From an interview with Ji-Young Kim.
In her home country of South Korea, Ji-Young worked in business strategy and marketing with an outdoor leadership company. She also taught Korean for a year before coming to Canada in 2017. Ji-Young shares her story of starting out in a new country, overcoming challenges, embracing opportunity and the importance of making friends and being a part of the community.
I never expected to live in Canada. But I met a Canadian-German-Korean guy in Seoul, and we started dating. We dated for a year or so, and then we got married: that’s how I came to be in Canada. Luckily for me, it was pretty easy to join my husband here because he got a job and found accommodation in Toronto.
Leaving Korea and moving here was exciting for me – I was looking forward to learning about other cultures and meeting new people. I am a very positive and confident person, so I had faith that I could accomplish my goals, but there were challenges.
The biggest challenge for me was language and culture. I had lived my whole life in Korea and was kind of afraid of the culture shock. Everything was so different. I had learned English before, but here it was different. For the first time, people didn’t understand me when I ordered at a coffee shop. So, I struggled with language alone at first, learning by myself at home, which was quite isolated. But eventually, I joined one of the many ESL (English as a Second Language) services and programs like LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), which really helped me with English. I wanted to learn as much as I could and adapt to life in Canada.
There are quite a few differences between Canada and Korea. When I first came to Canada, I used to get confused when I was paying at a restaurant because, in Korea, you don’t tip. But I’ve gotten used to it. Another major difference is that Canada is very multicultural – especially Toronto. You can meet lots of newcomers from all over the world here. It makes me feel comfortable. You can also find a variety of cuisines such as Mediterranean, Japanese, German, and so on – which is very interesting to me.
When I first arrived, I didn’t even know where I should go to buy groceries. That was a challenge. But I joined a Korean community group – it’s a small community, we met every week. They knew about all things Korean and Canadian as well: where to go shopping but also about where to go on a weekend. Ontario has lots of beautiful places that I didn’t know about – even just an hour outside of Toronto. I also learned about Canadian TV programs and channels through my community group.
Canada is very welcoming to newcomers, and people are very nice and friendly. I’ve made friends, and I’ve learned about different cultures here. Over time, thanks to the popularity of K-pop (Korean pop music), I began leveraging my work experience from Korea. I had worked in the education space there, so I started offering in-person teaching services to those who wanted to learn to speak Korean and understand Korean culture.
Before and after COVID: Achieving goals in a changing world
I love to do yoga and pilates. In the morning, it helps energize me and get me motivated. I also like to hang out with friends, go to restaurants and chat. But COVID has changed all of that. It’s difficult to connect with my friends in-person, but virtual meetings and interactions are still possible, so that’s a relief. We’re all in a similar situation. I meet people over Zoom and interact with others in our online community forums – that’s how I keep myself updated and get the information I need. I connect with some friends, and we meet up virtually for yoga and pilates. It makes me happy that we can still work out together despite the situation.
During the pandemic, I moved to a virtual tutoring model for teaching Korean culture, which helped me reach a wider audience. That has attracted K-pop fans from around the world. I started a dedicated Instagram account to promote and teach the Korean language. Now, I’m focused on keeping my business model entirely virtual, and expanding my business even more!
I’m pretty optimistic and very positive. I have friends, and I have my husband. I feel settled in here in Canada. Well-being and family happiness is the measure of success for me. My husband and I plan to buy a house, or condo, whatever it happens to be someday. I will have a key and move to a new house. There are lots of opportunities in Canada to do whatever you want to do.
I have met new people, new groups and new communities, and I’ve made friends. My advice to newcomers is to meet people. If at first, you’re afraid of language or culture, that’s OK. You have your own community groups and sites. Start there. They can help you and provide lots of information.
Certainly, there were times when I felt down and disappointed and sometimes unhappy, but I am positive. I wish you the very best for your journey to Canada.