“Hell-Joseon,” an off-putting and negatively connoted term in the urban dictionary, emphasizes the harsh reality young South Koreans face today. From excessive educational burden, high unemployment rate, and low wages to underemployment, the long overdue employment issues of the country have led the youth to consider emigration as one of the best options. As overseas employment is becoming the latest trend and dearest desire for many, a significant portion of Korea’s youth are developing a fantasy about a life abroad. In an effort to both inform those interested in working overseas and to convey the true reality of the current situation abroad, Ewha Voice gathered the story of Ewha alumni who are actively working abroad in well-known fields. In this issue, Ewha Voice reached out to Choi Gina, Kim Jung-hwa and Park Sun-jung to deliver to listen to their stories of working overseas.
Overcoming challenges as a precedent of working abroad
Going almost 30 years back in time when English was not taught prevalently and when working overseas was uncommon for many Koreans, Gina Choi was one of few who pioneered her way to the U.S. Despite the drastically new environment, as a graduate of Food and Nutrition at Ewha, Choi started her six year career as a dietary clerk at the Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. In 1988, majority of students were not interested in overseas employment. Hence, not much information was available for the few who considered working abroad. Without any precedents to guide her, it took Choi enormous effort to overcome the obstacles she encountered. Among them all, Choi looks back and claims that the language barrier as the most difficult to overcome. “To improve my English, I went to a local adult school and listened to English tape recordings,” Choi said. “One of my co-workers even pointed out that my English on Fridays was much better because I would use English during work and get accustomed to it, but my ‘Monday English’ would stiffen up since I used Korean with my family during the weekends.” Language was an obstacle that Choi had to overcome, but the lessons she learned from Ewha formed her personality and provided a sturdy foundation for her to grow up as a professional. “Unlike other universities, Ewha is a women’s institution and ensures that personality is formed through both female and Christian education,” Choi said. “That identity helped make me a good learner and willing to overcome the challenges I face.” While working as a dietary clerk in the U.S., Choi wanted to pursue an 8 to 5 job and thus worked as a general administrative senior manager at Samsung U.S. for 20 years. During that time, she worked as a professional regarding facility management, Human Resources (HR), fixed asset management, sample management, and distribution. Satisfied with her career change, Choi continues her successful career as an HR senior manager dealing with employee benefits at KW International, a logistics company. Since her second occupation deviated far from her Food and Nutrition major at Ewha, Choi asserts students should not limit their job choices to within their university majors. “Even if your field of study doesn’t match your plans post graduation, it is important to try your best,” Choi said. “A steady, hard-working attitude always brings people closer to success regardless of their college major.” Choi also highlighted experience as the crucial factor when students seek a career abroad. “ Participating in internship programs and traveling to different countries is the best experience for students,” Choi advised. “It may sound obvious, but those experiences broaden a student’s perspective and knowledge.”