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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Eunshil Shim
INTERVIEWER: Melinda Teague
DATE: May 20, 1981
T: My name is Melinda Teague and I am interviewing Eunshil Shim in her
home at 2241 N.W. 19th Lane, Gainesville, Florida. The date is May 20,
1981. The time is 9:45 p.m. I'd like to ask Eunshil about her life
as a Korean ambassador's daughter, as a student in the United States,
and as part of the United States now. We'd like to talk about her
early childhood--about her grandparents, her parents, and how their
lives have affected hers.
Eunshil, could you tell me about your maternal grandparents, and es-
pecially your grandfather?
S: My grandfather is now retired and stays home. He spent almost all of
his life being an educator. He spent a lot of time doing--as Koreans
might say--philosophical things that are very much a part of family
life. He wrote several books, and taught in several universities when
he was younger. He served as president of a university and dean of
various departments. In those days, not many people went to school.
There was not much emphasis on higher education. I guess it affected
almost all of his children--my aunts, uncles, and mother all went to
college. Again, this was unusual in those days. Not many women went
to college. But, as a result of my grandfather's influence, all my
aunts and my mother went to college.
T: Was your grandfather educated in Tokyo?
S: Yes, he went to Tokyo University, which is a very prestigious school now.
In those days, in Korea, there weren't many good colleges or universities,
so when someone wanted to go to school, the most prestigious thing you
could do was to go to Tokyo and be educated there. Of all the schools,
Tokyo University was one of the most prestigious.
T: Was his major philosophy?
T: How about your mother? Just going down the maternal line, you said that
she attended college. The college that she attended was in Seoul?
T: Was it a women's college?
S: It was one of the first women's colleges at the time; it is now the most
renowned women's college in Korea.
T: What was she taught there?
S: She was an education major and she got a teaching certificate.
T: Did she then teach?
S: Yes. She taught in a women's junior college for a short period of time
after she graduated and before she got married.
T: What about your paternal grandparents? What did they do?
S: My grandparents, on my father's side, spent most of their time doing
evangelical work. My grandfather worked for the government, but that
was for livelihood purposes, to raise a family. His major work was
T: What denomination was he affiliated with?
T: Did he preach?
S: Not as a minister, but as an evangelist.
T: Did your father also attend college?
S: He did his undergraduate work in Korea. He did his graduate work at
Ohio State University. He went to school in Korea and got married. Then
he went on to earn his master's degree in Economics at Ohio State Uni-
versity. He got a scholarship through several church foundations which
enabled him to come.
T: How did your parents meet?
S: My parents were in southern Korea, in Pusan, when they met, That was
during the war. My mother was teaching in a junior college and my
father was working. Actually, my mother's father first saw my father
himself and my grandfather felt he was good enough to be introduced to
his daughter. That's how my father and mother met each other: they
were given the chance to meet each other, they dated about three months
or so, and decided they would go on with their relationship. They got
engaged and married.
T: Is it traditional for the father of the bride to pick the husband?
S: Yes and no. It doesn't necessarily have to be the father, but it
generally involves the parents first. Parents of the bridegroom are
introduced to the parents of the bride, through a matchmaker or a
friend. They get to know the family's background first. We consider
that one of the most important things in our society. Family back-
ground is very important as far as marriage customs are concerned,
Parents are first introduced, and if the parents feel comfortable with
the family backgrounds of each person, they decide they would like to
introduce them to each other. The children are given the choice: they
can continue to see each other, or if they do not like each other, they
can say so to their parents. In the olden days, there were customs in
which the parents decided,'"my son will marry your daughter." It was
decided even before you became an adult. That custom has ended; it is
not that way anymore. Now they introduce them to each other and if they
do like each other, they can go on with it. If they do not prefer to do
that, they can say, "No, I don't like it!"
T: What is a matchmaker?
S: A matchmaker can be anyone--one of your relatives, friends, or mutual
friend of friends, and so on. They're not professional. There are
certain people who seem to know many families. They like doing that
.because, although most of them are not given monetary help, a lot of
times they will be rewarded somehow. When the marriage works out for
both families, they will be given some kind of compensation. It is not
usually monetary compensation.
T: You said your father was educated in Seoul, and he received his degree
in economics. How did he get into his diplomatic career? What was the
beginning of his career?
S: He graduated during the war, and at that time a lot of American soldiers
and officials from the United States were staying in our country. A lot
of Korean people became translators. My father was very good in English,
and he happened to be hired by a man who was an important person in the
diplomatic corps. That person hired him as a translator. He translated
for this man, not necessarily because he could speak good English, but
for diplomatic reasons. At certain times you did not speak English,
even if you knew it, except through a translator.
S: Yes. He was hired and worked for this man, As I said, he got a scholar-
ship to continue his education. He decided to take advantage of that.
I think at that time, my grandfather encouraged him, and he decided to
go to the United States. He came to the United States, got his degree,
and went back, Since he had worked for this man in the diplomatic
corps, he went back and took the entrance examination for the foreign
service. He started at the bottom. He stayed with the corps for a long
time, and grew into the position that he has.
T: What was his expertise? I realize he is in economics.
S: Yes, he had his background in economics, and he handled trade work
between countries. Foreign service is very involved with that.
T: Was he in any way politically-oriented, or is he now?
S: He's very nonpolitical [laughter]. Through his years in the diplomatic
crops, he really wanted nonpolitical ties. He felt he was not a politician--
he wanted to be a career diplomat with expertise in trade and economics,
Our country is very unstable, and many times there are government changes.
He did not want to be a part of that mainstream where you have to worry
about politics. He was never very closely affiliated with political sit-
T: You said your mother taught in a junior college. After your father and
mother were married, did she continue teaching?
S: As I understand it, she asked my father if she should continue working
after she got married. My father, being very traditional (which was not
unusual at that time), said that as long as he
and children, his wife was not going to work.
right away, and she has never worked since.
could support his wife
My mother quit her job
T: Even though there was emphasis on higher education within your family,
there was still that traditionalism?
S: Oh sure! The emphasis on education had
as much as with being a better person.
higher education as much as we think in
the United States.
very little to do with career
It wasn't a career-oriented
terms of college education in
T: What did your mother do? What were and are her duties as a diplomat's
S: When she was younger, she had to adjust to become a diplomat's wife.
There was more emphasis on being a mother. She had to adjust to the
fact that she had to move a lot: wherever my father was sent, she had
to be ready to pack up and go. When you live almost all your life with
your parents in the same country and all of a sudden you have to move
into a totally different culture, you have to adjust a lot. When we grew
up, I think her function changed a little bit in that more time was spent
being a diplomat's wife. She spent quite a bit of time attending all
these important functions that my father had to attend and entertaining.
We used to have parties almost every week--very structured, formal dinner
functions. Being a diplomat's wife, you get involved in community functions
such as Red Cross, bazaars for orphanages, visiting hospitals and children's
centers, things like that. I think she was busier with that than raising
children. Being a diplomat's wife is a full time job, [laughter]
T: Your parents were married in 1951?
T: When and where were you born?
S: I was born in 1952, in Pusan, in the southern part of Korea.
I was born,but I was brought back to Seoul, the capitol city,
I was born,
T: Did your mother go with your father when he was at Ohio State University?
S: No, he went alone and my mother stayed in Korea with me at my
place. They couldn't afford for her to go,
T: Was this still during the war?
S: At the very end of the war.
T: You were talking about the financial situation. How was your family
affected by the devastation of the war?
S: We were not starving, but there was not enough of anything. That was
still considered middle class,
T: What is your earliest memory? Would it be when you were in Korea?
S: Yes. The earliest memory I have is when I was living with my grandparents
when I was about three or four years old. I don't remember many details,
The clearest memories I have are when my parents went to Tokyo. I was
seven years old. My parents left for Tokyo, and they took my brother and
sitter, who were four years old. They felt I should remain in Korea with
my grandparents because I had just entered school. I spent a year and a
half with my maternal grandparents living in their house.
T: Was it hard being away from your family?
S: The interesting part is that I really love my grandparents so I didn't
have trouble staying with them. I was under this pressure-because my
parents were away and I had to be the best girl in the world. My whole
family expected me to be good in everything. One of the things, of
course, was that I was very good in school, academically. Family expec-
tations are very strange. You tend to live up to them when you're a child.
They expected that I would always be the first in the class. I remember
one incident very well. One term, I wasn't the first in the class, but
rather the second. I thought the world was going to end. I could not
write to my parents for months, because I was devastated by the whole thing.
I did not make the top. My aunts and uncles were trying to get me to write
letters to my parents, but I would not write them. It's so funny when I
think back now [laughter] that I would worry about something like that, but
it was a very serious thing for me then.
T: When did you visit your parents? When were you able to see them again?
S: I was with my grandparents for about a year and a half. They decided I
should visit my parents for summer vacation, and I went there on my
T: How did you get there?
S: I flew, They said, "We are going to put you on a plane, you'll be on the
plane for an hour and a half." (It takes an hour and a half from Seoul
to Tokyo)."Mom and Dad will be waiting for you in the Tokyo airport." I
was seven or eight years old, I went on the plane for the first time in
my life. I was really excited. Before I got there, something exciting
happened: this particular plane hit an air pocket and dropped about
200 feet. I didn't know what was happening. Everybody was going crazy,
and it was an experience I hope I'll never have again. It was incredible,
I was eating something and the food was all over the place. Somebody
sitting next to me was writing something and the pen was flying all over
the place. [laughter] It was a strange experience. I finally got to
Tokyo and my parents were there with my brother and sister. I didn't
realize that my brother and sister could not speak Korean anymore. They
were trying so hard to communicate with me, but I didn't know Japanese then,
so I couldn't communicate. My parents had to translate everything they
were saying and what I was saying. Strangely :enough, that day was my
birthday. All I could hear them saying was "cake." They were trying to
tell me that they had this huge cake waiting for me at home. I couldn't
understand what they were trying to say to me. I had never expected
language to be a problem, but it was. For a few months after that, I
still could not talk to them.
T: Did you stay in Japan with your parents?
S: Yes, that's another funny thing. When I went there, I was only supposed
to stay a month,but after a month my parents could not let me go. They
asked my grandparents to send clothing and things to me, which made my
grandparents really upset. I stayed there and started going to school.
T: What kind of school did you attend in Japan?
S: Essentially a Korean school for Korean immigrants living in Japan, Most
of the kids who went to school were second generation Koreans. They could
not speak Korean very well, so they were teaching a lot of things in
Japanese, and teaching Korean as a foreign language. The teachers were
Koreans who spoke Japanese to the kids.
T: Was this detrimental to you?
S: Yes. I learned Japanese quickly enough to get along with everyone. At
home, I couldn't talk to my brother and sister. When I went to school,
most of the kids spoke Japanese, with Korean as their second language. I
had to adapt to that. I think I did because fortunately I was a kid and
it wasn't as:difficult for me to learn a language as it would be now,
T: Did you have a special tutor or did you learn it through the Japanese
S: I learned it mostly because my brother and sister were speaking Japanese
at home all the time. I heard what my mom said to them and what they said
T: How did the school you attended differ from a school in Korea?
S: The curriculum was pretty much the same, but the approaches were a little
different. They had to be lenient with these kids because they were second
generation. They were more lenient, I think, than they would have been
back home. It was not as vigorous an academic situation.
T: Did you have to wear uniforms?
S: Not in that school.
T: Was it a private school?
S: Not really, I hesitated there because it was partially private,but mostly
funded through the immigrants there. They were getting donations or contrib-
utions, so it was like a non-profit organization,
T: What was the structure of the classroom itself? Was it different from an
American or Korean classroom?
S: Definitely. It was more of an oriental style; the relationship between
a student and teacher is so different than what it is in the schools
here. Students are not encouraged to speak their minds or give opinions.
The teacher says so and you are a student so you learn what the teacher
tells you to. It is more an authoritative classroom atmosphere.
T: Did you miss out on your Korean education by being away from home?
S: Being in Japan (or anywhere else for that matter) my education suffered.
We didn't have a very good foundation. The gains that I have had are
being able to deal with people in different cultures. To me that is more
than you can get from classrooms, and I can say that I have learned more
of those things--which are more valuable to me at this point--than academics.
I don't regret that I was in this situation a bit.
T: In 1905, the Root-Takhira agreement between the United States and Japan
gave Japan full responsibility for Korea. The United States gave this
responsibility to them in return for disavowing any aggressive designs
on the Philippines. There must be a certain amount of hard feelings
between the Japanese and the Koreans, and between the United States and
Korea because of this. How did your family feel as Koreans in Japan?
I realize this was after the occupation.
S: Yes, when I was there I knew other families, immigrants, that felt
differently than our family did. Our family was in Japan as diplomats--
representatives of the Korean government. Those people who were in
Japan as immigrants were treated very differently than us, We were really
treated with respect, and there was no hostility towards us as diplomats.
There was a lot of prejudice against Koreans who were living there as
immigrants, both ways, actually. The people who were immigrants did not
have very good feelings about the Japanese, Even today, people who are
my parents' age, who are over fifty, have very different feelings about
the Japanese than would later generations. They lived through the Japanese
rule for thirty-some years and the Japanese did some very negative things
to the Koreans. You hear horror stories about what they did, about concen-
tration camps, and so forth. Therefore, these people who went through it
have very negative feelings about the Japanese.
T: But your parents were diplomats--I wonder if it was difficult for them
to act respectable and carry on.
S: Yes, one thing they had to accept was that first of all they were there
as representatives of Korea. They could not really be undiplomatic, They
liked the fact that the Japanese could act civilized towards them as
diplomats. They handled it a lot better because they were given respect.
That made it easier. They might not have felt the same way if they were
T: Teddy Roosevelt spoke to several of his aides four months before this
agreement was made. He said that the United States was ready to abandon
Korea. Do you think that the United States helped wipe the slate clean
in the Korean war or did the U.S. abandonment of Korea in 1949 allow bad
feelings to continue? How does this all work out in the feelings that
Koreans have for Americans today?
S: Koreans have very practical sense, Over the years Koreans have
realized and accepted that yes, Korea is one of the tiniest countries
in that area. Right above us is great big China, and right below us
are the Japanese Islands. Those two forces were always trying to get
to each other via Korea, which was right in the middle. Being the small
country it is, we were in a fateful situation in which we really didn't
have very much choice. Koreans had accepted this. When Roosevelt had
all these decisions to make, people definitely had negative feelings
towards America. But at the same time, they also knew that if we really
denounced America and said forget it, what was going to happen was the
Soviet Union was going to take over. What choice did Koreans have?
It was just a matter of practicality. Do you want Communism to take
over or not? Sometimes there are situations where you have to be more
practical than emotional.
T: During the Korean war, Americans came to Korea which had just one race
and there was in-breeding, rape, etc. Has this strained the relationship?
S: At the time these things were happening, it was very tragic, For the
people in my country it was just more shame that they had to live with.
A lot of families had trouble with this. Rape was one of the worst things
that happened for a lot of Korean women, young or old. First of all, not
that many people were aware of non-Koreans coming into our country and
doing these kinds of things. They weren't thinking in terms of rape or
anything like that until the soldiers came and these things were actually
happening in front of their eyes. Sexual things are very sacred there,
and all the so-called "good" families were really shocked by the fact
that it didn't matter if a girl or woman was virtuous--there were no
boundaries. They were raped left and right. Another shocking thing that
was happening was the fact that Korean women who were raped bore children
of different races. They had blond, blue-eyed children, which was a
total shock to our race. Another thing was black children. When black
soldiers fathered these children, Koreans were really in shock. They
didn't know how to take it because there had been no colors involved
until that point,
T; Was it prejudice?
S; It's not prejudice as you think of in America as far as color is concerned.
It's more a fear. That's the difference, There was no racial prejudice,
as such. It was just a fear of the unknown, and the first time that really
happened in our culture. That was hard to take. Even today children
who were born between a Korean mother and a black American soldier are
outcasts and simply not accepted by our culture at all. Those are really
the most unfortunate ones who get treated badly in every case, No one
wanted to take care of them. They were dependent upon the mercy of the
Red Cross or nuns.
T: After your family did their work in Japan, where did you go?
S: We went back to Seoul for another couple of years. When we went back,
we went to Korean schools. We had to catch up with everybody else once
again. Academically, socially, just making your friends, the whole
environment was changed again,
T: Did your brother and sister have to re-learn Korean?
S: Yes, that's another thing. I was a little older so I could still speak
Korean.(even though I was speaking Japanese when I was in Japan). My
brother and sister had forgotten Korean completely. When they came back,
they couldn't speak Korean. They could understand Korean when something
was said to them, but they could not speak it fluently. As children,
they learned very quickly so it wasn't a major problem.
T: Very intelligent children too. You were back in Seoul. Were you in
about the third or fourth grade?
T: Then you were old enough to remember about your culture and your living
experiences. Could you tell me a little bit about the type of house you
S: Typical Korean housing is actually very different from housing here.
Mainly, the layouts are different. There are two bedrooms on each side
of the house. The middle part of the house is usually the living area,
which is not a room by itself, but rather a connection between these
two rooms. The children may play in this living area. The bedroom
situations are interesting. Here in America you think about a bedroom
as a place to sleep and have some privacy. There is always a bed sitting
in the bedroom in the United States, but not in a Korean house. We don't
have beds, We use a mattress with a quilt over it, which are folded when
you awaken. Then they're put into a closet space, which is another piece
of furniture in the bedroom. When it is put away, that room is used as
a "living room," or family room. That's where your average housewife
spends most of her day. It's used differently. Another thing that's
interesting about this bedroom is the heating system. While here you
usually have central air, or window units, in a Korean bedroom you have
a different system, called "ohndol." We have a floor that's covered with
rice papers, and it looks like a well-polished wood floor. But it's not
wood, it's cement. In the olden days when they didn't have cement, they
had earth or clay. And underneath that floor there is usually a cavity
or a space where you heat from outside the house. Wood, charcoal, or
coal is burned underneath the floor. You warm up the bottom of the floor
and because it's laid in stones and clay, which conduct heat very slowly,
it holds the hot air. Underneath your house is a basement, and that is
what you heat. Hot air goes up, so when the floor is warm, the air is
going to go up and warm the whole room. That's the main way of heating a
house. You can lie down on the floor (it's just so nice in the winter)
and put a blanket over you and it's nice and toasty. You don't want to
get out of the room.
T: Tell me about your father's career as a diplomat.
S: When you are outside the country for a number of years, you lose touch
with your own culture. You really don't think about what's happening
back home. The idea is to get back home, get back to your roots, and
be re-educated. It's like a booster system. There are set number of
diplomats in the diplomatic corps, and they need to rotate them. Some
people may have been assigned to horrible posts.
T: Like Outer-Mongolia?
S: Yes, something like that. Or somebody would be assigned to a beautiful
place in Europe, like Paris. Their comfort versus the comfort of another
person is going to be different, so they would be rotated.
T: After your family returned, did you leave Korea again?
S: We lived in Korea about two years and then went to Turkey. Turkey was
a totally new type of situation for all of us. We weren't very familiar
with the Middle East at that time and we knew very little about the
place. We found it to be a very mystic place. The culture was totally
T: Was it difficult to become integrated into the school system there?
S: Yes, somewhat. When we first went there, we were told that we were
going to a German school. Most of the diplomats' children were going
to a German school where they learned German and English. Unfortunately,
it was a private school and it was very expensive. Another alternative
was to go to a Turkish school, where they taught English and Turkish.
The Turkish school was very interesting. Most of the students were
children who were high class Turkish people or those who could afford
a special school.
T: Was it a private school?
S: Yes, it was a private school.
T: You didn't speak English or Turkish, did you?
T: How did you adjust?
S: I learned both languages. English was really difficult for me, because
that was the first time I ever really had to speak conversational English.
When you are younger, your learning process is faster, We learned
Turkish faster than English because that's what the kids were speaking
at school and what I was hearing all the time.
T: Were there any other Korean students in school?
S: Yes, there were a few. They were children of Korean diplomats who were
there with us.
T: What about the school itself? You told me about the Japanese school, and
that it was somewhat different than Korean schools.
S: Being a private school, it was smaller than the other schools there. I
think there were about thirty students in the class.
T: Did they wear uniforms at this school?
S: Yes, at this particular school we wore uniforms. It was pretty formal.
T: Was it a rather traditional school like what you talked about in Japan?
S: Yes. They were pretty strict in the sense that they had a lot more
discipline than other schools.
T: This was around 1966?
T: Were you in the fifth or sixth grade?
T: Although you were speaking Turkish and English, did you still speak
Korean at home?
S: Yes. We actually spoke Korean all the time. It's one of those things
that my parents felt very strongly about. No matter what language you
were speaking at the time, they really discouraged us from speaking
any other language at home. They really encouraged us to speak Korean
when we were in Turkey.
T: You were brought up in a Presbyterian home and were talking about
a totally different culture. I'm sure the religious culture there was
much different. Was that difficult to handle?
S: Definitely. One of the most interesting things about Turkey is that the
national religion there is Moslem and we were brought up as Christians.
That was something I had never seen before. That was the first time I
was exposed to Moslems. I was impressed by people's attitude about
religion. Back home there were a lot of different religions and it
was not as pronounced. In Turkey, almost everyone you talked to was
Moslem. That was a more impressive religious faith.
T: Was there any condemnation of you because of this?
T: Did you do much traveling through the Middle East?
S: Considering the fact that that country is huge, I really don't think I
have done that much traveling. One big trip that I remember was to
Istanbul, and that was a very memorable trip. I'll remember it all my
life. Istanbul, once called Constantinople, was their capitol city
before they changed to Ankara.
T: Were you living in Ankara?
S: Yes. We drove to Istanbul with another family. I believe it took us
about thirteen hours or so from Ankara.
T: Is the architecture very beautiful?
S: Yes, the architecture is what impressed me the most. I didn't realize
how different cities could be within one country. Ankara has a really
T: Modern looking?
S: It is a city-looking place, whereas Istanbul...If I can compare it to
American cities, it is like Washington, D.C. versus New York. Istanbul
is very colorful, very alive, very busy. Dirty in certain places and
yet the most interesting place sightseeing-wise or what was just
happening around there.
T: You were talking earlier,about the furniture and the Sultan.
T: What is that?
S: Before Turkey became a modern government with a president, they had
kings or what they called Sultans. I don't know what the exact
definition would be but...
S: Yes, Monarchy. These people lived in palaces. Their living situations
were just incredibly different than the living situation of a citizen
at the time. Istanbul was aware that they had built all these beautiful
palaces and mosques and what have you, and at that time the cultural and
architectural growth was just incredible, All those things stopped once
they decided they were going to have a modern government where women
didn't go around hiding their faces, in black gowns and robes. They were
even going to modernize their writing. They changed from their own
Turkish alphabet, Arabic in fact, to the alphabet that they use now, So
there were a lot of changes at that particular time.
T: While we are talking about changing in the matter of women being more
equal, what about the clothing? How did your mother dress? What kind
of clothing did you wear then?
S: We were actually able to wear anything we wanted to, but we more or less
just wore western clothing. By the time we were there, most people were
accepting the western clothing. The older Turkish people were still
wearing traditional clothing with women wearing veils to hide their
faces, and long robes, The men wore the type of clothing you see in the
movies, with a lot of head gear and so on.
T: You had never been in the Middle East and I'm wondering if there is a
prejudice there toward Oriental people.
S: No, not particularly to me or to Koreans. The Turkish were very friendly
to Koreans. I think the reason was that during the Korean war, the
Turks sent a lot of Turkish troops over to Korea through the United
Nations and they remembered Koreans as allies. In conferences I've had
with Turkish people, they are very accepting and they always included
such statements as "yes, we're friends" and "we sent you a lot of help
when you were in trouble during the Korean War."
T: You stayed in Turkey for about two years. When you went back to Korea
for your rejuvination period, what kind of school did you attend? You
were in the seventh or eighth grade then, sixty-six through sixty-eight.
S: Yes, when I went back, in fact, we did have some trouble with my
particular school. The reason was that at that time I was older and
the schooling in Turkey was very different language-wise. Subject-
wise, I was pretty behind. It was difficult for me to come back in
to the country and pick up from there, as I remember. Anyway, the
school I started attending was special compared to the other schools in
Korea. Most of the schools in Korea--junior high and high school--are
separated. There was a boys school and a girls school. The school I
went to was one of the few coed schools. It was affiliated with the
university. It was a lab school of the Ewha Women's University which
my mother had attended. I attended this particular school where there
were boys. Another thing that was different about this school was that
they didn't have uniforms, which is unusual in our country. Most of
the junior high and high school students must wear uniforms of some
sort. This school was very liberal.
T: You said you were having difficulties getting back into the culture.
Was it because it was an experimental school with individual training
S: Not so much individual but they accepted students who could not really
fit into their system. They're very tolerant of people who have special
problems, such as I did--having to do extra work to catch up and whatever.
T: Were you able to catch up?
S: Yes, I was. In fact I was afraid that I couldn't. It took me almost a
year before I caught up with everything and then I excelled in a year.
It sounds very long but at the time it was tremendous progress. I was
really pleased at one point when my homeroom teacher called my mother
to come and see him. I was really scared that I was doing badly and
my mother was shocked that she was called to see the teacher, But he
called her to tell her that he was pleased because my progress in one
year was incredible and that I was now the third in the whole class.
I forget what grade it was, in ninth grade of whatever. He was just
surprised that I was able to catch up so fast and he was very encouraging.
T: As you got older and you came back to Korea, was it difficult to make
new friends? Did the people resent your being a diplomat's child?
S: There were two groups of people. One group of kids in my school
resented me--"who does she think she is? Oh yes, the diplomat's child.
She's been flying around and she thinks she knows everything." From
envy or some kind of basic resentment towards something they couldn't do.
There was another group of people who admired my situation. I was
lucky I could find some friends who were very accepting of my
situation. They liked the fact that I was different and they
accepted that I was different. I didn't really have that much
trouble. That particular school was very liberal and a lot of the
kids were very open-minded.
T: Something that we haven't touched on in these early years is your
musical training. Could you tell me about that?
S: My musical training started when I was a little child. I learned to
play the piano at about four or five years old. The main reason I
was learning all these things was because I had three aunts on my
mother's side who were very musically talented, singing and playing
the piano. They could all do that. My mother was the only person
who did not play. I think she felt that since she didn't play, she
really wanted her little girls to play. She really pushed that. I
was taking piano lessons all along. As for singing, again I was
encouraged by my whole family as long as I can remember. What really
Jgot me interested in singing was when I came back to this school. I
had a music teacher who was very interested in teaching voice and he
put a lot of time into training. Of course when you get that kind of
attention, you tend to do a little bit more than you usually would,
So I did a lot of singing when I was in school. Soon I found two of
my girlfriends who were also interested in it,so we formed a group and
we really enjoyed ourselves, I can't imagine doing that again but we
were really energetic about our trio. We had recitals and we won a
few music competitions. At this time, I was also singing in the choir
at the church and in the chorus at the school.
T: Today you are going to recitals and going to hear other people, I'm
sure that's a reflection of this experience,
S: Yes, I really enjoy any kind of music that's related to what I was
doing before. Maybe I enjoy them more now because I don't do it
T: Would you rather be doing it more often?
S: More because I'm not as good as I used to be. I didn't keep up with
it. I haven't been singing or playing the piano for many years now,
I would still like to go back to it sometime.
T: After you were back in Korea, you moved again and you were in the
ninth or tenth grade. That was from sixty-eight to sixty-nine, Where
did you move then?
S: After two years in Korea, we moved to Burma,
T: Where's that?
S: Burma is a country right next to Thailand. Burma is an interesting
country. It's more Asian, more oriental, and yet there is a difference
between the Burmese and the Koreans. Korea is Far Eastern. Burma is
Southeast Asia and there is a distinct difference.
T: What is the difference?
S: The traditional customs are very different. When I say Far East, I
mean Japan, China and Korea. Most of the culture in the Far East has
stemmed from China, traveled down to Korea, and then to Japan, and
vice versa--from Japan to Korea to China. In Southeast Asia, there
are a lot of island countries--Indonesia, the Philippines. Their
language has very different roots. Also, geographically, the weather
makes a lot of cultural differences there. It's a lot warmer.
T: What about the food?
S: Food is very different too. Their food is what you would consider
warm-climate food, with a lot of tropical fruits. I think that's the
difference between Southeast Asia and the Far East.
T: What kind of government did they have in Burma?
S: Burma presently, and when we were there, has military regimes. They
were having governmental problems and before they became a military
government, they were a fairly democratic country. However, that was
under the influence of the English/British government. They governed
Burma for a long time and after they gained independence from Britain,
they tried to have their own government which was very similar to
socialism. Then it moved on to become a military government regime.
T: The government is not very wealthy,but there's a lot of politics...
S: It was when they were under the British government. The rich were very
rich and the poor were very poor. When they changed, that was one of
their goals--not to have that kind of discrepancy between the rich and
the poor. What they did was make everything national. That's why now
there's a complaint that no one can be as rich as they used to be.
There's a lot of resentment on the part of the people who were once rich.
T: You said earlier that your family had a lot of servants and the wages
S: Yes, that's true. Unlike other places we lived--except of course in
my country--the economic situation was very poor at that time. When
we were there, we were able to hire servants. In fact, I think we had
two chauffeurs, a cook, a person who did the laundry, and another person
who cleaned the house. We also had a gardener.
T: Had you ever been exposed to such catering?
S: To a certain extent, when we were living in Korea. In Korea it's a
different story. We usually had one or two servants at home. They were
housemaids and they did almost everything. They lived there. The
servants we had in Burma had different living quarters. They didn't live
in the same building we did. Some of them lived there and some didn't.
The two chauffeurs that I mentioned lived in their own house or
apartment. These people were getting very low wages and yet, because
we were providing the housing, they could live with the wages. We
were paying for all the utilities which went on our bill with the
main house. These people lived in a different situation than other
T: How were you treated by those who were not wealthy?
S: I think most of the people who knew us knew that we were diplomats and
they accepted the fact that we lived differently. Some people who used
to live better than they were living then still had this envious
feeling--"we used to live like this too"--until the government changed.
They had memories of their olden days and several times I heard, "we
used to have all these glorious things." But they resigned themselves
to the fact that this wasn't going to happen anymore,
T: Was there a lot of prejudice or rejection?
S: No, not really. The fact that we were not Burmese helped.
T: You said that there was a British influence and control. Was this
reflected in the education system?
S: Yes, definitely. I think the fact that there was a lot of British
influence--not just in education but in many other things--really
helped them. I don't think they accepted it as much at that time
because the whole idea was to try and get away from all that--to have
our own situation and not do what the British say we should do. I
think a lot of quality education was coming out. The people I have
met who had a good education were from a background of British influence.
They had a very good education. One thing that bothered me about
education was what I called brainwashing, I guess we're brainwashed on
many different levels, but what I found in education was that yes, all
the things our military government is doing--socialistic and national-
istic--is all good and that we should work towards that. They were
denouncing a lot of things about what had happened in the past and I
felt kind of queasy about that. The little ones really didn't want
democracy. That's what they were taught and they didn't know any better.
Unless they went home to parents who knew, they would not have known
T: What about you in particular, about your education there? You obviously
weren't from that kind of system. Explain the kind of system it was.
S: I didn't go to a Burmese school. I chose not to and my parents agreed
to it, The reason was that I really didn't want to learn Burmese. I
was tired of learning another language and I wasn't even fluent in
English. But I certainly didn't want to learn both at the same time as
I did in Turkey, Of course by this time, I was older so I wasn't as
willing to take two different languages.
T: You were about sixteen or seventeen years old?
S: Yes, fifteen or sixteen. I wanted to learn English. Just one lang-
uage so that I could communicate because I could barely speak English
by the time I got out of Korea and into this new culture. So I didn't
go to a Burmese school. Instead I went to an international school.
That school was for children of diplomats and it was a very small
school. They didn't have my grade. I was actually too old to go to
this school but they accepted me because I was not fluent in English
and the main reason I wanted to go to that school was to learn English.
So they accepted me for English-speaking purposes. I went to this
international school for about half a year and I learned English, The
lady who taught me English was from Bermuda and she was a very good
English teacher. I picked up English pretty quickly and, because
Burma was under British influence, a lot of people around us were
speaking English, so it was easier for me to pick it up. Then I trans-
ferred to a small private school which was run by an English couple.
It was a tutoring system and those students in this particular school
were studying for an exam called GCE. I don't know much about the
British system but it's not like the American system where you go by
grades, complete the twelfth grade, and then go on to college. In
their system, you have to take pace levels. You take several subjects
and when you master these subjects, you take the exams in the subject
you've studied. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to learn the
course matters. It's at your own pace and what counts is the fact
that you master them. If you pass these examinations you're allowed
to take more advanced-level courses which you complete and then take
another "A" level--advanced level--examination. It's at your own pace
but you have to complete a number of courses. It is like when you
take scholastic aptitude tests. You take particular advanced course
exams and then pass and you get certificates. If you complete these
exams, "0" level and then pass "A" level in these various subjects,
you're allowed to apply to universities and colleges.
T: What level were you in?
S: I was studying for "0" level--ordinary level-- and I was taking
several subjects. Because this is the British system, I was taking
a correspondence course and all the course materials were coming from
England. It was affiliated with London University. So it was coming
from London and the role of this school was to monitor what I was
doing. Not necessarily active teaching.
T: Was it difficult not having classrooms?
S: Yes, definitely, I was not used to it. All my life I had gone through
a basically American system--one grade after another, your own classroom,
children your own age. This was on your own. You did your own work,
which was checked off by the tutor, and hoped for the best. It's more
self-paced and you have to apply yourself to finish. There is no
participation or classroom pressure.
T: Different level of motivation?
S: Definitely. If you didn't have it when you were a teenager, it is
difficult to push yourself. I certainly didn't like the thought of
not being around kids my own age. There were a few but it wasn't like
being in a classroom situation and I didn't like that at all.
T: What did you decide to do?
S: I was doing this for another year or so and it was driving me up
the wall. I didn't like it and I did discuss this with my parents.
They also knew this wasn't the type of situation they wanted me to
be in and they soon recognized the problem and so did I. We were
trying to come up with some alternatives as to what I could do and
my parents gave me three choices. One was to go back to Korea and
live with my grandparents again. I'd go to school there like some
of my friends were doing. The second choice was to go to England,
to London, where all these materials were coming from and do it there,
which would be a lot easier than doing correspondence work which was
long-term and very slow paced, Since I was in Burma and all this
course work Was coming from England, it would be very easy for me to
go to London. The last choice was for me to come to the States and,
since I was speaking English somewhat by then, go to school here.
One of the reasons they considered America at all was because my
father was educated here. Those were the three choices given to me,
T: Which was did you choose?
S: What do you think? [laughter] Irreally didn't want to go to Korea
because I knew if I were to live with my grandparents I wouldn't get
much done. I knew they'd spoil me and I wasn't sure what I would do
without my parents. My grandparents loved me to the point where I
wasn't sure what they would let me do. I didn't want to go to London
because I didn't like the system I was working with. I didn't care
for it and I didn't know how long it was going to take me to complete
all of this. When I objectively considered the system and the materials
I was learning, it was aivery good system, not fed into you and you
just swallow it. You have to do the work. It is definitely a good
system. You retain a lot more by doing it that way. It's not like
regurgitation as in the American system. I have some respect for this
particular system. I was just too impatient to go along with it. I
T: What made you come to the United States?
S: I didn't know what it was going to be like in Korea. I knew what it
was going to be like in London. London wasn't a place I was really
interested in. I don't like the weather there and I didn't like the
system, as I said. I had always heard of America as some place very
progressive, Even when my father was studying here he had all these
incredible stories about what he went through. I admired what he had
to do to go to school. He had to deliver papers at four o'clock in
the morning. He had to cut somebody else's grass to make some money.
He used to tell me about these hot dog stands where he worked as a
dishwasher. These things intrigued me. Not because I wanted to do all
these things,but I felt if he had to do all those strange things
to go to graduate school, it must be someplace really interesting,
something really different. There was this big mystique about what
America was like. I think a lot of it was blown out of proportion.
Another thing was that most people were saying at that time--way
back when--that America is the land of opportunity and I imagined
the whole place was made of gold. It's a concept that people convey
to you. It's like the richest place you could ever be and there
are some incredible things happening here that you wouldn't be able
to see anywhere else, I would have believed it if somebody had said
the roads were covered with gold. That's the extent that.,.
T: When you had found this land of opportunity, where did you decide
S: I made the decision to come to the United States, My parents had
to contact their family friends here in the United States and they
helped me through the paper work and so on. I got help from a
family that lived in Maryland at that time. They were working in
Washington, D.C. That's how I got into the country. I came into
Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. in December, 1969, after Christmas,
T: Who met you at the airport? How did you know who was going to,,,?
S: I didn't know them. But they had my pictures and they knew what
flight I was taking, I was supposed to be picked up by a family,
They had to recognize me because I was the only young oriental girl
coming off the plane alone. So I was met by these people,
T. Where did you go from there? Did you visit them?
S: Yes, well, the first plan was to live with them,but when I came I
realized that they were living in an apartment. It was a family and it
was...when you're not in the States,vyou don't realize the living sit-
uation. The situations are so different in other countries. There's a
lot of living space. It's not the whole family having to live in one
apartment. And most people, relatives, whoever, just kind of stay
with you. But it's not like that here. I found out the first week
that I was with them that I just didn't belong there. It was a big
intrusion. They had a big family and right away I felt that I couldn't
live with them as I had expected. It was a rude awakening. It is
not libe this back home or anywhere else. There were no mansions with
extra rooms everywhere.
T: What did you do?
S: I had a friend of a friend whom I happened to meet there. This other
couple I knew happened to be in Maryland and they suggested that I go
to this Catholic school. I wasn't Catholic,but I really didn't care
which school I went to. The school I was going to go to was in the
area where my Korean friends were living and it was a public school. I
decided that I really didn't want to live with them so I didn't want
to go to that school. It would mean that I would have to live with
them in order to go to the public school. So when this other friend
suggested that I go to Catholic school, I felt that would be one way I
would move out of that place without hurting anybody's feelings. Even
though it was going to be a private school where I had to pay, I de-
cided it was better than imposing on this family.
T: Where did you decide to move then?
S: Then I decided that I was going to find a room for rent or...
T: Boarding room?
S: Boarding room, right. I decided that I was going to look for a board-
ing room and I figured I would find a boarding house close to this
school. That was my decision at the time. This was within first two
weeks I was here. And so I decided to do that. I figured that it was
going to cost my father some money but I figured that was better than
inconveniencing this family. They were nice enough to do all the pa-
per work for me and I didn't wantto be a pain. I made that decision
very quick and so I went to meet the principal of the Catholic school.
I told her I wanted to go to this school instead of that other public
school. I told her I had found out about this school through my friend
and also about my decision to live by myself in a boarding house.
That's what I was planning to do. Through the course of talking to the
mother superior, who was the principal, she said, "I have a really good
idea. I know a lady who used to be our English teacher in our school.
She is no longer working with us but she just had twins and she has
been looking for a live-in person to help her out with the babies.
Would you be interested?" It was like something out of a Cinderella
story. That meant I could work for them and get some free room and
board. I figured, why not? So I went to talk to this lady.
T: What was her name?
S: Mrs. Rabben. I went to the Rabben's and talked with them about my sit-
uation. The Rabbens had been trying to have babies for a long time and
she kept having miscarriages. These babies were the last effort and
they were precious as gold to them. Mrs. Rabben quit her work to try
to take care of the babies, but her personal health wasn't very good af-
ter having the babies. So she needed some physical help. That's why
they needed a live-in. It worked out really well. I explained my sit-
uation and they said they would be happy to have me. I told them I
really didn't have any experience,but I would help them as much as I
T: They were helping you out too.
S: Yes, for my services rendered they gave me free room and board. So it
worked out real well.
T: Isn't Rabben a Jewish name?
T: You were living with a Jewish family, going to a Catholic school, and
you were a Presbyterian. That's interesting.(laughter)
S: That's right. I learned a lot of Jewish culture when I was living with
them. I lived with them for about a year and a half. Some of the tra-
ditional things that Jewish people do are very interesting. I didn't
even know what Jews were until then,but that was a very interesting ex-
perience. And then, of course, the experience in a Catholic school was
something else. (laughter)
T: Tell me about that.
S: I was raised a Presbyterian and I didn't know anything about other
religions at that time.
T: I'm sure your grandfather wanted to make sure of that.
S: A Catholic church was always a mystery to me. I'm not going to mention
the name of the school,but I was really kind of disappointed. The ed-
ucation was very good. It was a private school, not many girls. Actu-
ally it was an all-girl school. Education was very good, no doubt a-
bout that. I didn't have anything against it. What I was disappointed
in was the administration there. Most of the people on the faculty
were nuns and a power struggle was going on. I was kind of disillus-
ioned by that fact...these people were supposed to serve God and love
:?ach other, and all this. But when it came down to politics, they
were at each other's throats. I was quite disappointed in the whole
thing. I just felt out of place in that school, even though they were
really nice to me.
T: Were there other Korean girls in the school?
S: No, I think I must have been the only Oriental girl in the whole school.
There were about 300 students in the whole school. It was a very small
T: Did you feel any prejudice from the girls?
S: What bothered me about the students there was that they were actually
quite nice to me, but very superficially,and they didn't like me gen- -;
uinely. They liked me because I was different. A lot of these girls
were, in fact, nice to me but I felt that they were quite snobbish. They
were rich people's daughters and they really had something special going
for them. They were quite aware of it and that bothered me a lot.
T: Were you able to get a relatively normal education? You were finally
learning how to speak English pretty well. Was that still a difficult
situation for you?
S: Because I learned English in Burma, I could speak English. Not flu-
ently but I could communicate with most people. The English I learned
in Burma was the Queen's English. When I came to the States everybody
always made me repeat things. "Oh wow that's near," "Say it again,"
--that type of thing and I was quite aware that I was speaking very...
The accents and the way I spoke was very different than an American.
Because I was quite aware of the differences, I was, embarrassed, by
the fact that people were picking up on it. I tried to pick up an
American accent as fast as I could. The Rabbens were Philadelphia Jews
and they spoke with an Eastern Jewish accent. So I lost my accent
T: Speaking of the Rabbens, I bet that was a real chore taking care of two
little kids and trying to school and...
S: Yes, that was another rude awakening for me. That was the first time
I had ever worked. I was never really spoiled to the point where every-
body else did everything for me, but those kinds of services were always
around me when I was growing up. This was the first time I had ever
been on the other side of the coin,where I was taking care of the babies
for the first time in my life, doing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, doing
laundry, and ironing. I knew how to do them but I didn't have to them
T: Do you mind doing them?
S: I didn't really mind doing them the first year. I was so overwhelmed
by the whole thing that I didn't have time to sit back and worry about
what I was doing. I wasn't even homesick. I was too busy trying to i
get everything into my schedule for the day,but it didn't bother me too
much...The second year it started to get to me. I started to think a-
bout the things I was doing and what my servants used to do and it was
a totally different role I was playing.
T: Back to the Catholic school. Did you stay in this Catholic school?
S: Not very long. I was there for one quarter. I wasn't feeling very com-
fortable in that situation. I soon realized that I really didn't want
to pay that kind of money for a high school. If;I remember correctly,
it was quite expensive. For the one term I was there, the tuition was
a little over four hundred dollars and I thought that was too much for
a high school education. I realized that soon after I learned the mon-
etary system. I'went back tb the public school where I wouldn't have
to pay that kind of money. I went to the school near where the Rabbens
were living. At the time, the Rabbens were living in Bethesda, Mary-
land and I went to a public school which was close to where I was living.
T: That's a big switch from a private Catholic school to a public school.
Was it a shock for you?
S: Yes it was. I was in shock, as it was, in that Catholic school. As I
said, in that Catholic school there were about three hundred kids and
it was an all-girl school. When I moved to the public school, it was
a huge school with two thousand students. It was coed and was really
interesting. The reason it was so shocking was because this was pretty
much the end of the sixties era and people were really into drugs and
free movement and I had never been exposed to that before. I had heard
about it the year before,but the drug culture was something totally new
to me. Everywhere I went the-kids were getting stoned...in this school
particularly it was prevalent. It was typical upper middle class chil-
dren who resented their parents and they thought it was cool to be act-
ing like that. Their parents were Senators and big shots in Washington
D.C., and they had all the money in the world. They could not com-
municate with their parents and the parents felt bad about it. They
didn't know how to handle it. So they just gave them money, trying
to show affection. These kids just spent money on drugs, alcohol,
T: Were you able to get a better education there than in the Catholic
S: I think the quality of the education was better in the Catholic sch-
ool. But the things I learned outside academics was valuable to me.
I didn't know how people acted in this country and people were walk-
ing around with bare feet and red eyes all the time. They were just
walking to classes, ridiculing their teachers. It was strange,but I
needed to see that. I know I learned a lot about these particular
T: ... of America.
T: You told me earlier that when you were about to graduate, you were
trying to figure out what you wanted to do and you were talking about
the role of the school counselor.
S: Yes. I wasn't aware of school counselors at that time,but I was as-
signed one as a senior. I didn't have a very good experience with my
senior counselor, maybe because she wasn't used to counseling non--
American students. I was coming from a different background,but she
wasn't very helpful and I didn't feel she was genuinely interested in
T: What did you do when you graduated in June of '79?
S: I wanted to go someplace other than Maiylyndi' I decided against go-
ing to the University of Maryland, which is a good school, but I had
been to Maryland for about a year and a half and I was ready to move
on. One of the reasons I felt I should leave Maryland was that I did
not want to live with the Rabbens anymore. I appreciated that they
took care of me while I was there, but when I was going to college I
wanted to have my own life. Coming home and taking care of the ba-
bies, and doing all the housework was too much for me. It was okay
when I was in high school, but I didn't want to do that during my col-
lege years. I wanted a different life during college and in orderto
do that I would have to leave that household.
T: What did you choose to do and where did you choose to go?
S: I applied to several schools. I was actually looking for a place
where somebody could put me through school. The reason I decided to
do that was because I felt it was difficult for my parents really to
pay all my tuition. Then, you know, they had my brother and sister
as well with them, so I really didn't want too much burden put on them.
During that year and a half that I was going to high school, I devel-
oped a sense of independence. Maybe I was already Americanized by
then. I don't know,but the fact was that I could try to be on my own
financially. I was looking for a school which would give me scholar-
ships and I found out that small schools that wanted to attract dif-
ferent nationalities or different groups of people from another state
would usually offer scholarships. This was the beginning I guess for
people from different countries. So it was very common to offer dilf-
ferent scholarships to different people from areas other than that
particular state or just Americans.
T: Was it difficult for you to take the S.A.T.? Did you take that?
S: yes., I took everything under the sun. It was one of the most frus-
trating things I had gone through. When I graduated and applied to
these schools, there weren't many schools that were used to foreign
students from an American high school and yet not a citizen, which was
very unusual. A lot of schools couldn't figure out what they wanted
from me. I took all the tests that a normal American student would
take to apply to college, plus the exams that a non-American or foreign
student had to take in order to come into the country. I took all of
them. So I was ready. I took everything.(laughter)
T: Where did you decide to go?
S: I went to a very tiny school in Superior, Wisconsin. One of the rea-
sgns that I went there was because, Superior was a tiny, tiny place
and I figured that there wouldn't be that many Koreans there. Another
reason was because they were providing me with a full scholarship for
tuition, plus all the living expenses. So, except for spending money,
I didn't have to pay anything. Everything was provided and I felt that
was just great. I didn't really care where I was going for the begin-
ning of my undergraduate work. I was told many times that the first
couple of years didn't really matter even if you went to a senior col-
lege. It wouldn't be detrimental to the rest of my education. When
they offered me this, I didn't really care where Superior, Wisconsin
was. I didn't even have the slightest idea. As I mentioned before,
the reason I wanted to be away from the Koreans was not because I'm
snobbish,but in Maryland I was around a lot of Koreans. And there
were certain problems involved in being a young Korean girl in that
community where there was a lot involved. I don't want to sound like
I'm putting Koreans down, but Koreans are not used to having a young
girl come into this country alone. That is not usually done. You
should be living with your parents. There tends to be a lot of
strange rumors when you're a young girl of, seventeen or eighteen. It
was really difficult for me trying to fit everybody's expectations,plus
trying to defend my family name or whatever I was doing that was so
detrimental to my father and my grandparents. "She's is so-and-so's
granddaughter and I just didn't really want to be identified each
time--whatever I did right or wrong--with being so-and-so's daughter
T; So in Wisconsin, were you able to be your own person?
S: Yes, I think that was just one of the things I enjoyed the most. Sup-
erior is a tiny place, and the school I went to only had about two
thousand students and they were quite parochial actually. But people
didn't really know where I was coming from. They just had to take me
as I was. I didn't have any kind of background known to them. And I
didn't tell them either. So I was just one Korean student.
T: No prejudice there?
S: No, I saw some prejudice against me on different occasions in that
community but not in school. Superior was that kind of town and cer-
tain things happened to me. There were some prejuidices against me.
Not particularly because they didn't like me,but it was because I was
T: iow about the weather? Had you ever been in sub-zero weather before?
S: Yes, that was very much like at home. Korean winters are very bitter,
bitter cold so I wasn't really shocked about the weather. The only
thing was that it was longer than I wanted but...
T: What kind of career did you decide upon when you first entered there?
S: When I first went to school I chose medical technology as my major.
The first year you take just general science courses and all the un-
iversity, college courses--humanities, and whatever. So I took most-
ly science courses.
T: Where do you think this career stemmed from?
S: I think mostly because I had wanted, way back, to work in the health
professions in some area. I didn't really want to be a nurse. I guess
I had prejuidices against nursing or something. I just felt that in
nursing you could not be on your own. You have to work under a phy-
sician's order, and I really didn't want to be a nurse. Traditionally
that's what Korean women did. If you're a woman,then you can move to
nursing. Not many people thought of going into medicine if you're a
female...I think I was under that influence also. The fact that I
would not consider going into medicine...I felt, I'm still a female,
so I didn't go into medicine,but I wanted something in the health pro-
fession. One of the things that I found out was med-techs are very
health-profession oriented,but did not necessarily have to work di-
rectly with the physician in the capacity that nurses did.
T: Did you stay at Wisconsin State?
S: No,I stayed the first two years. I enjoyed my first year immensely,
but when my second year came around, I was beginning to feel it was
time for me to move on because the school was too small for me. During
the first year, I was very active in student government and I was ac-
tive in almost anything and everything. I kind of grew out of it ev-
entually. It was getting too small for me. And everybody in the ne-
ighborhood knew what I was doing the night before so I decided to move
on to a bigger school.
T: Where did you go?
S: I went to Michigan State University.
T: East Lansing?
S: East Lansing. That's when I decided, enough of small schools. I did
what I wanted to do there and again I was ready for bigger and better
T: Certainly bigger...
S: Certainly bigger, that's right. When I was there Michigan State had a
population of about forty-three thousand.
T: Was this in 1973?
T: Did you change your career plans on did you keep them?
S: No, in fact towards the end of the second year when I was in Wisconsin,
I had some doubts about med-tech because as I got to know more about
it, I decided that maybe it was not for me after all, and maybe the re-
ason was because I was exposed to medical technology, what med-techs did
through a sorority that I belonged to. It was a national med-tech so-
rority. It was a professional sorority where they would expose you to
what med-techs did and the more I got to know about it the more I re-
alized that it was not as people-oriented as I had thought. It was
too lab oriented. And I had a feeling that I didn't like that profes-
sion. I'd rather be working with people than in a lab per se. So I
already considered changing when I came to East Lansing. I actively
tried to find some other profession that would mean more contact with
T: What did you choose?
S: I looked into a lot of different things when I first got to East Lan-
sing. The first quarter I took all different courses to find out what
I liked. At one time I wanted to go into human ecology where I would
be working in child development. Then I took some nutrition courses.
I also took some psychology courses to find out if I wanted to go into
counseling. After a quarter or so, I realized that I liked the nutr-
ition courses the best and so I pursued that to see where my previous
education would fit in. And strangely enough, everything I took before
would apply to nutrition. That was a beautiful switch-over. I went
to talk to people in the nutrition department to see how feasible it
was. It worked out beautifully.
T: Did you graduate from Michigan State?
S: Yes. I graduated from Michigan State with a Bachelor's Degree in
T: What did you decide to do after that?
S: In dietetics, you have to have at least a year of experience as an in-
tern before you're eligible to take a national examination to become
registered. I didn't have that experience when I was graduating so I
was applying for internships. My advisor at the time told me that I
should not expect to be accepted because I was not an American student.
There is a big problem in the area of dietetics as far as internships
are concerned. Their rate of having enough internships for all the
dietetic students is very poor. They're just not ready. Most of the
students just can't get internships, so they gave priority to students
who would stay in this country. They would obviously not give it to
any foreign students who might take an internship, finish it, and take
T: What did you do about that?
S: Not a whole lot then. I couldn't do too much,but it infuriated me
that I could not do this. I did get rejections from several places
that I applied to. And I was really upset that I'd spent all these
years trying to become a dietician and I couldn't because I was a for-
eign student. They would never say that
the rejection was due to that because that's discrimination. But my
advisors kept telling me that there was just no way that I could get
it. My very last resort was to figure out a way to get my residency.
It was really strange because I had no intention of becoming an Amer-
ican citizen,but for my career and my future, I didn't care what I
was going to become. I said, well, if it takes that, that's what I'm
going to do 'cause that's a waste of my four years in college. I did
not get registered. So I looked into getting an application to be-
come an American citizen.
T: Your parents have been out of our picture for a while. Were they able
to help you any way?
S: No, in fact when I was discussing this with them, I told them what the
difficulties were and what kind of problems I was having. They really
didn't know what to tell me because the only way I could get the in*
ternship I wanted was to get residency, but they were against me get-
ting a residency. That meant six months of trying to become an Amer-
ican. And they just couldn't handle it. My parents were pretty upset
T: Was there ever any threat of deportation?
S: Oh yes, I applied for this residency and the immigration office told
me at the time that it was going to take six months. Six months went
by and nothing happened. I got two deportation notices. It says that
you have to be out of the country within thirty days or they will
forcefully come and get you and ship you out. I knew that was going
to happen,but I figured that within six months something had to happen.
They promised me that all the things were taken care of and it was go-
ing to come out,but-it never did. It took two years to complete the
necessary paper work.
T: What were you doing during these two years?
S: Odd jobs here and there.
T: Still in East Lansing?
S: Yes. The reason I didn't want to leave East Lansing was because I was
doing all the immigration paper work through Detroit and if I were to
leave East Lansing, I couldn't communicate with Detroit as I was then.
T: You were finally able to establish a permanent residency...
S: Yes, after two years.
T: When was this? '77?
S: February of '77. I'll never forget.
T: Were you able to get an internship?
S: I had hoped that the application would be going through within six
months 'cause that's what they told me. Withing that time frame, I was
going to apply for another internship. Two years passed after I grad-
uated and by then the competition for internships was even worse be-
cause there were new batches of people coming out all the time, plus
those people who were left over from way back when. My chance of get-
ting into an internship was very slight, because I was out of school
for so long and all these people are coming out of school. I really
didn't want to spend another chunk of my time applying for these in-
ternships. I had decided I was just going to go to graduate school.
There was another route of doing it and that was to go to graduate
school and incorporate six months of experience with the master's de-
gree. Then you are eligible to take the national examination. I did
not want to waste time applying for internships and getting rejected.
Even if I got accepted, it would take another year to complete the in-
ternship. That would be another year and a half. Instead of doing
that, I was going to take a year or a year and a half to get my mas-
ter's degree and then six months to incorporate on-the-job training
with the master's degree program which you could do through the pro-
fessors that you're working with.
T: Where did you decide to go to graduate school?
S: That was a decision that was made for me in a sense because I got my
residency in February and I wanted to go to graduate school in fall.
I was already too late to apply for graduate school anywhere. I think
there were about two or three schools that I wanted to go to that had
late dead-lines for fall applications and the University of Florida
happens to be one of those which had late dead-lines so I...
T: You came to Gainesville?
T: Did you see Gainesville as different from the northern campuses that
you had been a pprt of?
S: I really liked it when I first saw it. Weatherwise, it was nice and
it was very romantic and slow paced. I liked the campus with palm
trees and stuff like that.
T: What kind of program where you in here?
S: I was in the food science and human nutrition department. It's a part
of the IFAS-International Food and Agricultural Sciences-and IFAS is
a very big area in this school.
T: You said you had to get six months of training. Where did you get this
S: That six months of training could have been done in conjunction with
my master's degree at school,but it was coincidental that when I was
graduating there was a program down in Miami in a child development :
center called Mailman Center for Child Development. It was affiliated
with the University of Miami. And they were looking for interns, who
were post-master's degree. That was for six months and it would apply
to the six months experience that I needed at that time. It was a fed-
erally and state funded program for developmental disabilities. It
was a perfect opportunity for me so I applied and got the fellowship.
T: As you're moving up with your education, you were focusing more on
human nutrition to children with learning disabilities and physical
T: You're still in Gainesville today. Where had the lead you in uh...
S: After I completed my internship in Miami, I decided to move out of
Miami. I didn't really care for Miami so I came back to Gainesville.
I had friends here that I could stay with and I was going to try to
feel out where I wanted to go next. I was looking for jobs everywhere
and I had interviews with several different companies, hospitals, and
nursing homes within the state. In fact some were out of state. But
I happened to hear about this job in Sunland in Gainesville. I had a
lot experience in developmental disabilities already because I was
down in Miami doing just that so I went to interview with them, they
hired me on the spot. They needed someone with the background that I
had and I could start working right away.
T: What exactly is Sunland?
S: Sunland is a state institution for the mentally retarded. The part-
icular program that I'm associated with is called ICFMR and it stands
for Intermediate Care Facilities for Mentally Retarded. It's an ex-
tensive program which is funded by the state, and federal government.
It has intensive training for severely and profoundly handicapped res-
idents in Sunland or anywhere in the state. We have various discip-i
lines, which we call IDT or Interdisciplinary Team Approach. We have
various disciplines evaluating these clients. We set goals for the
year for what these residents or clients will do or be trained to do
in certain areas. There are a lot of therapists and trainers. I'm
one of the Interdisciplinary Team members.
T: Do you see progress with mentally retarded students through the type
of food they eat? Is that possible?
S: It is not so much just that they're training per se. What I do is
take care of babies or pediatrics patients. My real interest is in
pediatrics and I eventually want to go into pediatric nutrition. Men-
tally retarded clients are like children who cannot express themsel-
ves, just like children. My goal is to work with the primary care
staff who take care of these children. I don't want to say children
because these are grown-ups as well. But they are like children in
the sense that they don't know what is good for them and they don't
know what they want. You have to have complete care as far as what
goes into their mouth. I want to make sure that these needs of these
clients who can't verbalize their needs, are met through expertise.
And I work directly with the staff.
T: You weretalkii'ng earlier about getting away from this diplomat rep-
utation and diplomat's child's life. You've had such an exciting I
life. Do you feel that you've lived the diplomat's child's life or
have you been able to lead a normal American life here in Gainesville?
S: I think I'm pretty much Americanized by now. Since I left my parents,
I can truly say that I am living my own life. The only difference may
be the fact that, yes, my parents have still been moving around while
I'm here in the states and I've been able to visit them in these var-
T: Where have you been to see them?
S: I've been to Africa, Hawaii, and I plan to go to Vienna this summer.
I missed several places they've been to before, like Sydney, Australia
(sic) and Ceylon, but the fact is they came come and visit me from
these different places. I think that's just super. With the daily
living situation, working as a dietitian or as a graduate student, I
don't think I was living as a diplomat's child at all for the last ten
or twelve years. To a small extent yes, but generally no.
T: Some of the best of both worlds, being able to just move into their
world for a moment and yet you now live your own life.
S: Right. And I'm very satisfied with that. I don't think that I miss
going with them all the time, because I do have my own life now and
it's fine. I think my previous experience of going to different places
with them was just beautiful and I will always appreciate that, but I
know I will make more trips traveling to these other places. I feel
pretty good about the experiences I've had so far because I think I
had more opportunities than many other people that I know.
T: This has been such an enjoyable experience for me and I thank you very
much for doing this and helping me.
S: I enjoyed it myself.
T: This tape will be put in the Oral History project if this is alright
S: I'm honored.
S: Thank you so much and we plan to have this transcribed and back to you
so you can review it and make sure we're putting down what has been
S:: That's fine. Thank you for the opportunity. I feel like a celebrity.
T: Thank you so much and again I've really enjoyed it and this will be an
enjoyable experience to look back on, to understand more about a cul-
ture that I have never been exposed to and places other than Korea
that I never knew about. Thank you so much.