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Derek Irick

The American Dream

Article by GJ Lifestyle Staff

Photography by GJ Lifestyle Staff/Provided

Originally published in Grand Junction Lifestyle

I've heard stories of individuals coming to the United States and becoming successful, but I've never personally met someone who has accomplished this feat. But now, I can say that I have, and I would like to thank Derek Irick for sitting down with us to share his incredible story. 

Derek's dad passed away when he was a year and a half old, and not long after, his mother took him to his grandparent's home and left him there. His grandparents live in a small village in the Heman province in China. In his "home town" there is only a corner store, dirt roads, no cars, no refrigerators, cooking is done with an open flame, and growing your own food isn't a pastime, but a necessary chore. 

When Derek turned 8, the local school wasn't able to help him continue his education and so his grandparents decided to send him to the orphanage in Luoyang, China, a 675-mile journey he had to complete by himself as an 8-year-old. After arriving and getting into the swing of his new life, he was permitted to travel back to his grandparents from time to time over the years. At the orphanage, he played in the band, drew pictures, and tried to learn English. He didn't want to learn English just for fun: He saw some fellow orphans get adopted to the United States and he saw the pictures they would send back of big "castle" homes. In these pictures, he saw his friends now eating cheeseburgers instead of what he had, which was cabbage boiled in water with a touch of pig fat for seasoning. 

When Derek turned 12, he became much more serious about wanting to be adopted and he asked his grandparents to sign the papers to allow him to be adopted by an American family. Derek shared that this was unquestionably a hard decision, as Derek was the only one to carry the family name, and they knew they may never see him again. 

After a little time, Derek was adopted by a family in Nashville, Tennessee. Not just that, but one of his good friends was adopted by the same family! That was truly exciting for him and his friend as they could make this life change together. The family picked Derek and his friend up in China and flew to New York City. 

NYC was a huge culture shock. He could not understand anyone, he was jet-lagged, and ironically enough, he hated cheeseburgers. Thankfully they went to China Town and "that was the best part", Derek remembered fondly. After a couple of days in NYC, they took a plane to Nashville. When they arrived, there was a huge crowd of people with "welcome home" signs written in English and Chines and tons of people cheering for him and his friend. "It was awesome", Derek said. 

His Nashville family homeschooled their children, and Derek did not enjoy it. The other boys in the family were the same age but twice his size and they didn't get along. "I felt trapped there", Derek described as they were at the home a lot. It got to the point that Derek approached his adopted dad and requested to find another family. His adopted parents were heartbroken, but found him a family in Western Colorado. 

This new Colorado family had several adopted kids. Three from China, one from Korea, and funny enough, this family homeschooled as well. But things went much better here. He excelled in his studies, ran track, and tied for MVP. When he finished high school, he went to the Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mesa University and graduated with 4 degrees (three of which are Bachelor's). While in college, he obtained his realtor's license and joined a real estate team and began selling homes. He said he would wear blue light glasses to look older so people would take him a little more seriously when he was trying to sell a home. 

Derek doesn't need those glasses anymore to be taken seriously. Derek has won the Best of the West Realtor for two years in a row and he regularly contributes to our community in big ways. He is on the board of several organizations in the valley such as the Western Slope Center for Children, the Mesa County Fellowship Christan Athletes, Lion's club, and the Young Professionals Network of Mesa County, in addition to being involved with the Alumni Chapter for CMU, and a volunteer for JUCO. 

There is definitely more that could be written. If you ever get the chance to chat with Derek we would recommend it. Thanks for coming around the world Derek!

  • Derek's Grandparent's home
  • Derek in his band uniform from the orphanage when he was 10
  • Derek with fellow orphans in China