'Korea's Helen Keller' Turns Adversity into Opportunity

      May 07, 2012 07:46

      She is hearing impaired, barely able to catch the sound of a car's horn even with the use of a hearing aid. But she can speak four languages and has worked for Goldman Sachs, and is now employed at a Japanese branch of Credit Suisse.

      Kim Su-rim, dubbed "Korea's Helen Keller," recently released the Korean-language version of her autobiography, which was first published in Japanese in April last year. The 40-year-old said in a written interview with the Chosun Ilbo that the people she met while traveling around the world prompted her to write the book.

      "Everyone I spoke with during my travels was surprised to hear about my life," Kim said. "And they told me they became more motivated and wanted to live a fuller life. I was shocked that others could find strength from my life story... I was overwhelmed by the realization that my experience could be of use."

      She can speak Korean, Japanese, English and Spanish fluently and understand all four languages simply by lip reading.

      Kim Su-rim

      Kim was born in Seoul and her parents divorced when she was just two years old. Her father, who she didn't meet until she was four, left her at a distant relative's house in the countryside. She lost her hearing completely when she was six due to an illness, and her mother, who left in search of work, came back four years later with a sibling from a different father. Kim followed her mother to Japan after finishing elementary school and was left in the care of a Japanese friend of her mother's.

      She learned Japanese in order to survive before moving on to conquer other languages. After graduating from high school in 1991, she spent two years in a language exchange program in the U.K. She returned to Japan, graduated from a two-year college and landed a job at a paper manufacturer. But she suffered bouts of depression four years later and decided to go traveling to rediscover her passion for life. This took her on a three-year journey through 30 countries, during which time she picked up Spanish.

      Her impressive language skills finally landed her a job at Goldman Sachs, where she earned a license to become an investment adviser.

      Her naturally active personality allowed her to overcome the hardships she faced in life. The story of how she learned English is deeply moving. "In order to familiarize myself with the sound 'I,' I touched my teacher's mouth and neck with my hand and mimicked the tongue's movement, the vibration of the throat, the intensity of [the teacher's] breathing and how the teeth touched together," Kim said. "I repeated that sound all day so that I wouldn't forget it."

      "Looking at the book, you might get the impression that I am eternally positive, but I've dealt with several crises in my life,"  Kim said. "Nobody likes to hear me say 'Help! I can't hear!" Kim said. "So I say, 'I can't do this because of my impaired hearing, but I can do that instead. If you give me a little help, then I can do this too.'"

      "Then people are happy to help me," she added. Kim lives with her husband and four-year-old daughter.

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