You could say Grace Jun has lived many lives. Her lives as an immigrant, a dancer and a stay-at-home mom all led her to the one she’s living now as a local dentist.
Many moms can probably relate to Jun. At 33 years old with two kids starting school, she was back to navigating what she wanted the rest of her life to look like.
Her journey to Oklahoma City started back in the 1980s when her family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. Both her parents were ministers and after working some time in Wisconsin, they relocated to Lawton. Her upbringing was challenging, she said, because her family wasn’t fluent in English.
“When my kids are complaining about homework, I just laugh,” she said. “I never had anyone to help me because nobody else in my house spoke English. I don’t know how I did it, but I did.”
After high school, she moved from Lawton to Norman on a dance scholarship at the University of Oklahoma. She graduated with a psychology degree and thought she’d follow her passion for dance to New York but ended up getting a position as a research assistant in epidemiology that sparked an interest in the medical field.
“During that time I fell in love with this guy, got married, had kids and put career aspirations on the side,” she said. “I was busy raising a family.”
On top of the challenges of her early years of motherhood, Jun had a unique challenge of providing emotional support to her husband as he went through a drastic career change. After years working as an engineer, her husband felt the pull to pursue dentistry and Jun said she encouraged him to go back to school and become a dentist. Meanwhile, she did her best to tackle the job of a homemaker, one she’d romanticized before having kids.
“I never realized how hard it was to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “I thought it would be so cool to stay home, watch Rachael Ray, do yoga, drop the kids at Mother’s Day Out. It wasn’t like that. It’s really, really hard.”
Jun made it through that difficult time and before she knew it, Samuel was headed to first grade and Phoebe to preschool, so she started thinking about what she might like to do as a career. She wanted to pursue something that would help her contribute to the family financially. She never considered following her husband’s career path until he came back from a mission trip raving about how good it felt to help people.
“He went to the Amazon with several other doctors to help provide medical care and he was just so excited,” she said. “He said, ‘Grace, there are all these doctors there but the dentist is the one who can do something immediately to help relieve someone’s pain.’”
That sealed the deal for Jun. She went back to school and finished her prerequisites, took the Dental Admission Test and got into dental school. Being a mom gave her a new perspective on school.
“Other people thought it was so hard,” she said. “But for me, it was so cool to be there and have conversations with adults. My real job started when I got back home.”
But dental school wasn’t without its challenges. She struggled to stay on top of the coursework, she said, and fought a constant internal battle to be a good enough student, mom and wife. That battle didn’t go away when she finished school, either. She said she continues to struggle at times with guilt about having a career as a mom.
“But I see how my kids are influenced by how hard I work and the struggles I’ve been through,” she said. “We came from living off student loans with nothing to them getting to go to private school.”
Samuel is now 16 and Phoebe is 13. Looking back on her experience, she said she wouldn’t have it any other way. She said although the experience of raising kids feels different for everyone, she hopes she can be an example to other moms who might feel guilty to pursue their passions. When she was a stay-at-home mom, she admits she felt sorry for herself and she feels like she’s able to be a better mom when she makes time to pursue her own passions.
The one thing she would do differently if she had a do-over?
“I wouldn’t have beat myself up so much,” she said. “I’d give myself a break. I was just too hard on myself, but everything worked out great. The kids never thought of me the way I thought of myself. Women need to cut themselves a little slack.”
A Legacy of Giving Back
Mission work is what inspired Grace Jun to get started in her dental career, and she and her husband continue to give back through dentistry in a variety of ways.
One is through a for-profit organization she started with her husband and another local dentist to help train dental assistants. Through dentists providing the training directly, students in the Made in Oklahoma Dental Careers program learn exactly what they need to know to be successful from the beginning.
“We really wanted to create more jobs,” Jun said, “and more jobs for people who need a new start. A lot of our students are single moms or people who have failed a lot in their life and this is their final hope for themselves. We want people to find careers, not just jobs, and we want to be encouraging and develop their skills. More than anything we really believe we need to tell people they are not their past.”
To learn more about the MIO program, visit www.miodentalcareers.com.