“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
That is my favorite quote about success. What is “true success” to you, fame, wealth, or a promising career? Everybody has their own definition, though, and with that thought I’d like to introduce you to Choi Jinhee. After a 4-year struggle she and her family finally got their permanent resident visas in 2010 after moving to Canada in 2006. I first made her acquaintance after my own arrival in 2008, and I can say of all the Korean immigrants I have known in Canada, Choi Jinhee and her husband are the most stubbornly determined to make a life here. “True success” has meant to her pursuing the goal through all disappointments and setbacks, with that refusal to give up that is one of our best Korean character traits. I give sincere congratulations to her and her family again and admire their effort to break through obstacles to achieve what they wanted in Canada instead of going back to their home country.
She is currently living in Edmonton, Alberta with three kids and her husband, and expecting another baby this July. It’s been 7 years since her family moved to Canada. Her husband was a truck driver in Korea and he by coincidence one day read a “Long-haul truck driver immigration presentation” advertisement, and that was the start. She says their prime motivation to come was for the benefit of their child (and future children), because although they were comfortable with life in Korea they knew that many career doors there would be closed to a truck driver’s child. She says they heard in Canada there was more social mobility, and whenever life here seemed impossibly difficult, and they wondered about going home, they thought of the opportunities Canada offered their children.
What were those difficulties? As working-class people they did not begin with the English skills that many upper or middle class Koreans already have on arrival in Canada. For them the language barrier was not just an occasional frustration, but a brick wall of near-total incomprehension. Giving birth to their 2nd child prematurely during their first year, she says the anxiety and dread they felt being unable to ask the doctor all the questions they had was terrible. She laughs now at a story of being unable to communicate wanting to exchange a pair of children’s shoes, that she says at the time brought her almost to tears with frustration. And of course it impacted her husband’s work situation. And so they learned English the total immersion method. As far as English goes they went to the ‘hagwon(학원)’ of Canadian life, and can now express themselves adequately, if not fully.
The big difficulty was always the pursuit of permanent residence. The immigration consulting company cheated them, the promises they made about a permanent residence visa soon after arrival was all lies and ate up much of their initial money. After that, when her husband still couldn’t get a job with his very low level of English and they could not afford Toronto anymore, her and the two kids had to go back to Korea until he found a job trucking in Calgary, where they rejoined him. Missing his family during extreme long-haul jobs other drivers wouldn’t take, he slept in the cab of his truck and ate grocery store food (while other drivers ate in truck stops) to save money for their life. He applied under the Alberta visa nominee program, but failed the English test twice and with the deadline looming for him to leave Canada they made the decision to uproot once again. This was to Winnipeg, where the provincial nominee program had no language component, but which they knew was regarded by many Canadians as like Siberia. It was not easy even there. They had trouble renewing her and her son’s visas because of miscommunication with a government worker, and once again faced having to leave Canada. A lawyer’s office helped fix the problem, and then told them for a significant fee they could help with their PR visas. Though they remembered being cheated before, they decided to risk the money to continue their dream. This time it worked and they got their PR visa after long last. She says every day in Canada was a survival game until that day, October 8, 2010. (to be continued)