▲ “Different jobs are classified as ‘blue collar’ or ‘white collar,’ I refer to my job as ‘no collar.’” Photo by Elizabeth Holbrook
“I’m not a special person, but I’m not common or ordinary,” says Kim Kyung Hwa with a twinkle in his eye. A truer label could not be given to a man who has circled the globe three times in his business travels, received an MBA from Pennsylvania State University and packed his family in a car to make a three-day road trip from Washington, D.C., to their new home in Mexico City. “Yo puedo hablar español un poco,” he says in perfect Spanish.
After years of living and traveling abroad, Kim kept his promise to his wife and granted her wish of living in Jeju once their kids had grown up and moved out. “I told her that since she had to move so many times being married to me, now it’s my turn to follow her,” he says. Kim and his wife currently reside in Gwideok where Kim spends his days volunteering to teach English in elementary schools, serving as a freelance translator and helping his wife run their carrot cake shop, which has received quite a bit of publicity from the Korean media. “Both my wife and I think this will be our final move. As we get older we would like to have more time for serving the community and volunteering,” he says.
When did you move to Jeju?
My wife and I finally moved here March of last year. It’s been a really long journey for us to finally be settled in Jeju.
Where did you live before coming to the island?
I’m originally from Seonsan, a small town northeast of Daegu. I lived in Daegu City until I graduated from high school and then studied at Yonsei University in Seoul where I majored in political science and was a member of ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps]. After graduation in 1973, I was appointed as a second lieutenant and interpreter officer. I served near the DMZ for two years. Upon discharge from the military service in 1975, I immediately joined Posco, the largest steel company in Korea, and started working at the office in Seoul. In 1980 I was assigned to the L.A. office, my first assignment in the United States. Since then, I have lived all over the U.S. as well as in Mexico and China.
Do you have a favorite place that you lived?
Every city has its own unique features. For example, Los Angeles is family-oriented and has beautiful weather. In Washington, D.C., you can always see the capitol building. In Mexico City, we had the benefit of living in a beautiful area … but if I could afford to live in an apartment in downtown Manhattan, I would live there. Just walking on a New York street makes me really happy. New York is the center of world finance, the center of fashion and there are lots of cultural activities and good restaurants. Whatever you can find in any place in the world, you can find there.
How do you think your family benefited from living abroad?
My children traveled a lot and had many different experiences. They became more mindful of the world. My son and daughter had more opportunities than the usual children who are born in one place and raised there. However, I understand that such frequent movement has some negative side effects as well. For example, my daughter had to move to six different schools to finish elementary school. I’m really grateful my kids were good children and good students. My daughter graduated from Cornell University and my son studied at a university in Pennsylvania and is now working for a big game company. They are particularly happy that we moved to Jeju. My daughter has visited us seven times in less than one year!
What made you decide to come to Jeju?
Jeju was actually my honeymoon destination in 1977. My wife always insisted that when the children grew up, we had to live in Jeju. I told her that since she had to move so many times being married to me, now it’s my turn to follow her.
How do you spend your time in Jeju?
Both my wife and I think this will be our final move. As we get older we would like to have more time for serving the com-munity and volunteering for the local society, so we can have good harmony with the village people.
How have you volunteered since coming to the island?
Upon arrival I was introduced to the principal of the elementary school right down the corner from my wife’s shop. I volunteered by teaching English to kindergarten students for one year as well as elementary students during the winter vacation. I also ran a reading class at the Hamsupul library in Hallim several months ago and am holding another one for elementary students next month. That’s my volunteering work. My normal job is translating.
What kind of work do you trans-late?
I do lots of translating for several major translation companies, mostly located in Seoul. My work ranges from welcoming speeches for international exchange programs to invitation letters from directors of museums. Also, Korea is a member of the International Pen Club. The Jeju branch publishes an annual book called Jeju Pen Mook. It has all sorts of poems, short stories and novels written in Korean on one side and English on the other. I was asked to translate the entire book for the 2010 edition.
In the translation business, usually translators have their own specialty field. For example, if you are an engineer you do engineering translation, but I can literally translate every field - aerospace, medicine, business, legal documents, international building projects and so on.
Do you have a particular field that you find the most interesting?
Since I majored in political science in university and got my MBA at Penn State University, I prefer to translate things that are scientific and logical. It’s easy for me to understand. When I translate something art-related, there are so many adjectives and adverbs. It’s never straightforward.
What do you enjoy most about translating?
I don’t have to go to a company every day. I can do my work from my home, so I have lots of freedom. I don’t have to care about my attire. I don’t have to wear a necktie. Different jobs are classified as “blue collar” or “white collar,” I refer to my job as “no collar.”
Are there any frustrating aspects of freelancing?
The only bad thing about freelancing is sometimes I get very busy. It seems like when one company sends me material to translate, another one sends me work as well. At the same time, there are periods of time when I’m very bored. It’s not consistent.
How have you adjusted to your new life in Jeju?
My wife and I didn’t know much about Jeju. It was by chance that we found our house and a nearby shop for my wife in Hallim Gwideok. I feel very comfortable living in this area. My wife and I have such a broad range of experience that we are not narrow-minded. We get along very well with the village people. We like them very much and they like us very much too.
What do you enjoy most about living on the island?
People living in a big city are so busy making a living every day in a crowded place with terrible traffic, that they have to lift up their head if they want to look at the sky. In Jeju, you don’t have to lift up your head; the sky is everywhere. Life is slower here, it’s very spacious and the landscape is so peaceful.
What do you think makes Jeju unique?
Jeju has both a mountain and the ocean. While other places have this, what makes Jeju unique is that they are very close to each other. It doesn’t take long to get from the mountain to the ocean. Korea is a relatively small country, but each area, despite the short distance from each other, is very diverse.
However, the country as a whole is becoming more and more standardized because of development and the influence of three dominant media outlets.
It’s important that people realize their area’s diversity and try to preserve the uniqueness and beauty of their own places.
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