For Ben Carlson, practicing taekwondo is a way to connect to his culture while living in Southern Illinois.
The 17-year-old is originally from South Korea. He was adopted by his parents, Kim and Dan.
Ben was introduced to taekwondo by a friend when he was in fourth-grade.
“I just fell in love with it,” Ben said. “... It helps you mentally, spiritually and physically.”
Today, he volunteers as an assistant instructor at Myung Martial Arts in Glen Carbon. He describes taekwondo, which originated in Korea, as a way to express himself. But it’s not his only creative outlet. Ben is also involved in Collinsville High School’s drama club.
That endeavor took some courage, according to Ben, because he was shy at the time.
“I just finally ignored the fears that I had about going on stage and just auditioned for it, and luckily, I got in,” he said. His first show was called “Changing Minds.”
Ben said he’s become even more active in school and the community ever since. Recently, he was selected to serve on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis student board of directors, which he said came as a surprise.
“I kind of eliminated myself from being selected in my own mind, thinking that I couldn’t get it because I had no background on economics or anything,” Ben said. “... When I got the phone call, I was ecstatic.”
Though he hopes to one day study law, Ben said he was persuaded by business teacher Vicki Fuhrhop to apply for the position. She is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis educator advisory board.
“I got interested in it because she said, ‘If you don’t know what you want to do, it’s a great leadership position to obtain,’” Ben said.
He still thinks he’d like to become a lawyer, though, and has ever since he read “To Kill a Mockingbird” during his freshman year. One of the main characters in the novel, fictional lawyer Atticus Finch, is among Ben’s long list of role models, which includes his parents and martial arts instructor.
I kind of eliminated myself from being selected in my own mind, thinking that I couldn’t get it because I had no background on economics or anything. ... When I got the phone call, I was ecstatic.
Ben Carlson on his Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis student board of directors position
Q: Do you have an interest in economics and finance?
A: “Not at first, but now, going to these (monthly student board) meetings and learning ... how it’s important that everyone knows economics and financing, I’m starting to get an interest in it.”
Q: What have you learned from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis student board of directors so far?
A: “Initially, we all were assigned to learn more about the Federal Reserve system as a whole and ... they’re also now teaching us how to maintain a sort of professionalism and how to be ready ... in a business world. They’re preparing us for resumes; they’re going to be preparing us (with) mock interviews.”
Q: When you volunteer as an assistant instructor at Myung Martial Arts, what do you teach and who do you teach it to?
A: “Most of them are children. Our taekwondo studio accepts all ages. I lead the class for about the first 20 minutes through warm-ups and stretches and then our Master Myung comes in and then he kind of takes over. ... He works his way up from white belt (beginner) to black belt (advanced). Once he’s done with, say, white belt, he would point to one of the other assistant instructors and we would teach them one-on-one and elaborate more on ... what Master Myung just taught them.”
Q: What do you like about martial arts?
A: “Most people have this conception of martial arts just being something used strictly for self defense or strictly to show off brute force, but there’s also this cultural aspect and discipline aspect as well that I admire. Being from South Korea and not being able to have one-on-one contact information since my parents adopted me, it’s kind of a nice substitute that I get to know more about my culture that way.”
Q: You’re also ranked in the top 5 percent of your class at Collinsville High School. How do you balance all of your interests and your grades?
A: “Lack of sleep. More (seriously), it’s just time management. It all comes down to, ‘OK. What can I get done in this allotted time?’ ... For me, because I sometimes lose focus in some things, it’s important for me to maintain a schedule.”
Q: You have a variety of interests: Some on the creative side, like drama club and others on the intellectual side, like math team. Why do you enjoy both?
A: “I’ve always loved the arts — just the feeling to express myself without being myself, in a way, getting to act as another person; It can be liberating at times. But also, with math, it’s liberating for me because I feel smarter; I feel better about myself after doing math.
“The first time I joined drama club, I was very introverted, shy, and now exposing myself towards that group of people, I’ve seen the growth I’ve taken with being more open and being more active in school. My sophomore year, I was only in math team and cross country. But once I did the show in the spring, that kind of jump started my junior year where I started becoming a lot more involved in my school.”
Q: What made you want to get involved with drama club?
A: “They’re kind of brave. They express themselves, and they don’t care what people necessarily think about them. I always admired them. I was in shows when I was a little kid, too.”
Meet Ben Carlson
- Age: 17
- School: Collinsville High School
- College he will attend: Murray State University in Kentucky
- Parents: Kim and Dan
- Siblings: Kaitlin, 19
- Pets: 2-year-old white Labrador, Luna
- School activities: Secretary of National Honor Society, Student Council, Model United Nations, Spanish Club, secretary of Drama Club, Math Team and vice president of the Multicultural Club, cross country runner
- Hobbies: Member of the Mannie Jackson Humanities Foundation and the St. Jerome Youth Group; volunteer assistant instructor at Myung Martial Arts in Glen Carbon
- Role models: Mom, dad, sister, martial arts instructor and Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”
- Favorite subject in school: History
- Least favorite subject in school: English
- Favorite movie: “The Hunger Games” series
- Favorite music: All kinds — from country to alternative rock, showtunes and the music of different cultures, like Korean K-pop
- Favorite food: Sushi
- Favorite restaurant: Shogun Japanese