By HyunCheon Kim
Translated SeungYeon Woo
Eun-ju Lee (65), who had been living a tragic life marked by two failed suicide attempts, childhood rape, and human trafficking, has currently graduated from a graduate school at the age of almost 70.
Lee moved to the U.S. in her late 20s due to an international marriage, but she was abandoned by her husband. However, she survived her life without a husband by consistently doing odd jobs and raising her three children in a slum. Lee never received a good education when she was in Korea after she graduated from elementary school.
The moment she started to care about her education was when she was in her early 50s, when her children were almost adults. She had been full of passion about education since she was young. As soon as her youngest son started to attend high school, Lee registered for a night-time class for a high school qualification exam (GED), and she successfully passed the GED in 7 months.
At the graduation of her night-time class she delivered a lecture as a valedictorian, representing about 60 students. Lee's daughter was unable to hold back her tears when she was watching her mother giving a speech, while the mayor and superintendent were attending. It was a moment when the third part of Lee's life began.
Starting from her acceptance to North Shore College, Lee took about 10 years to earn Master's Degree in Psychology at Lesley University. It took quite long because she could not give up her work; thus, she was only able to take courses using her weekends and night-time, but she survived through those years with her tenacity.
Because she wanted to cure her broken-hearted past and feelings, she took Counseling and Psychology courses, and now she is using her knowledge from school to help out patients with mental illnesses.
Lee, who currently works as a Clinical Coordinator at Adult Behavioral Learning Center in Have , said, “I'm having the most wonderful time in my life. When I come to work at the center, it makes me feel so comfortable that I feel that I'm at my second home.”
However, Lee always had to live with a scarlet letter, 'internationally married woman'. She never could belong completely either in Korean or American society. She was always lonely and she had to live a much harder life than others in order to be free from misunderstanding and prejudices from both Korean and American societies.
Lee, who once was such a weak person, tried to commit suicide, and said, “Time always passes by. Although whenever there is a hardship, you should never give up.”
Living in a Slum, Failing to Commit Suicide and Experiencing Human Trafficking.
Lee's complicated life story is the reason that the period in which she began her education was the third part of her life, not the second part.
Lee's life in Korea for 28 years was a tragedy. She was living in the 1960s, when the country was poor after the Korean War. She had an alcoholic father, a mother with depression, an older sister who was very violent, and three younger siblings.
In her early teens, when she was attending an elementary school in Incheon, her mother suddenly left the home, and Lee became head of her family. She had to quit school and went to a pencil manufacturing factory to make money to take care of her little siblings. It was a very hard job for Lee to maintain her family since she was so young, small and weak, and could barely control herself. Loneliness due to loss of her mother caused her greater suffering than being poor.
One day, Lee thought that her mother would come back if she died. Lee, as a young girl, having failed to receive enough love from her parents, and having experienced sexual abuse by males in her neighborhood, could not love herself and decided to commit suicide.
... Lee felt the warm sunshine and some raindrops on her face. After she woke up, she realized that it was her mother's tears. She slightly remembered an arched gate of the bridge and she also remembered her shaking legs before falling from the bridge, extreme pain after falling and finally blood spreading widely on asphalt ground.
She had to wear a cast on her leg and it took quite a long time to heal. Her ankle was seriously injured and could not heal perfectly even after several surgeries, and the doctor said she “won't be able to walk” when she was discharged from the hospital.
Lee could not accept living a life as a disabled person, thinking that she would rather die; therefore, after making a desperate effort to practice walking, she finally was able to walk with a slight limp.
When Lee was hospitalized, her mother left soon. Instead of her, it was a tutor from the night-time school who took care of her in the hospital. Unfortunately, she realized that she was pregnant. It was the most surprising news to her.
After going through many ups and downs, she married the tutor and gave birth to another baby, but her husband was not faithful. Then, Lee eventually had to divorce her husband, and subsequently lost her two children, whom she would never see again.
This was when Lee tried to commit suicide for the second time. She tried to die after swallowing sleeping pills,but her suicide attempt failed again. She was sick and tired of her persistent life. She became “a mother in heaven” to her children, since she could never see them. She started to live her life aimlessly.
Her suffering did not end. In the late 1970s, Lee experienced human trafficking after following her new friend who made her fall into a trap in a military camp town. This caused her to move to the U.S.
The Second Part of Life – Failure of International Marriage, a Single Mom and Working Mom
Meanwhile, Lee met her second husband, but he was also not a good partner; thus, she ended up living in a slum with only her three children. “I put a lot of effort into protecting my children. I didn’t want to become a parent like my parents. I just endured my life with tenacity,” said she.
“I did so many odd jobs, such as Korean grocery work, waitressing and housekeeping,” said Lee. “Then there was a chance to work at a Group House, a shelter for patients with mental illnesses, as an assistant to give rides and serve food. Fortunately, it was during the time when I started going to school, and finally I was able to get a promotion to the position of Clinical Coordinator,”she added.
Lee said, “I was full of resentment whenever I thought of my parents but now I understand them. They were poor and they were ignorant.”
My Home Country, South Korea
Lee has been living in the U.S. longer than she had lived in Korea. Her life in Korea was weak and there was no chance to live better. To eke out a living, she wandered around employment agencies and military camp towns.
There were no more places she could stay and ended up moving to the U.S. through an international marriage. She cured her lame leg and although she divorced,she did not lose her children. There were some prejudices, but she could earn opportunities as she put in effort. She had opportunities to study, earn degrees, and also find better employment. Moreover, her current husband is very devoted and truly respects Lee.
Although South Korea does not leave Lee with any good memories, she misses it, because South Korea is her motherland. She often sings the South Korea National Anthem by herself quietly. Also she supports the Korean community through the church of international marriage missionary. “It is like a one-way love that I used to give to my mother who came to receive my earnings once a month when I was in military camp town..”
ⓒ 보스톤코리아(http://www.bostonkorea.com), 무단전재 및 재배포 금지