I went to University of Tennessee College of Social Work in Nashville, United States, as the first foreign professor of the school in 2005. My stay in the States was a time for me to examine my outward and inward achievements and to grow all the more mature due to the examination. Experience as an ethnic minority, for example, is one thing I would never have had as a scholar in the field of social welfare in South Korea.
Through this experience I came to finally realize that my strength in the United States was none other than my very own identity as a Korean. Whenever I faced hardship in the States I could encourage myself by reminding myself of dreams and passions from childhood, gratitude for my family, and last but not least, knowing that I was a Korean. I was propelled forward by a desire to become a role model and a source of hope and encouragement to other Koreans, to be seen by the world as an ever-learning and ever-progressing Korean person, and to be of help to other Koreans in the State. This desire gave me strength and happiness. Whenever I pictured myself becoming that kind of person, I could overcome my despair and fear and go back to my place to try my best once again.
Such experiences also influenced the education of my daughter. Unlike most Koreans in the States who choose an English school for their child or children, my husband and I chose a Korean school for our girl. If we were planning on staying for only a year or so we might have sent her to an English school, but as we expected to be in the States for five or six years, we thought it suitable for our daughter to experience the Korean culture and language in her childhood. We visited many Korean schools, and eventually chose one whose principal showed exceptional conviction in the education of Korean language. When our daughter began to attend kindergarten we also sent her to a Korean school every Saturday, where she learned the national anthem of Korea and the salute to the Korean national flag.
Above all things, I hope that my child and the rest of Korean children lead happy lives. I believe that a welfare society is a society where its members are happy. Only when one is truly happy and cares for oneself can that person pass on the happiness to other people. When someone feels that he or she is the most miserable person around, he or she cannot sympathize with other people’s pain. By studying social welfare, which is about helping others, I’ve realized just how important it is to first help myself and become a happy person myself.
I also hope that my child and other Korean children learn to hold their balance between both their Korean and American identity. I hope that they fulfill their role as the bridge between the two cultures, and that they harmonize the good things in Korean culture and the good things in American culture in their lives.
Finally, I want my daughter to grow up into a mature citizen in a humane society. To do so, she will need to learn to be considerate, genuinely respect other human beings, and to overcome her prejudices and think more freely outside her own perspectives. I also want the same for every other child. It is my earnest wish that every Korean child becomes someone who can each add a little bit of goodness to any society in the world.
*Cho Sang-mi, an associate professor of the Department of Social Welfare, teaches Social Welfare. She received her Ph.D. in Social Work from University of Southern California School of Social Work, and her M.S.W. and bachelor degree in Social Work from Ewha Womans University.