As a Vietnamese woman who has immigrated to South Korea, my journey has been different from many others. I have struggled to overcome the stereotypes of the “mail-away bride” and the “illegal factory worker”. Finally, I feel like I have found my own version of success and am making a good life for myself in this new country.
Unexpected Opportunity in Korea
I had always had the idea of studying abroad when I was in high school. Luckily, I have support from my parents and my sister. The first destination that I thought of was EU countries. Like my peers, I had that fantasy of the amazing and elaborate lifestyle of EU citizens. And I was always surrounded by study abroad agencies for EU and US universities.
At that time, I thought that going to Korea was for people who want to work labor-intensive jobs and get money to send back home. Since I am from Vietnam, another reason that people choose to go to Korea is to get married to a Korean man and live a better life. Marriage agencies always promise a better life to young girls coming from unfortunate families who want to change their lives. Because of that, there is a taboo that going to Korea is only for money-driven individuals. I did not want to go to Korea and marry some man I didn’t know or work in a factory illegally.
But life always has its way. I came across an international university advertisement in Korea during a study abroad exhibition. I was impressed with the diverse environment and how professional it looked. Plus, after I did a quick interview with the recruiter, I instantly got a high scholarship.
It was amazing, the less money I needed to ask my parents for, the better! So, on a hot summer day in Hanoi, I ran to call my parents and discussed the plan. I needed to be fast because I was already 1 semester late on starting university compared to my peers.
First Impressions of Korea
I packed my stuff and was fully prepared for the Spring semester in Korea. I left Vietnam and there were a lot of people congratulated me. However, most of the comments I got from others as a Vietnamese woman were “Go study well and get a Korean husband”. I can’t blame them because to be fair, that is the only thing they know about Korea.
The plane arrived in Korea in the middle of the night. I didn’t know anyone and I got lost in Daejeon right away. Quickly I found out that the sim card I had didn’t work because my calls didn’t work. The situation was terrible.
But then, I came across a young man. And, with his broken English, he tried his best to help me. Thank god, the very first Korean I met was amazing and super helpful. I got out of that terrible night thanks to his help.
The next day is when I discover the beauty of Korea. Here in Korea, nature is a part of peoples’ everyday lives. Daejeon is not all skyscrapers like Seoul. It is a perfect combination of nature and people. I saw pretty flowers, magnificent mountains, and trees everywhere. It was nothing like Vietnam.
Life in Korea as a Vietnamese Woman
Funny thing is, after 4 years here, I still get the wife stereotype thrown at me from all directions. But, I still have no intention of getting married. And, what’s more, I believe even stronger now that the man you choose to spend your life with should be chosen by the way he treats you, not by his bank balance. So, instead of falling in love with a man, I fell in love with the country.
I have seen magnificent scenery here in Korea. I grew to love the language even though I am still not perfect at Korean. Korea is perfectly safe for me. And, thanks to the time I have had in Korea, I have learned so many things outside of Vietnam. My mindset is significantly expanded. Vietnam is still my dear country. But if I can choose where to live in my 20s, it will be Korea.
I am graduating soon and there are so many unknown things that await. I don’t know if I will have the chance to stay here in Korea. But I feel grateful for all the things that I have experienced here in Korea. The food, the people, and especially nature, will forever be engraved in my memories.
Want to read more Koran immigration stories? Click Here to learn about one Colombian man’s story of how he came to Korea as a Spanish teacher.