Expat fosters a meaningful community on Jeju

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Expat fosters a meaningful community on Jeju


When she landed on Jeju Island in 2006 after marrying a Korean man, Kim Jeong-lim felt lonely living far away from China, her homeland. The sparkly sea and mild temperatures of the country’s most popular island resort were not enough to stop her from falling into depression.

But what eventually supplanted the warm sunshine she had been longing for were other female immigrants in similar circumstances. Shifting into casual discussions and sharing each other’s traditional cuisines was where they found solace, she said.

“All women who leave their native countries and move to Jeju Island to follow their husbands get lonesome,” said Kim, 44.

“With all the language barriers and cultural differences, we gather to comfort each other.”

Kim has been heading the Jeju Multicultural Family Center since 2008 as a means to organize more systematic gatherings and to help female immigrants adjust to their new lives by providing various educational programs.

Joined by roughly 2,400 members, or 80 percent of all female immigrants on Jeju Island, the center located in Jeju City, in the northern part of the island, provides lessons on cooking, computers and barista training, among others.

The most popular is the Jeju dialect course, which Kim said coaches women on how to communicate with their mothers-in-law.

Members of the family center’s Nanta club, who hold Korean percussion performances using kitchen utensils, have grown so skilled that they sometimes exhibit their prowess at regional events.

Kim acquired more than 20 certificates in fields such as information technology and Korean linguistics in order to teach students during the early days of the establishment when she couldn’t find suitable instructors.

And now, Kim said her goal is to push the center’s members a step further by instilling a sense of citizenship within them, so that they recognize Jeju Island as their genuine home.

Every third Sunday of the month, Kim leads the women to hospitals and senior citizen centers to help out with chores and keep the people who reside there company.

“With the ambition to turn a female immigrant into a provincial lawmaker or a public official, I’m determined to continuously protect the rights and interests of my fellow women,” said Kim.

BY CHOI CHUNG-IL, LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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