ACCORDING to Kwon In-taek (CEO, Openknowl Inc.), “anyone can create a path on their own by simply thinking outside the box. By considering one’s areas of interest regardless of what is currently offered by society, one can envision a path toward the future.” After eight years, Kwon, freshman class of 2005, will graduate this June with a B.A. in Philosophy, Political Science and International Studies, and English Language and Literature after a long yet life-changing journey as a university student. Never one to hesitate to take each and every one of the courses that he found appealing, Kwon exceeded the necessary amount of credits required to obtain a degree. Along the way, and keeping his personal pursuit of true knowledge in mind, Kwon started Openknowl Vision Camp, a mentoring camp for high school students. After the first year, the camp was officially recognized by Yonsei University, making Kwon the CEO of the mentoring company Openknowl. Kwon, just shy of his 30s, expresses no regrets whatsoever regarding the unconventional path he took during his university career. After all, this path was his personal journey that led him to discover his true passion.
The Yonsei Annals: What kind of student were you before you set out on your current path?
Kwon: I have always been full of aspirations and expectations for myself. Since high school, I have worked hard and set up personal goals for myself. For years, my daily routine consisted of going to school, studying, eating, and then studying a bit more. Even during my first few years in college, all I was concerned about was maintaining a 4.0 GPA, participating in respectable student clubs, engaging myself in volunteer activities, and challenging myself to attain various diplomas and certifications. I have to admit, there was nothing exciting in my spec*-centered life, yet I was running out of time to keep up with all the activities I was involved in. Those are my college memories in a nutshell, up until the moment I realized there was more to life.
Annals: Which experiences laid the foundation for the path that you are currently pursuing?
Kwon: I went to serve in the military right after the first semester of my freshman year. The two years of military service was a time for self-reflection about my responsibilities and my future. I was thus able to set up five goals for the years to come: engage myself wholeheartedly in my studies, religious practice, travel, earning money and relationships.
Even though I ultimately accomplished these five goals, I still had not figured out what I wanted for my future. The final turning point came during my sixth semester, while at an interview for an internship. There were four other interviewees in the same room, but to be honest, I was sure I was would get the job because of all of my accomplishments. So it took me by surprise to discover that all five of us shared a similar background. All of us had engaged ourselves in extracurricular activities and earned certificates and a high GPA. That was when I realized that I was not special, and a one-page resume was not enough to reflect the hard work I had done so far.
After that, everything changed. I started taking notice of people around me who were sincerely focused on those things they were passionate about. Meanwhile, during an internship at Posco, I taught in a mentoring program at a prestigious Korean high school. It was distressing to see that my students were going through the same hardships I had undergone. It was like seeing my reflection; they had no plans for the future, and all they cared about was having a resume that would stand out next to their peers. That is when I realized that having the wrong motivations is part of the problem contributing to why students feel so overburdened even in college.
I decided to devote myself to helping others find a path of their own. A lot of teenagers give up their dreams as they consider failure to be a defeat in a battle between themselves and society. Thus, I decided to begin by concentrating on high school students first. The Openknowl Vision Camp was a great start to what has now become the focus of my life.
Annals: Could you briefly describe Openknowl and its main objectives?
Kwon: Openknowl is an abbreviation of Open Knowledge Org. Our mission is to help students create a vision for their future. Our main objective is to help students understand what they like doing, what they are good at doing, and what society wants. These three questions are the first to be answered before proceeding into path design. Students should not say “my dream is to become _____ in the future,” because what happens if they fail? Instead, they should be able to state at least three things that interest them. Through our mentoring program, we try to help students to form various shared interest groups where individuals with overlapping interests can come together to share information. In this way, students are able to ponder their interests and their future more before going off to college. The process takes around three to six months, and with help from mentors, the different groups present their desired career paths in front of an audience. At the end of each program, the students are free to participate in competitions, work part-time or even interview people from their fields of interest in order to get a real-world understanding of the professions they find appealing.
Moreover, we provide online and offline mentoring programs, mentoring camps, and research all sponsored by Yonsei University. We have developed an algorithm which discovers key words from the postings made by students on our website, analyzes them, and maps out a recommended path for each student’s future.
Annals: Could you describe the most memorable moment while working at Openknowl?
Kwon: During our first mentoring camp, one of our mentors told us about his journey before coming to Yonsei University, which was full of challenges and disappointments. He was one of the students with the worst grades in his class, and no one, not even his parents, had high expectations for his future. His dream had always been to work in design, and although everyone laughed at him when he applied to Yonsei University, he did not give up. He had been doing his best behind the scenes by working on his personal portfolio, visiting design firms and corporations, interviewing and asking those who had already succeeded in the field of his interest for advice. When he managed to get into Techno Arts Div., Underwood International College, he was able to prove everyone wrong. It was a very moving yet inspiring story that touched mentees and mentors alike.
Annals: What are your plans for the near future?
Kwon: As the CEO of Openknowl, I am planning to devote myself completely to my company. We are looking forward to expanding our mentoring program abroad and offering a global online mentoring program in different countries. Personally, I am hoping to grow more as an individual, and become a source of inspiration for others. I would like to become a life mentor for any student in need, and fill him or her with hope and aspirations for his or her future.
Annals: Do you have any special message for your fellow Yonseians?
Kwon: Life is not about speed, but about direction. Before running down a path similar to that of others, first stop and figure out your own passions and interests. Find a way to become a good influence on others. By raising your personal standards for the sake of others, you will be able to dream even bigger and succeed in ways you may never have imagined.
*spec: a term derived from the word “specification” that denotes the various certificates and test scores students accumulate in order to pad their resumes.