A Global Journey Doctoral candidate’s path to Piedmont goes through South Korea and Brazil

By Terrie Ellerbee

A Doctoral of Education (EdD) is a terminal degree and as such it takes a lot of work to earn one. Some take it on in their 20s while for others it is a mid-career milestone. They navigate varied paths to the degree, but few pad the globe like Adelia Kim, an EdD student at Piedmont’s Athens campus.

Adelia Kim graduated with her EdS from Piedmont College in December 2019

Her journey began in East Asia, 7,000 miles from Piedmont College. When she was 9 years old, her father, Joo Han, emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, to Sao Paulo, Brazil. A former soldier, Han chose Brazil because he had been told it was a peaceful country. And it was in 1971.

Korean culture dictates that the oldest son takes responsibility for the entire family, so along with Han and his wife, Nam Lee, came Kim and her two siblings, a grandmother, an aunt and uncle. In their new country, the family opened retail clothing stores. The children helped out, mostly with translation.

Immersed in the culture, Kim quickly learned Portuguese, the national language. She envisioned herself an educator. By age 15 she was volunteering to teach Portuguese to Korean immigrants at her church. Kim later met her husband, Sung. They operated a clothing factory and started a family.

Kim loved Brazil. It was home for more than three decades, but by 2002, São Paulo had become what The New York Times described as “the kidnapping capital of Brazil.” Criminals were targeting middle-class families for quick cash, abducting and holding victims for ransoms as low as $500.

“It was not a safe place,” Kim said. “My decision was very similar to my father’s.”

Adelia Kim took the naturalization oath along with other new U.S. citizens from 35 different countries; (L-R) Sung, Artur, Adelia, Hyerim, and Leonardo Kim

Her family came to America that year, following Kim’s sister, Angela, who lives in the Atlanta area.

In 2003, Kim was helping her husband with a beauty supply business. Four years later, she was working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish at Georgia State University. She said the language came easily to her, thanks to its similarity to Portuguese.

Kim graduated with a 3.77 GPA and a Georgia Educator Certificate and began teaching Spanish at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia in 2011.

First heard about Piedmont in Spain

Kim had heard from peers about a popular Spanish Language and Culture master’s degree program at the University of Salamanca in Spain. It was there that a classmate, a Spanish teacher from Gwinnett County, told her about Piedmont and its EdS program.

After earning her master’s degree in 2016, Kim found Piedmont an attractive option as she continued her education. Her GPA met a threshold that exempted her from taking the GRE. The EdS program is approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which is key for teacher certification and pay upgrades, and it could be completed in four semesters.

She also liked how Piedmont brings the EdS program to educators. The best fit for Kim was the Gwinnett County cohort, whose classes were held at Berkmar High School in Lilburn, about 20 minutes from her home in Duluth.

Cohorts typically have a minimum of eight students; hers had just four. Alongside Kim were students from Thailand and India and an African American U.S. Air Force veteran.

“We helped each other, became close friends and were like family,” Kim said. “The EdS program was enjoyable because I had an amazing cohort.”

Associate Professor of Education Dr. Kimberly Griffin taught the cohort the first and last of the 10 required courses.

“They were all very different, from very different places and had very different life experiences and different experiences as far as how they became educators,” Griffin said.

An American story

Fluent in three languages, Kim refers to herself as a “global person,” but hers is an American story. She took the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America in her fourth language, English, on December 2.

Life is the same but also different now for Kim. When her fourth-period class recites the Pledge of Allegiance, she feels the weight of the words. She often reminds her students how fortunate they are to live in the United States.

She also encourages them to distinguish “different” from “wrong.”

“That is something that I want to pass to my students—telling them we need to have an open mind and embrace other countries, other cultures,” Kim said.

Soon, her students will be teachers.

Kim has chosen Griffin, whom she considers her mentor, to chair the dissertation committee for her Doctor of Education degree. Her topic is Dual Language Education: Promoting Biliteracy and Biculturalism.

The Kim family celebrates Father's Day

During the citizenship test, applicants are asked up to 10 questions from a list of 100 they should be prepared to answer. Adelia Kim quizzed colleagues and was surprised by how many they could not answer, including naming the two U.S. senators from Georgia.

“That was the fourth question the officer asked me. We have two. I know because I studied. Some of the teachers didn’t know. Why don’t you know that?” - Adelia Kim

(The current correct answer is David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.)

How would you do? Here are three questions from the civics test:

  1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
  2. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?
  3. Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

Answers to Above Questions

1. 27; 2. John Roberts; 3. Missouri & Mississippi


Photos Compliments of Kim Family Digital Production by Brian Carter