When Choi (Kim) Min Sook (Sociology, 3) entered the Humanities Building A for her readmission interview to be admitted into Ewha thirty two years after her first days here, the assistant who was helping at the door politely said to her, “The interviewing professors, please come this way.”
Choi, who is 54 years old, left Ewha when she was in junior year because her family moved to the United States felt that the situation was funny and embarrassing when she was treated as a professor due to her age.
Choi and her husband came back to Seoul last because of her husband’s job and wanted to enjoy late years in home country at the same time. However, she found that Korea had changed so much and it was not the same country she had known. Choi was filled with questions for Korean social and political problems which were different from America and wanted to find the answers.
“Life has been like a flowing river for me. I let go of myself to flow along the river. It took me to America 30 years ago and I had lived proudly as a woman with family and career, now it took me back to Korea. I am over fifty. I could have chosen to travel around or play golf, but I decided to study. I have an unfinished degree at Ewha and wanted to learn about the Korean society. So it was natural for me to apply for the Department of Sociology.” said Choi.
As school started, Choi, who had not considered her age being a barrier to her new university life, began to be seized with thoughts about what her semester really will be like. On campus, wherever she went, no one treated her as a student but as a parent, professor or a staff at Ewha. Moreover, she realized that she had a hard time typing in Korean and writing reports and that sometimes made her discouraged, frustrated and concerned whether her age would really become a barrier to enjoying her days on campus.
Nevertheless, her school life was satisfying overall. “I have no regrets about the new life that I am undertaking. I believe late forties and fifties are the best ages for women to study because the children are grown and they can apply the concepts taught at school to their life experiences. I sit in the classroom and really appreciate what I learn and understand. It’s such a joy,” said Choi. Choi credits the experience, plus a mindset of wanting to enjoy every moment of her life to the fullest, as the source of her satisfying second university life. Choi says that, while students in their teens and 20s often study because of social or family pressure, her age allows her to study without the stress of getting good grades or worrying over employment.
Talking about her classmates, Choi says, “It is hard to ignore the fact that there is a generation gap between people with a wide age difference. The students here are about thirty years younger than me. We take in and perceive issues differently because people tend to apply ideas in the range of what they have seen, heard or experienced.”
But Choi says that studying with young people helps her understand the younger generation better, and feels grateful that they always tried to take care of her. “Current Ewha is very different from thirty years ago. I feel sorry that the students are under tremendous pressure of employment and jobs than the past, and they study so hard. However, the atmosphere, the environment that stimulates bright students to become leaders of the current and future society is the still same as in the past.”
Even participating in MT, a retreat where university students go to get to know each other and spend usually a day or two outside of Seoul, Choi is experiencing all that a typical university student goes through. She also attended the national sociology conference held at Ewha, to listen to the lectures by prominent sociologists.
Choi says that she still feels awkward about being called “teacher(sun-saeng-nim)” by professors younger than she is, and having to explain her story over and over again wherever she goes as a small flaw in the great experience she is having right now. But she says that she is sometimes lonely because she does not have someone her age who can truly share what she is feeling and learning at Ewha.
Being able to go back to school days twice is not a chance given to anyone. By overcoming the prejudice of university being a place for people in the twenties, Choi is determined to get the fullest out of her remaining years at Ewha. “Do not be restricted by age or pressure from others. Like it or not, we all go where the river flows. However, if you can find a way to make it happen, you can choose and plan out your life no matter how young or old you are,” says Choi.