Dreams you desperately long for do come true
In the summer of 2008, Kim Suni and her husband crossed the Dumangang River. Having left her two daughters, aged five and seven, with her mother, she entered the Republic of Korea. Korea was a new paradise for her. She wanted to meet her daughters as soon as possible, but to do that she needed money. The first job she got at was in a restaurant. Being quick-witted and cheerful, she blended in and worked hard.
Do I have to work in a restaurant forever?
She had been determined that nothing was impossible compared to life in North Korea, but soon after, she quit her restaurant job. It wasn’t because the work was hard. Her self-esteem was hurt by the jokes and strange glances of drunk customers, and she couldn’t stand it any longer. Having come to her new heaven at the cost of being separated, was this the only type of job she could do? Everything looked desolate. Do I have to work in a restaurant forever? She deeply questioned her situation.
One day, when she was worn down from nervousness, a friend who had left Hanawon with her called to buy her lunch. When she got to the meeting place, she saw that a few friends had also come, along with a PR manager for a vocational school. Being tempted by the manager saying that getting jobs would be guaranteed, she and her friends ended up taking confectionery and baking courses. After completing the 6-month course, she got an interview at a bakery the school connected her with and got the job.
The job required her to wear a white robe and a thick apron that covered her whole body, while looking at flour all day. She didn’t hate learning and making bread, but the thought of continuing this as her career was depressing. After working for a month, she eventually quit. She comforted herself by saying, “I’m glad I have the freedom to quit jobs anytime at my own will”.
Finding my path
What work is right for me?
She registered for a job at the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and took an aptitude test. The result was service industry. In North Korea’s terms, the service industry includes work at restaurants or motels. It had been a year since she’d left Hanawon at this point, and this was the only kind of service work she could think of.
Her depression was getting deeper when she met a friend at a reunion, who was working as a nursing assistant. Seeing her older friend feeling satisfied and pride from her job, she found her future path. She realized that nursing was fun while she was at the nursing assistant academy, and hospital work suited her curious and kind personality.
A year after the Kims arrived in South Korea, they brought their two daughters from North Korea, and the four of them started living together. In 2016, a son was born into their family. She had been so busy running at full speed and living her life, but pregnancy and childbirth became a time of self-reflection for her. He wanted to do something more stable and dignified for his future and for his children. She wanted to do work that was more stable and dignified for her future and her children.
Dreaming of leaping forward from a nursing assistant to a nurse
While working at a hospital, she realized the difference between a nursing assistant and a nurse, which she felt overwhelmed by. She wanted to be a nurse but felt discouraged upon hearing that it was difficult to get accepted into a nursing university. She was especially worried about the English. When was the last time I studied? Maybe I’m too old to start? With these thoughts in mind, she couldn’t confide her dreams to anyone.
However, she became more determined after examining friends around her who were working hard and studying. Just like the saying, “The road shows itself to those who seek it”, she found an academy online that teaches English to North Korean refugee university students for free.
It was an academy that helped students study English for 2 hours in the evening from 7:30. She left her newborn son to be cared for by her family, and went to the academy every night. There, she met North Korean refugee university students who each attended different universities and heard of various experiences.
She didn’t let go of English books and memorized words all day long, for three months, which relieved her fears of English a bit.
Finally, in 2017, she was proud to be accepted into Kyungpook National University’s nursing department. Standing at the front gate, her heart pounded, and she felt pleasantly overwhelmed. In that exciting moment, her past life whispered to her, “See it to the end”.
It was 120 kilometers, round trip, from her home to the university. Driving to and from school every day, she listened to the recorded lectures. Generally, she listened to the lectures 5 times, sometimes even 10, and reviewed them almost to the point of memory.
This was her secret for studying 20 years after graduating from middle school in North Korea and challenging herself with studies again. However, it wasn’t just studies that were difficult. In the winter of 2017, as she completed her first year of university, the pillar of their family – her husband – got into an accident at work. To make matters worse, three months later, his cirrhosis got worse, and he had to get a liver transplant.
She didn’t hesitate to transplant her liver to her husband. Two months later, the new semester began, and she concentrated on her studies once more. It was a difficult time financially, but she tightened her belt, and her two daughters studied at their high schools while she studied at her university.
Her body had not recovered from the liver transplant, so she often had hives and had to take medicine, and she had to work on the weekends to pay for living expenses. Each day seemed to push her into an endless abyss.
Braving it until the end
In the end, she took a leave of absence at the beginning of her third year. Fear overcame her. Will I ever be able to graduate? Should I quit for the sake of the children? Raising a young son, supporting two high-school daughters, nursing her husband – nothing seemed easy. But she couldn’t give up on her dream, so after working at a hospital for a year, she returned to school.
She met three classmates who were older in the same grade, and she felt greatly encouraged by seeing those who were taking on the challenge of starting late. They supported and relied on each other, enduring one season after the other, and finally she passed the nursing exam, which was her dream. Now, she spends every day fruitfully not as a ‘nursing assistant’ but as a ‘nurse’.
For her, the hospital is a comfortable place and a breathing space. As someone who has found a job she likes and is working as a nurse, she said smiling, “Finding a dream is important, too, but what’s more important is having the courage to see it to the end.” Her two daughters who grew up studying with her got admitted into the University of Chicago in the US and Ewha Women’s University, which has been a great source of strength for her. She extends her gratitude to her two daughters, son, and husband who have believed in her all this time.