Lee did not expect her life to be as dynamic as it has turned out to be. In fact, when she was young, her life was quite ordinary. Since elementary school, she only had one dream: to become an artist. As university entrance drew near, her friends agonized over choosing majors and their future careers, but she stayed tranquil and focused.
“I was full of confidence about my future,” Lee said. “But I was also ignorant. I didn’t think about other meaningful and fun things beside art. I didn’t even consider the financial problems. I wanted to be an artist and that was that.”
Lee remained blissfully ignorant until she graduated from university. Then, reality hit her hard. She had always been so focused on art itself that she had not thought about actually making a living out of it. She realised that she needed a job in order to support herself after graduation.
Lee applied for a job opening at a Buddhist broadcasting company. She passed the tests and became a newscaster.
“I chose to become a newscaster only because back in university I had vaguely thought that if I ever had to choose to do something other than art, being a newscaster would be fun,” Lee said.
In the year that Lee became a newscaster, she also submitted an artwork to a famous international art biennale. Although Lee had never expected a good result, she became one of seven Koreans who won. She had already started working as a probationary newscaster when requests for interviews began pouring in.
It was awkward for her because her superiors thought that she was not committed enough to her job. There were many catty remarks about Lee’s unexpected popularity. Her superiors and colleagues often said scathingly that Lee might as well quit, for she was “obviously wanted somewhere else.” Rather than discouraging Lee, these words made her more determined to stay.
“It was just for money at first, but as I heard all these sarcastic comments, I decided that I would never quit,” Lee said. “I wanted to show the others that when I do something, I see it through to the end.”
So began Lee’s 20-year career as a newscaster. She says that even though she stopped painting, she never regrets becoming a newscaster.
“I enjoyed being a newscaster very much,” Lee said. “However, it’s not that I have completely abandoned art. Such a thing could never happen. My artistic sentiments are still locked up somewhere inside me, and I am waiting for the right moment to unleash them.”
It might have been the right moment when she left the broadcasting industry. However, Lee had other plans. She began to teach as a free-lance lecturer.
“When I was a newscaster, I taught at speech classes,” Lee said. “I realized that like art and being a newscaster, teaching is also fun and rewarding.”
Lee’s vocational change widened her horizon. She met new people and learned new things. Among those new things was the word “multiculturalism,” which was still an unfamiliar concept for many people ten years ago.
“When I first heard of the concept of multiculturalism, it interested me and some of my friends,” Lee said. “So we founded the Center for Multi-Cultural Korea in 2008. I once again jumped into an unknown world.”
The beginning of the new phase in Lee’s life, however, was not smooth. Other people were prejudiced against Lee, who had majored in art and who was also a wife and a mother. They were used to mostly male activists who had majored in social studies or politics, and considered art as a “soft” subject.
“I faced many difficulties,” Lee said. “I often felt like giving up, but I never did. Giving up is not what I do.”
To fend off the accusations that she was not “academically suited” to her new field, she entered graduate school and got a doctoral degree in multiculturalism. Now nobody could accuse her of being unqualified due to her university major.
In 2009, Lee founded the Rainbow Choir, hoping to boost the confidence of children from multicultural or foreign families through choir activities. She felt that what these children needed was a community where they could freely express themselves and become more confident about their identities. She believed that being in a choir with a favorable atmosphere towards multicultural children would do the job.
“Unlike their parents who made a conscious choice to live abroad, children from multicultural backgrounds often have little say in the matter,” said Lee. “Therefore, they are usually less prepared and feel bigger confusion and alienation as they struggle with their dual identity. I wanted to help them.”
The choir has been a huge success, but Lee wants more. The choir consists of elementary school and middle school students. Now, she wants to establish alternative schools for older children from multicultural or foreign backgrounds. Compared to multicultural children who are born in Korea or immigrated at a very young age, those who come to Korea in their teens have more difficulty in learning a new language and culture. She wants to give them the extra help that she feels they need.
Many financial difficulties exist in running the choir, for the Center for Multi-Cultural Korea is a non-profit organization and depends entirely on sponsors. However, Lee has overcome many obstacles in the past six years and is planning on seeing the choir through to the end.
“My motto, which is ‘never drop out before the end, or don’t start in the first place,’ has helped me pursue my goals when things get difficult,” Lee said. “I have achieved many things in my life through continually challenging myself .”
Lee continues to live each day with determination to achieve her goals and enthusiasm for new challenges.