Family hopes to find roots on year in Seoul

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Family hopes to find roots on year in Seoul

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Rho Ek-wan and his wife, Bonny, both Korean-American lawyers, temporarily moved to Korea last year from Los Angeles to help their daughters discover their Korean roots. Provided by Rho Ek-wan

Korean-American Rho Ek-wan, 44, was living comfortably in a cozy house in Los Angeles early last year with his beautiful wife and three daughters.

The Harvard Law School graduate was also enjoying success in his career. The law firm he worked for had suggested adding his surname to the company’s title in recognition of his achievements.

But one thing was missing for Rho, who moved to the United States as a child. He wanted his daughters to find their roots and, unlike himself, learn to speak Korean fluently.

He decided to move to Korea last July for a yearlong adventure with his family.

Roh’s wife, Bonny, 39, says she’s thrilled that her three daughters - ages 11, 10 and 5 - enjoy their new life in Jamsil-dong, Songpa District, southern Seoul.

“They barely knew their Korean ABC’s [before arriving here], but now, they can read and write in the Korean alphabet,” said Bonny.

“They tell me they want to bring their American friends over for a visit.”

Stories circling the family’s settlement have even transcended borders to the Korean community in the United States, said Bonny, so much so that she receives emails and calls from Korean parents who inquire what public schools here are like.

More than 10 families have reached out to her so far, one of which she persuaded to come and live in Korea late last year.

But reaching the decision to start a new chapter in Korea wasn’t as easy for the family as they thought it would be, said Bonny, who is also a Korean-American lawyer.

She thought it could be career suicide for both her and her husband. And it was difficult to ignore other people’s worries that Korea isn’t a safe place for children after last April’s Sewol ferry tragedy.

“[I told my children] that there was a case in Korea in which many children lost their lives after following orders from grown-ups,” said Bonny. “When it comes to safety issues, I said, ‘follow your instincts.’”

Even after flying across the Pacific Ocean and enrolling their daughters in local schools, the couple said it was a little hard at first to find a girls’ soccer team for their eldest, who loves the sport.

And because of the country’s thirst for education, the couple said they were shocked that their second child’s ballet teacher told them to send her to classes even if she was sick.

The language barrier was another problem.

“A lot of people in Seoul refuse to talk to us in English, saying they can’t speak the language,” Bonny said, continuing that their children don’t seem to have made many local friends because of that reason.

But with only seven months left on the calendar before they return to their lives in Los Angeles, the couple says that overall they are impressed by Koreans’ work ethic and how the country has convenient transit and delivery services.

“We’re going to visit Korea frequently,” said Ek-wan. “We’re Koreans.” 

BY BAEK IL-HYUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]


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