By Jordyn Holliday
College of DuPage student Young Hak Ahn has dedicated much of his life to exploring the world and people around him.
Ahn earned his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kentucky in 1971, entered the Ph.D. program at Cornell University and carved out a successful career as a statistician. That impressive background of professional and academic accomplishments did not prevent the now 81-year-old from continuing to pursue his passion for education and immersing himself in a variety of cultures.
Since first arriving on COD’s campus in 1978, Ahn (Naperville) has completed more than 400 credit hours of courses in a variety of topics, such as art history, physical education, music, horticulture and foreign language. He is also well-traveled, as he has participated in 21 of the College’s Field and Experiential Learning/Study Abroad programs.
With educational trips to Italy, France, Germany and other countries under his belt, he said his interest in studying abroad is inspired by his belief that people should always look to enhance their global and cultural awareness.
“Through learning foreign languages and experiencing other environments, you can expand your vision of the world,” he said. “People in different countries express ideas and emotions in different ways, so understanding how they communicate makes it easier to not offend them.”
Ahn’s experiences in the classroom and abroad have done more than enrich his global competence and language skills. His commitment to learning has sparked the interest of many within the COD community.
Maren McKellin, Field Studies/Study Abroad/Global Education program manager, described Ahn as a fixture in the program and said that his dedication as a student at the College is intriguing.
“When someone comes back 21 times to study with professors and go all around the world, you want to know more about what is motivating that person,” McKellin said. “He’s interesting because he’s interested.”
French and Italian language professor Mirta Pagnucci, who taught Ahn in France and Italy during the summers of 2016 and 2017, said that she can’t recall a student with a story quite as unique as his.
“I don’t know of anyone who has done all that he’s done,” she said. “It inspires other people to see what they can accomplish. I think he’s a great example of what people can do with their lives as students, during their careers and even after retirement. He teaches everyone to never stop learning”
German language professor Bärbel Thoens-Masghati, who has also taught Ahn and is leading his summer 2018 language immersion course in Berlin, said the experience that he brings to the classroom offers life lessons for not only fellow students but for professors as well.
“The enthusiasm he has for learning sends a powerful message to everyone, including me,” she said. “He teaches me so much and I feel like I have a lot to look forward to because of what he is willing and excited to do.”
Ahn has developed close relationships with many of the students, staff and faculty members at College of DuPage. Classmates have described him as a “hero,” while language professors celebrated his 80th birthday with a surprise party on COD’s Glen Ellyn campus. He has even visited the homes of COD faculty members to assist in maintaining their gardens. Pagnucci said Ahn fits in well with traditional students and that they simply accept him as one of their classmates.
The opportunity to create those types of relationships highlights the benefits of the community aspect at College of DuPage that are rarely available at many universities. McKellin said Ahn’s participation demonstrates COD’s commitment to serving its community members, regardless of age.
“When you take one of our field studies courses, you are going to travel with people from 18 years old to Young’s age,” she said. “Having such a diverse range of students with different goals who are able to make connections is a positive result of what we’re able to do.”
Ahn said that COD is the ideal college for him at this point in his life and that he plans to remain a student in the upcoming years.
“It’s close to home and I love taking classes here,” he said. “I’m considering going to France again next year, but I will certainly continue to take classes because I still want to gain more knowledge.”
Pictured: Young Hak Ahn (second from right) accepts a certificate of appreciation from College of DuPage’s Field Studies/Study Abroad office alongside COD language instructors (from left) Spanish professor Donna Gillespie, French and Italian professor Mirta Pagnucci, and German professor Bärbel Thoens-Masghati, who all taught Ahn.