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La Salle University’s incoming first-year students who found a roommate, a study partner, or a new friend via the @lasalleclassof24 Instagram account have Clare Park to thank.
Park, an incoming first-year student herself, hails from Takoma Park, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. She created the account so her future classmates would have the ability to build relationships online before reaching campus. She admitted that communicating through likes, comments, and direct messages on Instagram is no substitute for meeting fellow Explorers in person, but Park stressed that any connection is helpful in a time of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Social media is not the same as in-person interaction, but I think I’ve gotten to know the makeup of our class, even if I don’t have close relationships with anyone else yet,” said Park, who will major in nursing. “We didn’t get to have an (in-person) Blue and Gold Day, so we didn’t really get to meet each other yet, but people are connecting (through the Instagram account). I’m excited because I’m seeing people who are so different, but they all share an excitement to start at La Salle.”
A sense of connection is important to Park, whose father was born in South Korea. Though she was raised in the shadow of Washington, the nation’s capital that is known as a melting pot of cultures and a nexus for international relations, Park said the lack of other Koreans in the suburban area where she grew up left her struggling with her identity. Last summer, she took a three-week trip to Seoul for a language program and, while there, stayed with her paternal grandparents. She pointed to the experience as a turning point in her life.
“My identity as a Korean is something I have struggled with,” said Park, whose maternal grandfather, Frank Batavick, graduated from La Salle in 1967 with a degree in English. “Where I grew up, there’s not a lot of Korean people, so that was a part of me that I wasn’t very connected to before I traveled to Seoul. That trip specifically helped me appreciate that side of my family and my culture and it made me a lot more connected to my grandparents.”
For Park, entering La Salle’s nursing program represents an ideal opportunity to purse her long-time goal of becoming a nurse while also working to improve the healthcare needs of a community.
In her high school career, Park volunteered at a hospital based in a lower income neighborhood in Washington, D.C. She considered the opportunity a formative experience, during which she learned firsthand about the disparities in health care, especially after the hospital was forced to close due to a lack of funding.
“(Volunteering) gave me a passion for public health, and the social justice side of health care,” said Park. “I’m looking forward to getting nursing experience at La Salle on the clinical side, and having the experience of learning and being in a city. I think the health care system of a city is unique, in that there can be a hospital two miles from your house, but you can still be in a health care desert.”
When she reaches La Salle, Park said, she plans to be an actively engaged member of a new community—the one to which developed a sense of belonging through the @lasalleclassof24 Instagram account.
“La Salle seems to care a lot about volunteering and helping out the community,” she said. “I think seeing Philadelphia from that health care perspective will be very educational for me.”