Yun Park: 14 Years of Welcoming Students into Rastall Café

Maybe best recognized by her elaborate holiday costumes and accessories, or by the delicate peacock feather she holds over the swipe box sitting outside Rastall, Yun Park is a long-time member of the Colorado College community. Park has worked at the college for 14 years; at age fifty, she continues to work full days, Monday through Friday. Park was born and raised in South Korea on a farm in the country, where she lived with her grandmother who would cook for her. “I love my grandma,” she said. Park’s sister and father came to the U.S. when she was still young, but later invited her, “so I came and followed,” she said. Park was 13 at the time and living in Boston. For the next several years, she moved back and forth four times, from Boston to South Korea, until she finally got a job at age 26 and moved permanently to Boston. Park says the hardest thing about moving to the U.S. was missing the food and her friends from home.

Photos by Daniel Sarché

“I miss my grandma’s food, Kimchi from the backyard, some nice soup, and a mountain of vegetables,” said Park. She talked about the fresh food her grandma grew in their backyard and the traditional Korean dishes she would cook. Park is no longer in touch with her friends from home. “But it’s okay,” she said. “I have friends here.” She talked about her grandparents, her last living relatives in South Korea, passing away around the time that she moved to the U.S. Her family is now located in the U.S., and it quickly became home for her. “This is my country, this is my country,” Park proclaims.

While in Boston, Park worked with her sister and brother-in-law at a small Korean restaurant. “My brother-in-law is a good cook. American food, Korean food, Chinese food, you know,” she said. Park was a server at the restaurant, while her brother-in-law and sister did the cooking. She talked about visiting Colorado during a vacation; “Living in Boston, Colorado was like the moon,” said Yun. “So I went to Colorado: oh my God, the country!” She also talked about falling in love with the state and the mountains. “I stayed somewhere in a motel,” Park said. “There were tourists everywhere: oh my God, so lovely.”

Park went back to Boston for a couple months after her trip, and then decided to move out to Colorado, where she began work at CC 14 years ago. “Finally I’m on my own,” she said, as the rest of her family decided to stay in Boston.

Upon moving to Colorado Springs, Park works for the Base Exchange Store at the Air Force Academy. She stayed there for about three months before deciding to leave. They didn’t give her Sundays off, and Park finds free Sundays extremely important, whether for religious purposes or not.

Photos by Daniel Sarché

Park has now lived in the United States for over 20 years. “Wherever you go, it depends where you open your heart,” she said. “Somebody like city, somebody like country, somebody like ocean, somebody like the mountains; yeah, it depends what you’re feeling.” Park likes the mountains, and she talks about the way the mountains of Colorado are like those in her home, South Korea.

“I love it here,” she repeated, talking about how she always wanted to come back to the mountains. “Yep, my dream,” she said. Park has not been back to South Korea since leaving at age 26. “Nobody’s there,” she said, as she began to illustrate the CC community as a kind of family. “I love the students like my friends, like my children. I love the people, the communication. It doesn’t matter where they come from, what age, I love the people.”

When I asked Park about the peacock feather she uses when swiping students into Rastall, she responded, “It makes you feel good.” Park began to talk about the importance of making people happy and people making her happy. “That’s how I’m living,” she said. “Some entertainment, make someone happy, so I’m happy, that’s me.” Park has found a way of making the mundane act we each do three times a day into a medium of entertainment. Park gives people a reason to smile when they swipe into Rastall.

While Park makes an effort to dress up for each holiday, Halloween is her favorite occasion for which to dress. “Everyday we have normal clothes,” she said. “Halloween we have special clothes. I can make a dress.” Three years ago Park dressed up as Pocahontas. She said it was her favorite Halloween costume. Last year she dressed up as a cowgirl. “I was a cowgirl, yeeha!” she said.

Her positivity, however, isn’t always received with a smile. Park talks about the more challenging aspect of her job, like when she is faced with negative people; “rock heads,” she calls them. “Maybe they’re not nice,” she said, “but then sunrise again.” As we wrapped up our conversation over her short lunch break in Rastall, she started singing, “mountain! We are the mountain!” Then talked about The Sound of Music, “when she’s singing about the mountains. I love that song.”

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