Martial arts maven. Championship beach volleyball player. Prolific baker. Wife and mother. Is there anything that Joy Raimondo Leman can’t do? Originally just a girl from New Jersey, Joy is one of the most known faces on Jeju Island, especially on the south side where she calls home. I recently asked Joy about her many hobbies, and even discovered one more secret skill. What is it? Read on to find out!
Where are you from?
I’m from southern New Jersey — I lived there all my life. I love New Jersey. I went to college in Ohio, so that was my first time learning that people made fun of New Jersey. Everyone was like, “Haha, you’re from New Jersey!” But, I loved where I grew up... it was all pine trees, no Wal-Mart, no shopping mall, and no grocery store. We just had a farmer’s market. It was a really wonderful place to grow up.
What did you study?
I majored in Middle Childhood Science and Language Arts Education. I want to be a science teacher, eventually. I’m in the market for a science job... in Korea, at international schools, in the States, anywhere. There aren’t any teaching jobs in the States, so I’ve been applying to a bunch of international schools all over the world. I’m really interested in living in Europe.
▲ Joy and her family. Photo by Susan Shain
Did you and you husband, Matt, meet in college?
No, we are from two opposite ends of the country. We met at a camp in high-school. Matty’s a great letter writer, so we kept in touch through letters and e-mails and instant messaging. He eventually transferred to my university, and we got together my junior year. Then we graduated and got married on the same day. Two months later, we came to Korea, because we really wanted to travel.
And you’ve since spent all your time on Jeju?
Yes, we’ve worked at hagwons and EPIK [English Program in Korea]. After our daughter, Emma, was born, we both took turns working full-time, part-time, and staying home with her. We also went on an awesome six-month vacation to Thailand, Laos, India, and Paris, and to America to see our families.
When did you start your martial arts training? Is it something you’ve always been interested in?
I started martial arts when Emma was six months old, so January/February 2007. Ever since I was little, I wanted to do karate. I would fight with my brothers and sisters and watch ninja turtles and stuff. But martial arts lessons were always really expensive in the States, so I never did it. Then, after Emma was born, I was quite restless staying at home. So my buddy, who knew my instructor, took me there and we joined together.
And now you’re in an apprenticeship there? What type of martial arts is it?
Sort of. If I were Korean, I would be training to become a master, but I won’t be here that long. I just help out with belt tests. The practice is called Kuk Sool Won; it is Korean traditional martial arts. The founders of it believe that taekwondo is heavily influenced by the Japanese — from the occupation. So the grand master of Kuk Sool Won, the guy who founded it, went all over Korea with his father, trying to document all of the ancient traditional Korean martial arts that had gone underground during the occupation — the royal court martial arts that the bodyguards at the royal palace used, and the Korean monks, and the traditional family martial arts. So they compiled all of it — self defense, acrobatics, weapons, and grappling. Taekwondo is just kicking and punching, and Kuk Sool Won is everything. It’s kind of ridiculous.
What belt do you currently hold in Kuk Sool Won? Had you ever done anything like this before?
I’m a second degree black belt. I had never done martial arts before, so I had to work extra hard at everything. I train every night, except for Saturday and Sunday.
Why do you enjoy it?
It’s kind of been a really fascinating mode of transformation in my life. I always loved to read or be outside, but there was never any real focus or type of training — spiritual or physical. For me, martial arts is a way to create a sort of boundary or structure to work within. It’s good for my body and for my spirit. It’s taught me discipline in all kinds of ways and has been really valuable for me as a person.
Do you think you will always be involved in it?
Yes. I don’t know if I could ever be a master, because it takes tons of years of practice, but I’d really love to own a school someday, maybe in the States or Europe. It’s becoming popular in the States, and especially in England, too. It’s really taking off. It’s totally different than most martial arts, I think. The style of the forms are different; it’s very comprehensive and really complicated, but very unique.
Many of us have met your adorable daughter, Emma. How has it been raising a child in a foreign country? Specifically, in Jeju?
In my experience, Jeju’s been a great place to raise a kid. You have access to healthy food — fresh fruits and vegetables, in abundance. There’s a heavy emphasis on school, and it’s very safe. The culture is super kid-friendly. Everywhere you go, people make accommodations if you have a kid. When Emma was really little, the ladies at restaurants would take her into the kitchen and give her rice and play with her so we could eat our meal. And Korean food lends itself really well to kids’ palates. So, the practical side of it is really nice. But, we miss our family a lot. We get to go home every year, and our family has been able to come. So, we generally get to see each other every six months, but it’s still been a difficult trade-off to make.
What are your future plans?
I’m applying to jobs all over the world, and I’m hoping to get a job at an international school in Italy. That would be my dream job. I don’t know if they’ll hire me, because I am coming with a child and husband, so ’ll be expensive. But, we’re looking. If nobody hires me this winter, then I’ll maybe get a job with the TaLK [Teach and Learn in Korea] program, and Matty will work on his teaching degree. Or, maybe we’ll go back to the States. We love our life in Jeju, though, so we don’t want to leave unless something better comes up. There’s no jobs in the States. We always have an opportunity to work here, which doesn’t happen anywhere else. We also have wonderful Korean friends, martial arts, and all these different things that we’re plugged into.
You’ve been here for many years. Is it really hard to watch people come and go?
Some people have been in our lives for six years. Some of these long-term people feel like family now; we see each other two or three times a month, have dinner together, and now everybody’s having kids, so it’s great. Sometimes, though, it is hard to say goodbye. Taking people to the airport is always difficult. I’ve had to do it a few times, which has been pretty rough.
Since you’ve been here for so long, what is one often-overlooked place that people should visit on Jeju?
Donnaeko is really magical. Not many people go there. It’s like a dream come true. It’s an underground spring that runs through a valley. When it’s hellishly hot in July and August, you walk down the steps and it’s automatically 10 degrees cooler. There are all these pools and smooth rocks everywhere. I love it there.
Any advice for someone just arriving on the island?
Definitely do your shopping at the Five-Day Market. And make some Korean friends, especially people with families. It’s really fun to hang out with Korean families, and it’s a nice way to get to know the culture and feel at home.
Also, be open, and focus on the positive, because there are so many negative things when you move to a new country and maybe don’t have the best boss or best work situation. It was the best advice anyone ever gave to me when I moved to Korea, and I use it all the time.
We know you have a lot of skills, from baking to volleyball. Any other secrets you’re hiding up your sleeve?
Haha, good question! Hmm, I’m into Korean traditional archery. My martial arts instructor loves archery. He made some targets, and then I started going to the archery range with him. I even joined the Korean National Archery Association. It’s so cool to be able to get plugged into Korean stuff.
Anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
I never wanted to have kids. Is that a surprise? I mean, it’s been a delightful surprise for me, but our plan was to come here and stay for a year or two, pay off debt, then travel. Then, Emma was born a year to the day after we arrived, and we’re still here. I would’ve never imagined my life to turn out this way, but I’m really happy that it has. Every day has been a wonderful surprise and every day has brought new challenges. Do you have any words to live by, or a life motto?
Challenge myself. It’s good to have a challenging discomfort in some area, like in sports, you get tired and your muscles are really sore. There’s this aspect of challenge where you have to move past yourself. Like, my body feels comfortable and I’m at home and I don’t want to go out, but if you run to Kuk Sool Won in the dark and freezing cold and work out, it brings you something different than you would have if you hadn’t pursued that challenge. Especially in Jeju, it’s quite easy to be comfortable. You can eat really well, and have fun and drink a ton and there’s almost no accountability, except to yourself. Be accountable to yourself and challenge yourself. That’s how I try to structure my life.
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