How I Became a Data Scientist as an International Student with Broken English | by Soyoung L | Apr, 2024

Took a long time but I found what I enjoy doing for the rest of my life

Towards Data Science

Currently, I am a data scientist over 4 years of experience. I want to delve into my own journey — a gradual process of discovering my passion for data science. It took me quite a while to figure out my career path, but the journey was certainly worthwhile. I hope my story serves as inspiration to anyone out there who may be struggling to become a data scientist or doubting their own abilities.

Image by the author using Canva

Arriving in the States with limited English Skills

“I work at a meth lab”. This was how poor my English was when I first moved to the States all by myself. I didn’t know there was a difference between “meth” and “math”. It took me about a year to finally grasp the distinction. I wasn’t involved in making drugs; instead, I was a math tutor at The Math Lab at City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

After failing the college entry exam in South Korea, I relocated myself to the United States, believing I can build a new life here. I was a bold and naive 18 years old girl. I vividly remember the first few days in downtown San Francisco, where I couldn’t even manage to order a simple cup of coffee at Starbucks. I stumbled over my words, leaving the employee perplexed, and she responded in rapid English. Feeling overwhelmed, I resorted to a bow of thanks, a gesture from Korean culture, before hastily leaving the store.

Discovering my passion for Statistics at a Community College

To improve my English skills, I enrolled in a community college. There, I explored various subjects, including German, Swimming, Computer Science, Math, English and Statistics. Amidst this exploration, I found my passion. My childhood dream was to become a math teacher, driven by my love for Mathematics and children. As I pursued relevant courses, I found that taking Statistics was a game-changer. I fell in love with every aspect of it, which ultimately led me to pursue a major in Statistics when transferring.

Image by the author, my Community College Transcript

Becoming a First Generation College Student

My parents never left South Korea, let alone attended a college. When I gained the admission to multiple universities, they were unfamiliar with prestigious institutions like UC Berkeley. Nonetheless, they were willing to support me financially, covering tuition and living expenses, proud in the knowledge that their daughter was embarking on a college education.

Image by the author, a screenshot from my UC transfer application

Struggling to Pursue Actuarial Career

As a junior majoring Statistics at UC Berkeley, I explored potential career paths. I joined both Statistics club and Actuarial club to gain insights. Initially, becoming an actuary seemed like a logical choice — I enjoyed solving math problems, passed a few actuarial exams, and completed an actuarial internship. However, I encountered difficulties in securing a full-time actuarial position. Despite this setback, I now see it as a learning experience. Looking back, I realize that my current job brings me more satisfaction than I would have found in an actuarial role.

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