One of my interests in joining this blog is to write a series of articles about Korean women’s life and work in Canada, and give them a space to directly tell their own stories to you, the reader, as they try to adapt and make themselves contributing members of Canadian society.
As a visible minority and an immigrant it isn’t easy to be integrated into Canadian society, but when you have the time demands of being a wife and mother the challenges are truly formidable. Many Korean women, however, are working hard in every corner of Canada, and the first story I present is Kim Insun’s, engineer at Pennwest Exploration, one of the largest conventional oil and gas producers in Canada.
Q1. Tell me about yourself.
My name is Kim InSun. I live in Calgary with my wonderful husband and a 6 year old son. I work for PennWest Exploration, an oil company, as a “EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) / Reservoir Engineering team member. It sounds complex, but put simply my job is to find the most effective way to extract as much oil as possible from the ground.
Q2. What made you immigrate to Canada?
When I was a university student, I went to Vancouver for ESL study, and I was very impressed by Canada. I just felt ‘I want to come back to live here someday in the future.’ I met my husband there and we got married after we returned to Korea. It was a bit hard for us to decide to come to Canada when we finally got the immigration permission though, because we quite enjoyed our comfortable life in Korea with good jobs. After the baby came, however, we finally made the adventurous decision to put an end to our frenetically busy Korean life (my husband worked early morning to late night, and weekends too) and give our son a more relaxed life where his dad would have chances to play with him and be his friend.
Q3. As an immigrant, it must be hard to get into a big Canadian company, where everybody wants to work.How did you do it?
Actually in Korea, I had very different kind of job, not related to engineering at all. And at the beginning of our time in Canada, I wanted to be a social worker to help other immigrants, but after volunteering at an immigrant organization for a while I realized it requires more sacrifices than I could give. And honestly, I am very practical person, so I wanted to get a job with a solid salary if I had to study again. My husband is also an engineer, and through him I could see how promising the oil industry future was in Calgary. And I decided to enter the Petroleum Engineering field, the so-called one of top jobs for salary and benefits, with my Chemistry major background. I took the Petroleum Engineering program at SAIT. It was really hard to be a student again with a son and a husband to take care of, you know, as well I was getting old to be studying. But I tried really hard. One day, I had to go to school to take an exam after putting my crying son, suffering from flu, into the daycare. Nobody can understand what a heart-breaking moment it is to say bye to your sick kid. Anyways, I got what I wanted and am very satisfied with my job. Currently I am taking another program to be a P. ENG (Professional Engineer) with company support.
Q4. Do you feel any difference in working circumstances between Korea and Canada?
Of course there are many. But the biggest thing to me is that a boss and an employee have a more horizontal relationship. In front of my boss, for example, I can cross my legs and say what I want to say. It varies a bit from boss to boss, but generally in Canada we’re not so concerned about what the boss thinks about us. It’s a great feeling.
Q5. If you had difficulties in the work place, what were they? How did you get over them?
There are many immigrant engineers in oil companies. It’s not a big matter but I feel stressed about English, like most other immigrant engineers, and that is actually an obstacle for promotion to a high level. However, unlike Korea, people can go back to school to study a new program at the age 35, and get a job successfully. From that point of view, there is no discrimination about nation, race, or age in Canada.
Q6. When do you feel proud of being a Korean at work?
In my company, there are mostly Indians, Chinese and very few Koreans. In my team, particularly, I’m the only Korean. So me and other Korean co-workers on the other teams try harder to show our abilities. And recently I can feel they have a better image about Koreans, and I feel proud of myself and my colleagues when I hear them comment they need more Korean workers. And Koreans are famous for hard working, aren’t we?
Q7. What is your advice to the people who want to join the mainstream of Canadian society?
It’s such usual advice, but I want to say two things. The first is “If you keep going, you can do it!” and next is “Luck is when Opportunity meets Preparation. ”