It was only five years ago that Tae Hoon Kim's family moved from South Korea to Philadelphia, with hopes of providing him and his younger sister with better educational opportunities.
Kim, then 13, said his English-speaking experience consisted solely of a couple years of basic English classes at school in his native country. He knew the alphabet and could get by conversationally, but he realized that he needed to learn the language quickly to succeed in America.
To help expand his vocabulary and comprehension, the determined Kim said he began with the basics: Dr. Seuss.
"I had to start somewhere, and they were the only children's books I knew," said Kim, 18. "I knew I was going to spend a majority of my life in this country, so I was motivated to learn."
By the end of eighth grade, Kim had progressed to more difficult books. Among them were "Aesop's Fables," with pages written in both Korean and English, and the works of Judy Blume, who writes novels for children and young adults. To help with his speaking skills, Kim added audio of famous speeches -- ranging from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address -- to his iPod.
Just before he entered 10th grade, Kim's family moved to Jericho, where he really hit his stride. There, he became a National AP Scholar, a designation granted to students who receive an average score of at least 4 out of a possible 5 on all AP exams taken, and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more of the exams.
He also began volunteer work that included helping nurses at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, assisting at a day care for disabled adolescents at Arumdaun Presbyterian Church in Bethpage, and participating in church- and university-based mission trips to locations such as China and Haiti.
"I guess the reason behind why I volunteer is because I realize that I was blessed with so many opportunities," Kim said. "Thus, I want to give back and serve others who are not as fortunate or did not have as many opportunities as I had."
At Jericho High School, where officials say he has earned the respect and admiration of faculty and students, Kim plays violin and is on the Student Council.
"It is very hard to stand out amongst the many superior students who attend Jericho High School, but Tae Hoon truly does," said his guidance counselor, Candy Bodner. "Humble, passionate, ambitious and compassionate; his potential is truly unlimited."
Kim plans to pursue a career in medicine at Northwestern University, with hopes of becoming a medical missionary.
"I'm looking forward to taking challenging classes and exploring new opportunities," he said.
WHAT MAKES YOU EXTRAORDINARY
I am not afraid to try new things, and I try my best in trying to achieve my personal goals."