The childhood account of Kim Song-hae (English, ’66) evokes much emotion, especially for those who lived through the heartbreaking times of Korean War and its aftermath. Kim and her family lived in Pusan as refugees from the North Korea. As the oldest with Mother in poor health, Kim had to take care of the baby sister while doing whatever housework she could, often with disastrous outcomes.
The girl who once shivered not only in the cold but also in the bleakness of life has now become an energetic, ambitious woman who has authored eleven nonfiction books in Korean. One of them, Aim for Harvard Instead of SNU (Seoul National University), became a bestseller.
A recently published novel called “The Way Out” holds particular significance for Kim as she dedicated it to the American soldier who once gave a hug and a horseback ride to the helpless girl.
“My back never left its dearest companion chair for four years until the book was finally published last month,” Kim said. “It was a way for me to express gratitude to the compassionate soldier.”
Although a mere hug may seem insignificant to others, it meant the world to the devastated and exhausted young Kim, who had become a motherly figure to her younger siblings and thus responsible for all family affairs. It was then that she dreamed of going to the United States someday to find him and express her appreciation for giving her hope at her most difficult time.
Coming to South Korea from the North at the age of 7 and not receiving much education until the fourth grade of elementary school, her dream of someday going to the United States seemed far from realistic.
Accepting her late start and realizing her limits, she devoted much more time than her schoolmates to studying, especially to English. During her college years, she even attended English Bible reading classes offered at a nearby church not just to learn, but become fluent in the language.
“I had focused only on going to the United States since that unforgettable event as a child,” Kim said. “However, I realized that majoring in English and putting much effort into learning the language was necessary.”
The result, she said, was remarkable. She turned her dream into reality shortly after graduation, earning a full scholarship to a college in the United States.
“In 1966, I departed to my dream land,” Kim said. “Although I was not able to find the soldier, having earned such a valuable opportunity, I set new goals, such as jogging eight kilometers every day and publishing my works.”
With enthusiasm and persistence, she succeeded in accomplishing her goals.
“For all the years I was in the United States, I jogged everyday,” Kim said. “Looking back, I am mesmerized by how much I have achieved. I have circled the globe two and a half times. Also, I have published over 10 books, with informative guides for mothers raising children.”
She realized the value and meaning of life through her experience of overcoming disadvantages as a North Korean refugee.
“I had always considered myself inferior to others – I felt as if I were unfortunate in my background as well as my ability to learn,” Kim said. “However, by witnessing myself overcome difficulties and achieve my dreams, I realized that efforts never betray you.”
Kim wishes for Ewha students to enjoy a similar perspective on life.
“I advise Ewha students to remember three things in all circumstances,” Kim said. “First, love and value yourself. You cannot live another life, so spend your given time wisely. Second, appreciate even the smallest help or care you receive. Just as the hug the soldier gave me became a life-turning point for me, be grateful. Then, you will be able to overcome hardships. Third, accept your strengths and weaknesses and make the best of them. Such positive attitude will lead you to happiness and success.”
Kim said she will continue to live an energetic life. She plans to attend a book launch party in the United States scheduled for May, followed by traveling to different areas on a book tour.