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Parents’ refugee journey inspires UNBC student to achieve academic dreams

Zoe Kore was awarded the Governor’s General Silver Medal at UNBC convocation
Zoe Kore
Zoe Kore will be attending the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program at UBC beginning in August 2022, with the goal of becoming a physician.

After five years and many all-nighters, undergraduate student Zoe Kore proudly accepted the Governor General’s Silver Medal at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) convocation ceremony on May 29.

First awarded in 1873, the Governor General’s Academic Medals have become one of the most prestigious awards that a student in a Canadian educational institution can receive.

The Governor General’s Silver Medal specifically recognizes outstanding academic achievement at the undergraduate level.

“It was a very rocky road,” said Kore. “I have been dreaming about this since day one of university because I received the bronze medal in high school too, so I knew about it and I really wanted to get it, but it was really hard.”

Kore started her educational path in accounting and finance, before becoming inspired to pursue healthcare and switched from the business program to biomedical studies.

While still pursuing accounting and finance, Kore joined the UNBC JDC West team and in her second year was coached by Judy Neiser, the CEO of the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation.

“She let me partake in a bunch of volunteering opportunities, so I was fundraising for hospital equipment, and I dressed up as the Spirit Bear mascot and greeted families and kids and different fundraisers,” said Kore.

“Something kind of clicked with me when I did that, and I developed more of an interest in the healthcare field and it just felt empowering being able to make a difference in patients' lives.”

However, Kore said what really inspired her to pursue the medical field was witnessing her dad work as an RN at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. (UHNBC)’s intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s been a nurse for 34 years and he’s been in the ICU for 24 years so seeing him on the front lines serving, especially during the pandemic, brought a whole new sense of admiration for my dad,” said Kore.

“Seeing him going through all of that adversity made me admire him and I wanted to so something similar and make a really big difference like that.”

Kore said she is extremely grateful for the opportunities her parents have provided her because they were among the Vietnamese boat people who escaped Vietnam during the communist regime and came to Canada with nothing.

“They have these crazy survival stories,” explained Kore.

She said her dad left on a wooden boat that was raided by Thai pirates and ended up stranded on an island in Indonesia for nine months before he was rescued by the International Red Cross and eventually sponsored to come to Canada.

Meanwhile, her mom, who didn’t know her dad at the time, was found by a Dutch fishing boat just a few days after she escaped and was taken to Japan where she lived for two years before also eventually making it to Canada.

“They were both refugees and came from nothing so for me to be here today I just feel super grateful,” said Kore.

“I grew up very privileged to be in the Prince George community where I felt really accepted my whole life and I’m just really grateful for all of the opportunities that my parents didn’t get to have.”  

Kore said her parents really pushed for her education and were a huge support system for her during her academic pursuits.

In 2020, Kore also received the Premier’s Consultation on Improved Cancer Care in Northern B.C. Scholarship, which is awarded to an undergraduate student who exhibits academic excellence and an interest in research involving cancer treatment and patient experience. 

She has now graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree with a major in Biomedical Studies and a minor in General Business. 

“I was part of the platform party, so I felt really honoured to be able to go up on stage with everyone there and they presented my award at the end and it was a little bit nerve-wracking but it’s very special to be on the other side of the stage,” said Kore.

“I really pushed myself to the limit for this and so being able to be on the other side of this and seeing the outcome of your hard work is just really great and I think it’s a reflection of my hard work.”

Kore will be attending the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program at UBC beginning in August 2022, with the goal of becoming a physician.

After being born and raised in Prince George, Kore said she is excited to expand and experience Vancouver but Prince George will always be home.