A Memory of So-Youn:
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon in Ifrane, Morocco. I’d started what would turn out to be the unending journey of the Peace Corps a few weeks earlier with a flight from San Francisco to a continent I’d never set foot on. I was feeling very overwhelmed.
I was in Ifrane for community-based training, a grueling two months of 16 hour days spent trapped in a room with Arabic grammar, cultural sensitivity books and development training manuals. Sundays were the one ‘light’ day, just a trip to the weekly souk to practice our bargaining and a mountain of homework.
My cell phone rang with a number I didn’t know.
“Are you from San Francisco!” the caller blurted out as soon as I answered.
“Hello?” I asked. By now I was used to random calls on my new Moroccan cell number, but one speaking English and correctly guessing at my city of origin was odd, even by my new culturally expanded definition of the term.
“I’m at cafe….” I could hear the caller asking someone “wait what’s the name of this café?” “…café Ifrane, down in the market. Come down here.”
That was my introduction to So-Youn. Someone so gregarious and eager to talk to someone from her hometown that she was prepared to accost them by phone and demand their presence. I admit that I was caught off guard, but once I reluctantly braved the rain and was ensconced in a café with her and a friend I was glad to be there.
So-Youn had been in country for a year and was a font of information, but more than that, she was a welcome connection to who I was. Peace Corps training is brutal, a process that makes you into a new person, acceptable to the community and culture you will join. I recall remarking toward the end of our two months of training, “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in this classroom.” Talking with So-Youn was somehow revitalizing, an assurance that the Peace Corps experience would get better, and that I would grow into a competent, confident Peace Corps Volunteer like her.
That coffee was the only time I met So-Youn. She passed away a few weeks later, something I would never have imagined when we were sitting there chatting about hometown high schools and the we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore sensation of being where we were. With that one encounter she left a positive mark on my life, one that I still remember, all these years later.
– Brendan Moroso, October 2016
Peace Corps Press Release:
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 17, 2009 – Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams is saddened to announce the death of Peace Corps/Morocco volunteer So-Youn Kim. Ms. Kim passed away on November 16 in Marrakech unexpectedly after an illness. The exact cause of death remains unknown.
“So-Youn was an exemplary volunteer, passionate about public service and creating programs that benefited communities from the Bay Area to Morocco,” said Director Williams. “She was a tireless advocate, a remarkable writer, a voracious reader and talented in many languages. My thoughts are with her friends and family who join me in mourning a respected member of the Peace Corps family.”
Ms. Kim of San Francisco was 23 years old. She graduated from Stanford University in 2007 and began her Peace Corps service in September 2008. Ms. Kim served as a youth development volunteer in Tamegroute, a small village within the Zagora province. Ms. Kim’s primary assignment was serving in a youth center where she was involved in a wide range of activities in her dual role as English teacher and youth development worker.
In addition to her primary assignment, Ms. Kim sought out additional activities focused on helping the pottery cooperative in Tamegroute and developing an apprenticeship program. She loved to teach children, support the cooperative and respect the historic craft.
In September of 2008, Ms. Kim submitted a thoughtful and hopeful Peace Corps aspiration statement. She described her outlook on her service project, and wrote, “Youth development work is effective when young people are taught to become educated, empowered, and responsible members of their communities while being given space to explore and share the challenges of their own individual identities.” This is an ethos and passion Ms. Kim brought with her to Morocco.
The Peace Corps community will hold a memorial service for Ms. Kim on Saturday, November 21 in Morocco.