Jonathan Chung ’19 established rhythms of hospitality while a student at Wheaton, building international community from his apartment kitchen. Now, he extends that same welcome and focus on holistic wellbeing with his physical therapy clients.
Words: Melissa Schill Penney ’22
“There are a lot of connections between physical, social, mental, and spiritual health. Your body is not four different systems. You’re one whole person, so you need to make sure you’re healthy in all areas.”
After spending his childhood observing his parents host and disciple as a central part of their ministry as missionaries, Jonathan Chung ’19 picked up a few things about meaningful human connection. His future plans revolve around his ingrained priority of intentional interactions.
Chung graduated from Wheaton with a degree in applied health sciences in 2019, then moved on to study physical therapy (PT) at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. Although he began on the pre-med track during his freshman year, he quickly discovered his interest in PT through the influence of friends that were pursuing the field, along with encouragement from Professor of Applied Health Sciences Emeritus Dr. Peter Walters. While serving as a research assistant for Walters, Chung was inspired by Walters’ passion for the intersection between health and education. In addition, after joining a crossfit group per Walters’ class requirement, Chung discovered that he not only enjoyed exercising but also helping others craft and complete their workouts.
“One of the things that drew me to physical therapy was the interaction with patients,” Chung explained. “When I volunteered at a clinic, I would watch the physical therapist and while he did the exercises and stretches with the patients, he was also able to talk with them. Some of the patients had been going for quite a while and they were able to develop a relationship. I really enjoy that aspect of being a physical therapist.”
During his undergraduate years, Chung built a repertoire of experience in PT through volunteering at a PT clinic and becoming a teaching assistant for Dr. Walters’s introductory health and wellness class. Now, five years later, Chung has completed PT school and is studying for his upcoming board exams.
As a physical therapist, Chung has the opportunity to work with a variety of patients, but has most frequently interacted with elderly patients experiencing conditions such as frozen shoulders or ACL reconstruction. His conversation with them is not only enjoyable, but also key to their holistic health.
“I remember doing a home health rotation and a good number of patients reported feelings of loneliness and depression because they were only able to leave the house for doctors appointments because of their physical limitations,” he said. “Knowing that adds another dimension to how I deliver healthcare. I try to be more intentional with them. I crack jokes and ask them about their families, the TV shows they watch, what they did when they were younger, etc.”
Chung found plenty of ways to make meaningful connections with others during his time at Wheaton, too. As a third culture kid (TCK) and missionary kid (MK), he got involved with Ladder, a student-led guidance and support group for first-year international students, first as a participant, and later as a leader. During his junior and senior years, he served on the organization’s leadership cabinet. One of the primary ways he connected with the Ladder students was through cooking and hosting meals in his apartment, a pastime that originated because he missed home cooked meals and began experimenting with different dishes during his junior year As his palette expanded, he began sourcing recipes and tips from his fellow international friends from Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and China. Those evenings over a shared meal became the heart of meaningful conversations, relationship-building, and delight.
“Sometimes my guests would have that Ratatouille moment where Anton Ego was transported back to his childhood home because his mom would cook him ratatouille,” Chung said. “One time I tried cooking karaage for the first time and my Japanese friends said it reminded them of a restaurant in their hometown in Japan. Another time, it was simple congee, but because of the nostalgia factor, it not only fed their bodies, but also their souls.”
Although completing his boards and beginning to practice physical therapy full time is his primary occupation currently, Chung dreams of one day starting a health insurance company. After shopping for health insurance with his wife, Vivian Liu ’19, Jon was surprised at the lack of options that took into account personal wellbeing. “There are a lot of things that can be done better in the healthcare system,” he acknowledged.
Inspired by car insurance plans that reward good driving with lower premiums, Chung hopes to implement a new way of thinking about health insurance. “The main goal of what I want to create in the future would be finding a way to align the interests of the company and the clients or patients, so that the healthier they are, the more money they’ll save,” he explained.
Whether serving a home-cooked meal, interacting with his patients, or revitalizing health insurance plans, the wellness of others is at the forefront of Jon’s aspirations. “There are a lot of connections between physical, social, mental, and spiritual health,” he said. “Your body is not four different systems. You’re one whole person, so you need to make sure you’re healthy in all areas.”