Gina Kim – IE Editorial Intern/Assistant – A two-part immigration from Seoul to home.

Gina Kim Baby Picture
Gina as a baby with her parents around 1989.
It’s never easy to live up to parents’ expectations.

“I have this weight on my shoulders to pay my parents back somehow,” said Gina Kim, 22. “To pay them back for what they sacrificed for me.”

Currently, Kim is an editorial assistant for the International Examiner.

The recent Seattle University graduate in Strategic Communications said, “I’m testing the waters in media right now, but I’m not sure yet. I’m the only child, it’s just me – so I feel this pressure to really excel and succeed at whatever it is I choose to do.”

This careful consideration of her future stems from her parent’s past, struggling after their immigration to the U.S.

“My dad, Yang Soo Kim, went to college in Korea,” she said. “When he came here, his English wasn’t perfect and he couldn’t get the job he would be able to get in Korea.”

For many Asian professsionals immigrating to the U.S., their skills and training didn’t translate to the expectations or requirements of American employers. Many studies suggest language barriers and discrimination contribute to this. Kim feels her dad was disappointed by this but was still motivated to take advantage of opportunities in America.

An assistant professor in Korea Studies at the University of Washington, Hwasook Nam, said that “people didn’t really see much opportunity for upward mobility in Korean society for various reasons. [And]there was a very positive image of the United States at that point.”

Kim’s mother, Kyong Ran Kim, was the first to leave Korea. She moved to Auburn, Wash. from Seoul when she was 27 years-old to join her sister. She didn’t stay long. After three months in the Auburn area, she moved to New York City for better opportunities. But the transition wasn’t easy.

“It’s very hard to find work,” Kyong said. “It’s very hard with the language barrier.” So Kyong had to limit her opportunities to working in the Korean community.

Despite not knowing any English, Kyong found work at a bank and married her brother’s friend, Yang Soo Kim, a man she had known in Korea. Yang stayed in Seattle while Kyong was still in New York.

“He waited for me for a year and a half,” she said. Eventually, Yang moved to New York to be with his wife where Gina was born in 1988. New York, however, proved to be a difficult place to raise a child and start a life.

“Life in New York is very hectic,” said Kyong. “Everyday it’s a rush to do something. [And] it’s very expensive. When I got my paycheck, there was a balance every time of zero.”

The family decided to move back to the greater Seattle area when Kim was 3 years-old.

“My mom worked at the post office,” Kim said. “She used to work graveyard for a while. She has better hours now, but she still comes home late.

“That makes me feel bad, and I kind of take her sacrifices for granted,” Kim added.

Understanding her parent’s experience gives Kim a better perspective on her family and their sacrifices.

“For me,” Kim said, “It was like a two-part immigration. From Seoul to New York and from New York to here.”

Having been born and raised in the United States, Kim’s English created interesting family dynamics at home.

“They would speak Korean to me and I would respond in English,” she said. “There was a lot of that. Even for the most part now, I mainly speak to them in English and they may not understand some things.

“There are expressions in Korean that I can’t seem to find an English word or phrase for and vice versa,” she added. “When that happens, it’s kind of frustrating. Thankfully, I was raised to learn both languages.”

Immigration is a painstakingly difficult process. Moving to a new place, however, can often be worth the trouble.

“[America] gives you a chance to speak out,” said Kyong. “There is a lot of opportunity. They give you a chance to get educated – if you want to learn, if you want to go to school. That’s a good hope.”

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