A Shining Example for Foreign Wives in Korea

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Tae-ick

    January 31, 2012 13:41

    Jasmine Lee met a Korean sailor back in 1995 when she was in medical school in the Philippines, married him and moved to Korea. The movies in which she has since appeared have attracted some 10 million viewers -- and there have been only two: "Punch" (2011) and "Secret Reunion" (2009).

    In "Punch," Lee plays the foreign bride of a Korean man, and in "Secret Reunion" she makes a brief appearance as a Vietnamese bride. In "Punch," her husband tells their son, "This is your mother and she has been well educated even though her country is poor."

    In reality Lee works at Seoul City Hall. She is the first foreign woman to become a public servant in Korea, and her job is to support multicultural families in the city. Her schedule is packed with TV appearances, translation and lectures. She wants to set an example for foreign wives of Korean men showing that they can be as capable as others in Korea.

    Lee's parents ran a convenience store in the Philippines and she lived a comfortable life. She did not meet her husband's family until she arrived in Korea after the wedding in the Philippines. When she did, she discovered that three generations of his family, from his grandparents to his younger brother, were living under the same roof. So she started to learn Korean using the honorific form used to address elders. Her husband always supported and encouraged her, saying, "If you can't do it, then there is nobody in Korea who can."

    But then tragedy struck. Lee's husband died two years ago of a heart attack after rescuing their daughter from drowning in a stream during a vacation trip to Gangwon Province. Lee was left to take care of her two children. Just as her husband had supported her, she decided to offer help to other foreign women who were having a tough time adjusting. She says she feels she is making positive changes when these women ask whether they, too, can appear in movies in Korea or become public servants here.

    Now the ruling Grand National Party is apparently interested in offering Lee a chance to run in the April general elections as a party-list candidate. A Mongolian woman married to a Korean man became a provincial assemblywoman in 2010, but this would be the first time that a foreign-born individual is being considered for a National Assembly seat.

    Every year, around 30,000 foreign women marry Korean men. The time has come to think about what their dreams are and what difficulties they face living in Korea.

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