Tell me about your mom.
My mom had three dreams in middle school. To be an artist, to live in America, and marry a pastor. She grew up in rural Korea in the 60s, and she wanted to be an artist, but her parents didn’t approve of her studying art. She taught english to underprivileged kids after graduating high school. When she and my dad met, my dad immediately knew that she was the one he was going to marry. She wasn’t too interested, but on their second date he introduced her to his mom, and to my mom’s surprise, they took her to get her wedding jewelry. It was all a bit of a blur, but they got married, and she fulfilled one of her goals to marry a pastor. When my sister and I were little kids, they went to the Philippines as missionaries.
What was it like for her to move to the Philippines?
My mom’s life in the Philippines was all about helping us adjust to our lives. I went to international schools, but we lived close to the slums. As kids, my neighbors would bring out soap and shampoo and shower in the rain. I thought it was fun, but then I usually showered again when I got home. My school friends were so wealthy. One of my closest friends, her family owned the biggest bottled water company in the country. Some of my friends couldn’t go to certain malls because it was a rival department store. So I lived between very different worlds. My mom was always such an outgoing person. She always invited people to our home. She always cooks so much food. She used all her spare time painting, and met up with local artist, and she started to have the idea of going to study art. She was in her 40s. She and my sister both studied at University of San Carlos. My mom started two years earlier and studied art, and my sister studied architecture. I also studied architecture, but I studied in the US and Korea.
Why did you decide to study in Korea?
It was hard for me to see a future in the Philippines for a career, so it felt more right for me to study outside of the Philippines. I studied in the US for a year, and my parents had a sabbatical year in Connecticut at the same time - which is where she fulfilled her dream of living in the US.
So she got to fulfill all her middle school dreams?
Yes, she did! She had forgotten about her three goals, but after she fulfilled them, she remembered that she had made them in middle school. I’m sure she has new goals now. They are looking to retiring next year, but they are going to stay in the Philippines, because it is home for them.
Are you like your mom?
I’m just like my mom. That’s why we fight all the time. We are similar in that we love being with people, and are energized by people. My sister and dad are much more reserved. My dad could go a whole day without talking to a person, and that’s ok with him.
How has it affected you to be a Korean who grew up in the Philippines?
Growing up as a TCK (Third Culture Kid), I always asked my mom, “Am I Filipino or Korean? If I had a choice I would always play with my Filipino friends rather than my Korean friends. I struggled with my identity because I felt more comfortable with my local culture. One thing that really stays with me to this day is that she said, “Why choose one when you can have both worlds? This whole world is yours - you don’t have to choose just one.” I felt like I had inherited the whole world - it was in my hands. It was a very memorable moment with my mom.
You said earlier that you studied architecture. Do you work in architecture now?
I worked at an architecture firm for a while, and I definitely miss the work, but after the firm I worked for Compassion International, and now am in D.C. because of a fellowship with Pyxera Global.
What does Pyxera do?
We work to facilitate international development with individuals and corporations by communicating with NGOs, companies, governments and and organizations. We find ways to connect local needs to the skill sets of corporate employees, and organize trips and resources that can range from a couple weeks to a month. My fellowship will be done this coming July, and I will be going back to Korea.