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Beyond wordsCanadian husband and Korean wife make multi-cultural marriage work
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승인 2009.09.04  18:23:27
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▲ Ko Ji-Yeon, right, holds the couple’s son Aiden McLeod while her husband Ken McLeod holds their son Sean McLeod. Photo courtesy Kenneth McLeod

In the brightly painted office of the Scholar’s Choice English School in Jeju Kenneth McLeod and Ko Ji-Yeon drink their morning coffee and orchestrate the daily schedule. The husband and wife team seem entirely at ease, a true partnership. But it’s been a long, and sometimes bumpy, road to this serene stop.

Ko has been across the globe from Europe to America, and lived in Australia for a year. As a linguist, she has studied Japanese, French, majored in German in college, and is currently learning Chinese.

“I think because she loves to travel so much and likes to experience new things, she isn’t shocked by Western cultural differences,” McLeod said.

However, sometimes cultural conflicts arise.

“Our biggest fight was over a party, a Christmas dinner or something when Ken worked at the University,” Ko said. “He wanted me to come, but Korea people drink with their friends, not their husband. It would have been too awkward for me to speak to the coworkers since I shouldn’t have been there.”

“And I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t go,” McLeod said.

The planets started aligning to bring them together six years ago when McLeod moved from Canada to China to teach. He had a long vacation and came to Jeju for a short-term teaching contract. After traveling back to Canada and through Japan, he decided to return to Jeju to teach more permanently.

He started volunteering at city hall in the Jeju Foreign Counselor program. One of the administrators of the program was his future wife, a Jeju native and long time public employee. Less than a year later, they were married.

Their first son Sean was a “honeymoon baby,” born nine months later. Then came Aiden and the family of four now lives in Gu-Jeju.

McLeod runs his recently opened Scholar’s Choice English School and Ko continues her career as a public servant in Jeju government administration currently assigned to the Halla Library.

McLeod started his own hagwon (school) to have the freedom to teach in his own style. “It’s been so wonderful, finally getting to work with children the way I want to,” he said.

While McLeod knew it was the direction he wanted to go, Ko took some convincing.

“It’s more comfortable to work for other people. You know you’ll have money. I’m not good with finance, so I worry,” she said.

“She’s always had a safe job, but I’ve been just the opposite,” McLeod said. “I’ve started three other small businesses.” But in the end, his wife relented.

“I thought, ‘We are both in our 40s. It’s time to start something new,’” she said.

They are always talking about what is best for their family in the future, and whether that includes staying in Jeju.
“If we stay in Korea, it will be in Jeju. But, maybe we’ll go to Canada sometime,” Ko said.

Sending their boys to public school has sparked many debates.

“We don’t know if we want to raise them here in this driven system of education or go back to Canada to the public schools,” McLeod said.

“They know everyone here and we don’t want to take them away from that, but I don’t want them to study night and day.” Ko worries about that, too. “When I was young, I studied all the time. In high school, I studied from 7:30 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night.” “She didn’t go to Seogwipo until she was 19!” McLeod added.

Now, they make sure to take their family out to play. For now they are content to stay in Jeju enjoying the beautiful island and the prosperity of the modern era and raising their international family together.

“I joke with Ji-Yeon that we get along so well because we still don’t really understand each other,” McLeod said. “I think it takes extra effort to communicate.”

“Sometimes he gets upset when I say something,” Ko said. “I didn’t mean to be rude, but he is upset.”

“Well, I can’t always take things personally,” McLeod said. “Sometimes I have to realize that she’s not being rude, she’s just being Korean.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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