My goal as a Korean mom living in Canada (and also as an international-marriage couple) is to give my children a “positive Korean heritage” and let them be proud of it. Kids are “the future of the country” and raising our children as both 100 percent Korean and 100 percent Canadian is a vital and important job to me and my husband as parents. I believe our children will be a great asset for the future of both countries, as talented people understanding both Korea and Canada fully. Here is a story of a woman working as a responsible Korean and Canadian, with the kind of ideal identity which I want to give my children.
Q1. Please introduce yourself briefly
Hello My name is Silvia Yoonjung Song. I have been working as a diversity liaison at Alberta Health Services for 5 years. It is a great honor to be a part of this project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Korea-Canada Diplomatic relations.
Q2. Where you are currently employed and what kind of work do you do?
I am currently employed at Alberta Health Services, working as a diversity liaison. I deliver health service information to service providers and diverse communities in the form of workshops, conferences and community fairs after compiling resources. My objective is to offer health information at refugee services, immigrant serving agencies, and resource centers etc. And since I can speak Korean fluently I can also offer health information in Korean to the Korean community here in Calgary, or around Alberta. In addition, I help link diverse populations and community service providers to appropriate information sources with consultation, and also facilitate connections between community agencies and organizations. In order to reach out to diverse demographics, I work with various media sources to increase health awareness, including newspapers, radios and websites in Alberta.
It has been almost 7 years since I’ve started working here. Of course I really love what I do every day.
Q3. Was there any hardship as a minority working at the workplace? If so, how did you survive it?
Alberta Health Services strives to clearly and consistently communicate respect and value for all individuals. The more diverse its workforce, the more everyone benefits from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. Alberta Health Services is dedicated to promoting an environment of personal respect, free from harassment and discrimination. This is clearly shown in the core values: “AHS values the diversity of the people and communities we serve, and is committed to attracting, engaging and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”
Furthermore, having such a diverse group as the people I work with, we have a great respect for each others’ unique background.
Q4. Let’s talk about more about you. What was your reason to immigrate to Canada?
In 1992, our family immigrated to Canada from South Korea. I had just finished grade 8 in Korea before moving to Vancouver, BC. It is quite hard to believe that it has been 21 years already. Like most immigrant parents, my parents’ decision was based upon the belief that Canada would provide a higher quality of education and an enormous amount of opportunities to my sister and I. To this day, I graciously thank my parents for making such a difficult decision and sacrificing so much by doing so.
Q5. As 1.5 generation immigrant, I assume it wasn’t that easy to get used to a totally new environment as a teen. Could you share some difficulties and feelings you had? And do you have any advice to other young Koreans still adapting to life in Canada?
It is very difficult for an adolescent to adjust to a completely different environment. It makes it especially challenging for an immigrant youth to get used to speaking a different language, learning a new culture, and making friends with others who may not understand your way of living. At the same time, you are under a great pressure from yourself to excel in many different areas such as academics as a way of compensating for the sacrifice your parents made to immigrate to Canada. This can be a huge burden on an immigrant adolescent to bear all alone. My advice to them is to be completely open to your family. It is completely normal to feel pressured and there’s no one better than your own family to share these issues with. Seek help from your siblings and/or parents because there’s no one else who understand you more than your own family.
Q6. Which Korean values learned from your parents are the most dear or important to you, the ones you would most like to preserve and pass on to your own children?
Being an adolescent, adjusting to a completely new environment can be a very challenging task. Therefore, having parents who continue to remind you of the importance of traditional values and where you come from can be very helpful. I am truly blessed to have such parents who always reminded me how important it is to respect elders and be considerate of others. Some people may see such values as exclusively Asian, but I consider them more as values that can be shared globally. By understanding the importance of these values and practicing them in real life, it will help you to be humble and receptive to other people’s opinions – which is why I would like to pass them on to my children.
Q7. How often do you go to Korea? When you do go, do you ever experience any feelings of ‘reverse culture shock’, that is, the feeling that your native land is surprising or unfamiliar to you? And have you ever thought about working and living in Korea again, be it for a short time or for good?
I try to visit Korea as often as possible. Over the past few years, I’ve been going back every other year. Although I’ve lived half of my life in Korea, I feel quite surprised every time I go back. However, I think this sense of surprise originates from the level of development and advancement every time I visit, and not so much from ‘reverse culture shock’. It is a quite refreshing experience going back to your native land as a visitor since you can see certain things from a different perspective. You would tend to appreciate minor things that you may not have thought too much of while you lived there. Fortunately, my husband feels the same way and part of our retirement plan includes going back to Korea to live in a small town near Nam-hae – although it is still quite a few years away.
Q8. I’m still a Korean citizen though I’m living in Canada with my family, I wonder which team do you cheer for when Korea and Canada meet in athletic competition?
Canadian society is well known for its multicultural characteristics and there is no better example than seeing people cheering for many different countries during the times of the Olympics, World Cups and other global sporting events. I have to say that I still have a great love for my motherland which makes it very difficult to not to cheer for Korea. Among the number of things that I appreciate about Canadian society is, people are very respectful towards diversity.
Q9. Who do you take as a role model? Why?
I have to say it would be my parents. As many of us know, it is not an easy task to be parents of an immigrant family. Running a business with very little time off and taking care of your children at the same time in a foreign environment does take an unimaginable amount of determination. Witnessing what they go through on a daily basis, you eventually feel a great appreciation of their sacrifice and develop a strong motivation to achieve your long term objective. The ability to endure and overcome difficult challenges in order to achieve a goal has been the most helpful skillset for becoming who I am today. Without a doubt, I would not be here today without all the support from my parents, and it is why they will always be my most important role models. Of course, this also motivates me to become a great parent to my kids in the future just as my parents were to me. I am most certain that I will have even greater appreciation of what they have done when I become a mother someday.
Q10. What are your future goals?
My future goal is to continue offering more valuable health information to more people in need. Furthermore, I wish for the Korean community in Calgary to launch an association or a society to increase health awareness, that way more people like myself will be able to take a part in it. Being a Korean Canadian, I always have a heart for working with and for Koreans living in Canada.
Q11. What could be your advice to Korean Canadians who would like to work in mainstream Canadian Society?
I would like to emphasize the importance of ‘networking’ to them. It will enable them to get to learn about other people, enhance their communication skills, and get familiar with the industry, first hand, through these volunteering or networking opportunities. Obviously you cannot get a job by just knowing someone who works at a company. However, mainstream Canadians value the importance of networking and volunteering, and because you can learn about more job opportunities through these relationships, which ultimately helps you increase your interview and job skills, that will help you excel. And companies pay attention to a person highly recommended by its own employees. This is why many companies in Canada have employee referral programs. It is the employer’s goal to find and hire good candidates, and their own employee’s recommendations are valued. Thus high marks, educational background and having multiple talents can be important, but it will be even more important to be involved in the local community in Canada, volunteering and networking, as you seek to find a job.