finances were still tight. “We weren’t able to go to the doctor regularly,” Kim said. Payments would be out of pocket, and those pockets weren’t deep. While struggling with a persistent sinus infection in 5th grade, a family nurse practitioner helped her, and her family, by extending extra care in explaining what was going on, and in helping identify affordable and effective treatment. “I saw all of his degrees were from Lamar,” Kim said. “I thought ‘that’s interesting.’ Even then seeds were being planted.”

While working in the family owned restaurant, she saved tips for health expenses and, someday, for college. That dream of a college degree received a huge boost when she was selected as a Smith-Hutson Scholar.

The generous scholarship is granted to entering freshmen with established financial need and academic potential who are seeking an undergraduate degree from Lamar University in any major field. Taking into account other scholarships that the student may receive and the student’s and parents’ financial resources, the Smith-Hutson Scholarship provides assistance to cover tuition, books, fees, and reasonable living expenses on campus. Kim is also supported by the “I Have A Dream Scholarship” and a scholarship from Rotary International.

Kim’s academic performance has earned her spots on the Deans’ and President’s Lists, membership in the National Honor Society and she was recently chosen to serve as a Lamar University Ambassador.

“I have a desire to serve and help other people. I find it a humbling experience to be able to do something every day that matters in life,” she said of a future career in nursing,” Kim said. She sees nursing as a skill that she can use in global missions, bringing relief to those in need.

She also has a passion for serving veterans.   “I really appreciate people who sacrifice for others,” she said. “In America, we have such great freedoms and that’s because of their sacrifice.”