Columbians reflect on 2017, look to future


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This past year was anything but uneventful.

It was Donald Trump’s first year in office, and with it came the usual barrage of outspoken tweets, often with disdain of others. The GOP failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after a dramatic “no” vote by Republican Sen. John McCain flipped the tides, but it did pass the first major tax reform since the 1980s.

Another mass shooting occurred, this time in Las Vegas, prompting more calls for gun control. Doug Jones became Alabama’s first Democratic senator in 25 years.

A total solar eclipse passed right through the Midwest, including Columbia. Van Buren, along with other portions of southwest Missouri, were hit with historic floods. MU made substantial budget cuts that included layoffs.

With 2017 soon to be in the rearview mirror, the Missourian spoke with Columbians to find out the best things that happened to them this year, and what they look forward to in 2018.

Robert Burlinski Robert Burlinski

Robert Burlinski, 47

For Robert Burlinksi, the new year is all about focusing on school.

“I’m almost done with school, I’m taking the USMLE exam in June, I’m hoping to pass it,” Burlinski said. He hopes to go into medicine and eventually become a family physician.

Burlinski’s family owns Café Poland, a small café downtown that specializes in espresso and pierogis.

Burlinski helps run the restaurant whenever he’s in town, which isn’t often.

“I study in Aruba so twice a year I’m home for two to three weeks,” Burlinski said. When asked what the best part of 2017 was for him, he said it’s getting to come home for those few short weeks.

Ray Preedy Ray Preedy

Ray Preedy, 73

Taking a break from reading his book at Columbia’s Senior Center, Ray Preedy says the best part of 2017 was improving his health.

“Well let’s see, my health improved because I found online a probiotic that really helped my gastrointestinal problems,” Preedy said.

Preedy, a regular visitor of the Senior Center, has focused on improving his health recently.

“At my age, I’m just hoping to be healthy,” Preedy said.

Preedy goes to the Senior Center to play bridge a few days a week. He also volunteers at the front desk.

Marian March Marian March

Marian March, 83

This year was a good year for Marian March’s family.

“My youngest son got married and then his brother got to come and visit us from Tucson,” March said.

Although she wasn’t able to attend the wedding, March was glad she was able to visit with her son from Arizona, who she doesn’t often get to see.

March, a volunteer at the Senior Center in Columbia, is hoping for a more positive year.

“I’m kind of hoping that the political scene will calm down some,” March said.

She also hopes that her and her husband’s health will stay reasonably good.

Mohammad Saleh Mohammad Saleh

Mohammad Saleh, 29

The best part of 2017 for Mohammad Saleh was graduating.

“I graduated from college with my master’s in public health,” Saleh said.

When Saleh wasn’t in school, he was helping out at the Olive Café, a small business owned by his family. The Mediterranean café doubles as a grocery store.

“Hopefully we’ll improve business, get more clientele and spread Mediterranean food to the people in Columbia,” Saleh said.

The café opened in 2011 and has evolved a significant amount since then. It started as a small grocery store, and as they got more customers, they began to add a menu so customers could order food while they were there.

Aleksandra Kinlen Aleksandra Kinlen

Aleksandra Kinlen, 26

For Alexandra Kinlen, a barista at Fretboard Coffee, the best part of 2017 was her trip to New York City with her family.

“It was great,” Kinlen said. “I saw things I’ve never seen before.”

However, highlights don’t always have to be about the things we do. They can be about things we decide to stop doing.

Kinlen said that another important part of her year was her decision to quit pursuing a doctorate degree in history.

“The best life decision I made was to quit school,” she said.

She said that one of the reasons that she quit was the lack of jobs and the focus on STEM careers.

“Even if I had finished, I wouldn’t have a job,” Kinlen said.

The day after the spring semester ended, she started her job at Fretboard.

“I love my coworkers,” she said.

Kinlen said she thinks of 2017 as a gap year for her, but a tough one for the country.

“It was not the greatest,” she said.

Kinlen said she is positive and hopeful about the new year. Kinlen said that people need to be more selfless and start helping other people and their communities.

“If we all keep doing whatever we can,” she said, “I think we can make 2018 better than 2017.”

Tzu Yang "Chao" Tzu Yang "Chao"

Tzu Yang “Chao”, 29

It may be an understatement to say that Chao had a very productive year.

Not only did he finish two master’s at MU, one in economics and another in statistics, but he also became the new owner of Bubblecup Tea Zone in downtown Columbia.

“2017 was a good year,” Chao said.

When he took over ownership of the store in June, he said he wanted to change it. Not only did he renovate the interior and give it a new look, he also has been focusing on attracting more American people, aside from international customers.

“(Bubble tea) is from my country,” Chao said. “I try to introduce my culture to the people here.”

Bubble tea is a typical Taiwanese drink, made up of black tea, soy milk and tapioca pearls.

Born in Malaysia but raised in Taiwan, Chao has been in Missouri since December 2013, but he lived in Hawaii and New Jersey before moving to the Midwest.

Chao said he thinks Columbia needs to improve its diversity and he wants to contribute to that.

“I want to make a balance between the States and Taiwan,” he said.

2018 looks like a big year for Chao. He’s planning to open a new store in the fall. The goal is to make it a hub for people to hang out longer than they do in downtown’s store.

“My plan is to do the second business,” he said. “That is really my hope.”

In the personal realm, Chao wishes to go back home. However, it seems unlikely because of his heavy workload.

“I wish I could go back to Taiwan for vacation,” he said.

Lucas Kemper Lucas Kemper

Lucas Kemper, 26

“2017 was phenomenal,” Lucas Kemper said.

Kemper is the lead barber at the newly open Hudson/Hawk barbershop.

The family-owned business has seen a lot of growth in its soon-to-be five years and it has reached Columbia. The original business started in Springfield in 2013.

“There has been no downs, only ups,” Kemper said.

Stepping into a leadership role has been one of Kemper’s highlights, but 2018 has a lot in store.

Kemper said that they’re not only targeting students, but also local people, since they are in town year-round.

Hudson/Hawk is expected to have 10 barbers in 2018 and continue growing.

“The goal is to expand even further,” Kemper said.

Piyaporn Deejing Piyaporn Deejing

Piyaporn Deejing, 29

Piyaporn Deejng has worked at Thai Express since she came to the United States from Thailand in 2012. In 2017, she and her fiancé became the owners of the restaurant.

She said that was the best thing that happened in her life in 2017.

Both Deejing and her fiancé are MU students. When the previous owner of Thai Express wanted to move back to his hometown, they decided to take it over instead of letting the restaurant close.

Thai Express is the first business they have owned. “It’s really challenging to me because there are many things I have to deal with,” Deejing said. “I have never done that kind of thing by myself before.”

She needs to work in the kitchen as the cook and take care of her staff at the same time. She started to take charge of the restaurant in June, and now she‘s become better at balancing people and kitchen duties and knows more about running a restaurant.

“I like it though,” she said.

Another challenge for Deejing is to nurse her fledgling business while making progress in her school work. Her research has been slowed down since she’s taken over as the restaurant owner, but she thinks it has been valuable for her future.

As the new owner, Deejing plans to renovate the restaurant by adding more seating space and choices of entrees. “We always get complaints of less seats,” she said.

If the business of Thai Express goes smoothly, she also wants to add getting married to her wishlist for 2018. “In 2018 me and my fiancé would have been together for five years,” she said. “We planned to marry in 2017, but we have this business to take care (of).”

Sungjin Lee Sungjin Lee

Sungjin Lee, 32

For Sungjin Lee, an MU Ph.D. student of public policy from South Korea, 2017 was a turning point in his life.

“I quit my job in the government agency and decided to study more here,” Lee said. “That’s a big moment.” Lee worked at the Official Development Assistance in South Korea, which provides government aid to promote economic development and welfare in developing countries.

Lee said sometimes he was faced with questions he could not answer when he was at work. That was when he decided to move forward to study abroad rather than blindly follow orders.

“I’m just curious why countries are different in terms of their development stages and income levels. I just want to dig more,” Lee said. “Before I become too old, this may be my last chance to study more.”

Like many international students, Lee said English and culture were his major challenges. But he was satisfied with the grades of his first semester studying in the U.S.

His biggest concern for the coming year is still his studies. “Next year (2018) I will take (the Ph.D.) qualifying exam,” he said. He hopes to pass the exam and continue his studies in the U.S.

Adrian Kelly Adrian Kelly

Adrian Kelly, 26

Adrian Kelly came back to Columbia for the holiday. She lived in Columbia for 23 years and graduated from MU. Then she moved to different places, working and looking for a desirable place she would like to live in.

She found such a place in Utah in 2017.

The best thing for her last year was getting a job with the National Park Service in Utah. The natural environment in Utah is very different from that in Missouri where the arid desert climate creates shorter plants with less leaves. “It’s really interesting,” Kelly said.

“I got to work outside with plants. That’s what I like,” she said.

She also works as an emergency medical technician in the winter.

For the coming year, she hopes to improve her skills and stay happy.

Although it takes her half a day to travel back to Columbia, she plans to come back again in March for the True/False Film Fest as she did last year.

“I’d say it’s the second highlight of 2017, coming back for True/False,” Kelly said. She feels great that she is able to work as a volunteer for the film festival this year and come back home again in a couple of months.

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Tyler Wornell:, 882-7884.

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