Helen Lho Ryu '79 (Candace '08)

Her lifestyle of constant change of country, culture, language, and school, while challenging for a child trying to establish routine and maintain friendships, was a transformational gift.

By the time Helen Lho Ryu graduated from secondary school, she had lived in eight different countries: Turkey, Thailand, Italy, Korea, United States, India, Switzerland, and France. Born in Washington D.C., she was destined to travel the world with her diplomatic parents. Ryu began formal education in Italy, where she completed kindergarten in a local Italian school, and continued 1st Grade in a Korean school in Seoul, Korea before moving to the United States. When Ryu arrived in Los Angeles, she was fluent in Korean and Italian but knew only one word of English—airplane (her 1st Grade teacher told her that that was how she would be making her way to her new home in America). Ryu enrolled in Third Street School for 2nd Grade, and upon graduating, entered Marlborough in 7th Grade and joined the Class of 1979. After one year at Marlborough, she was required to relocate to Korea where she completed grades eight and nine before relocating once again to Switzerland, where she attended and graduated from the International School of Geneva.

Ryu pursued her undergraduate and graduate education in the United States and, in similar form, traveled the country coast to coast during these years. She received a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, an M.A. from Harvard University Graduate School of Education in Massachusetts, and a J.D. from Stanford University Law School in California.

The lifestyle of constant change of country, culture, language, and school, while challenging for a child trying to establish routine and maintain friendships, was a transformational gift. “Some of the best lessons I have learned came from these travels,” Ryu says. “Learning to survive and thrive in new environments instills confidence and independence and takes the fear out of the unknown, replacing it with a sense of adventure. The nomadic life of a diplomat’s child, when well guided and disciplined, truly creates a global citizen because of the understanding and appreciation of different cultures learned not through a textbook or summer vacation trips, but truly by force of immersion and necessity.” Having grown up in so many different countries, Ryu never feels out of place anywhere, but at the same time, she doesn’t have a sense of belonging to any particular physical space. “I always feel at home everywhere and nowhere.”

With these lessons learned, Ryu has conscientiously worked hard to provide similar challenges for her two children (Candace, Class of ’08, and Royce) who were primarily raised in the US. On the one hand, she wanted them to develop confidence and comfort moving in and out of different cultures and surroundings, and on the other, she wanted them to have a sense of geographical rootedness—something that she lacked. Through all of the travels that their Korean-based company takes her and her husband on, they have toted their two children with them. In a small way, this allowed Ryu to expose Candace and Royce to different cultures and peoples. She recalls a particular trip to Finland with Candace who, at two and a half years old, fluttered around meeting and charming guests at a black-tie event. “By exposing my children to the larger world from a very early age before notions of nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other differences in people set in, they became comfortable conversing with anyone who possessed the physical features on a person—two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth. As her father did with her, Ryu instills in her children the wisdom of his words, “Take the best of each culture and make it your own.”

Today, Ryu is Senior Advisor and Head of Global Operations and Strategic Planning at Poongsan Corporation, a company that manufactures defense, nonferrous precious metal, and precision products. She is a member of the Board of Trustees at Marlborough School and also serves on various other boards throughout the country.

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