From Seoul to the South: Profile of Susan Knight

Susan Knight (birth name: Yim Hee Jung), 37, was born in Seoul and currently lives in Cumming, Georgia with her husband and three children. This is her story of resilience of growing up in poverty and moving to the U.S. at age eight to join her mother and stepfather, a U.S. soldier.


Susan as a child

Thank you for agreeing to share your story with KoreanAmericanStory.org. Could you start by telling me a bit about your early childhood? 

Where do I start? My mom and dad had me before they got married. They divorced when I was very young. From what I gather from my uncles and aunts, I was a year and a half when they divorced. My mom decided it was best for me to live with her mother in Taejon.

My maternal grandparents had five kids-three sons and two daughters and my mother was their oldest daughter. In Korea, I lived mostly with my grandparents and my first uncle, his wife and their two kids. I bounced between the two households.

What were the circumstances that led you to live with your extended family?

My mom couldn’t take care of me financially so she was going to go to Seoul, to the big city, to make money so as a family we could be better. I believe that my mom was the first female taxi driver in Korea. That’s her claim to fame. [laughs] I was born in ’76 so she started around then.

How did your mother decide to become a taxi driver?

My mom quit high school and my grandparents gave her a choice. They gave her money and told her to go to nursing school. Mom thought that would take too long so she took the money and went to a taxi hagwon. They teach you how to drive.

That’s how she met my dad. He was a cab driver too. Neither of my parents came from a lot of money. She started taxi driving before I was born and continued doing that until she left Korea.

One time, she actually got robbed. Someone pulled a knife on her in the taxi and my mom fought back. The robber was tricking her, pretending to be a customer. She grabbed the blade of the knife and fought him off and cut her hand.

As a child, were you aware of what had happened?

She had a cast on that hand and I remember that she would hit me on the head with it when she didn’t like something I did. I didn’t know the story of how she cut her hand until years later.

What was it like growing up in Taejon?

My memory of my mom and me in Korea was not a good one. Taejon is two hours south of Seoul. I don’t remember how often I saw her but I don’t think it was very often. I don’t have many memories of her.

My grandparents were my mother and father figures. So were my uncle and aunt. That was my saving grace-their influence on my life. They were my rocks. They taught me that it was ok that even though my mom wasn’t in my life, they were.

How long did you live in Taejon?

Well, when I was four or five, my dad had already remarried. All of a sudden, he decided he wanted to raise me. He came to my grandparents’ house and told them he was going to raise me. They agreed, so I moved in with my dad and my stepmom. I don’t know where it was. It wasn’t in Taejon. Maybe Seoul? I don’t know.

My dad was working and I spent a lot of time with my stepmom. She treated me really badly, yelled at me and hit me. I told my dad I didn’t like her and that she hit me. Later, I told the story to my aunts and uncles.

Were these your aunts and uncles on your maternal or paternal side?

Anytime I refer to aunts and uncles, it’s on my mom’s side, I don’t have any relationships with my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.

What happened after you told them what was happening?

My dad decided that instead of getting rid of his wife, he was going to get rid of me. I don’t know what his logic was, whether he felt bad for me or whether he was just in a bad place. So he took me to his parents’ house, in Jeolla-do, a region of Korea that’s very, very country, to live with his parents.


Young Susan in Korea

How long did you live in Jeolla-do?

I’m not sure how long I was there. Both of my grandparents were farmers, so I was left home with a lady that lived there who was mentally disabled. She kept the grounds, helped in the kitchen and stuff. She did not like me. Even as a child I knew that she was different. She was not…not in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure if she was the hired help but she was not nice to me.

What are some of your memories of Jeolla-do?

Most of my memories living there involved just roaming the countryside all day with the neighborhood kids. We’d climb trees, go into Buddhist temples, steal carrots from the garden and eat them, and the Buddhist monks would chase us off. I wasn’t in any form of school when I was living there with my father’s parents. I did not see them at all during the day.

Did you have contact with your mother while living in Jeolla-do?

One day, my mom shows up. She got wind from her parents that I wasn’t living there anymore. When my dad came to my grandma and told her that he was going to take me, they didn’t really ask my mom’s permission. So my mom found out that I was living with my dad’s parents and she decided she was going to be a good mother. She came to visit me at my dad’s parents’ house. I remember her bringing candy and stuff like that.

What happened then?

She told my grandparents that she was going to leave the next day. During the middle of the night, she wakes me up and she says we’re leaving and if my grandparents ask where we’re going, just tell them that we’re going to bathroom. At that time, there was no indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse. I just walked out the door with the clothes I was wearing to bed. We just walked right out the door.

Did you ever have a conversation with your mother about what happened that night?

I never really talked to my mom about it. Why didn’t she tell my grandparents that she wanted her daughter back and was going to take me back? Why did she have to leave in the middle of the night?

What happened after you left your grandparents’ house?

I remember walking in the pitch dark. In the countryside, there were no streetlights. We were walking down the highway and eventually a work truck, I’m not sure if it was a semi or a cargo truck from the market, asked if we needed a ride. My mom said yes and he gave us a ride to the bus station.

All of a sudden, my mom bought fish from the bus station to take to her mom’s house. Even though she makes choices that are not so wise sometimes, she’s very giving. She was going to bring her daughter and a bag of fish to her mom’s house.

I got carsick during the bus ride. The only thing to catch my puke was the bag of fish. Ironically, I threw up in there and she ended up having to throw the fish away.

I know my mom and her intention was giving. It was kind of traumatic, you know? Stealing your daughter from your in-laws in the middle of the night. What possessed her to buy a bag of fish? But that’s just the way she is.

How did you feel about going to live with your maternal grandparents again?

Looking back, I think she had no intention of raising me. She just took me back to the same place I was in before my dad took me to my grandparents’ house. That’s probably the best gift she could’ve given me, to be with her parents and my uncles and aunts.

My mom continually makes choices that are not wise. They may sound great at the time but she never thinks through consequences about how her choices affect her or her children. My grandparents made good choices. They were a good example. Even my mom’s older brother and his wife were more like my parents. Not to discredit my mom, but…

How were you able to handle the difficult circumstances you faced from a young age?

Faith, trusting God, plays a big part in my life. My uncle and aunt were very strong Christians even before Christianity became popular in Korea.

Were your grandparents also Christians?

My grandmother was initially a Buddhist. I have memories of going to temple with her so she could worship. Because of my uncle and aunt’s influence, she became a Christian and started going to church.

I remember going to vacation bible school, church, every Sunday.

What was it about church that you liked?

At that age, it provided stability and encouragement for me.

I had many breaking points in my life but through faith, I never felt sorry for myself. Later, in the states, I kind of felt that way, but in Korea, staying with my grandparents and uncle and aunt, I never felt I got short-changed in life because I didn’t have a mom or dad that took care of me.

For as long as I remember, I was going to church. As a child, church was fun. Church was safe. Church was…there was no abandonment. It gave stability. Everything was safe. Everything was fun, familiar. Because my mom was always away, those were the things I looked for as a child.

What sorts of activities would you do at church?

We learned about Jesus. We did plays, performances, took field trips with the church family, and there was lots of eating because Koreans love to eat. In a Korean church, they always provide a meal and eat together after church. I just loved it. It was just a really fun environment to be in.

Growing up, we belonged to the Baptist church. Now I go to a non-denominational church. Our church is the Browns Bridge Community Church. Our pastor is really a great speaker and a good teacher of the Bible. I started going to that church during college because it had a college/singles ministry at its main church campus, North Point Community Church.


Young Susan in Korea

How old were you when you left Korea?

I left Korea at age eight. My mom remarried an American soldier, a G.I., a year or two before that. My grandmother objected to it. She did not want her to marry an American person. She wanted her to stay here because she has a daughter here.

How did you feel about it?

I was kind of indifferent. I don’t remember any kind of emotion as far as, oh, I don’t like him or thinking, oh, I have a dad now! I don’t remember my emotions.

Looking back now, that made me realize that things could change so quickly with my mom. This whole thing could be temporary. I learned that things could be very temporary with my mom.

I feel that my relationship with my mom is reversed. Growing up, and even now, I feel like I am the mother. I am continually trying to get her to think about the consequences of her actions before she makes them. However, she still made some poor choices and ended up in hardship over them.

So your mother went to the U.S. alone before you came?

My mom left to the U.S. with my stepdad. She got pregnant and had my brother, my half-brother. Whether she was lonely or because of a language barrier, for whatever reason, she called my grandparents and my uncles and aunts and said she wanted me to come to the U.S. The original plan was for me not to go. They told my mom it wasn’t a good idea for me to go.

Why did they think that?

They thought the best upbringing for me was to stay in Korea with my uncles and aunts and my grandparents. But my mom pleaded and like always, what she wants to do is what she wants to do.

What happened then?

She convinced my grandparents and uncle and aunt to send me to the U.S. My aunt said that ultimately, she was my mom and I’m her daughter, so they agreed to let me go to America. My mom didn’t even have money to pay airfare for me. So my oldest uncle and his wife had to buy the plane ticket for me to go. They said they prayed about it and that faith stepped into the picture. It was in God’s hands. He would protect me. I don’t know if they heard stories about the U.S. or what but they thought it’d be hard for me.

What was going through your mind at that time?

Looking back, I feel like that God prepped me for that moment when I was released into the care of my mom. That’s hard to say about my mom, but…until that point, I had the stability, the faith, from my grandparents and my uncles and aunts before I had that send-off.

I was sent to the U.S. by myself. I used to know the exact date. Maybe it was the fifteenth? It was definitely October of ’85. My uncle and aunt literally put paper, butcher paper, on my body, on my clothes, like an address label. They were so worried that I was going to get lost.

It sounds like a tough situation to be in as a child.

That was probably one of the hardest times of my life. I remember crying. The Korean Air agent came to take me to the airplane because my uncle and aunt couldn’t walk me through the security lane. I was very emotional. I was pulling my hand away from the Korean Air agent. The agent was pulling me back. I didn’t want to go but eventually I got on the plane and I remember just crying for a long, long time.

I don’t know if I wrote in a journal or something, but I wrote that this isn’t fair, why do I have to go? I was questioning God. Why are you making this happen to me?

I flew from Seoul to L.A., then L.A. to Houston, Texas. At that time, my mom and stepdad were living in Fort Polk, Louisiana and they picked me up. I arrived at night. It was a blur.

What were your memories of arriving to the U.S.?

I was kind of shell-shocked. My mom said, this is your new dad. That’s the only thing I remember she said to me. I was kind of like, ok. I think even at this point, I realized that I just have to go with whatever my mom was up to.

At that point, my half-brother was three months old. He was born in July. So I arrived to a stepdad and a three-month old brother. We were living in military housing.


Susan with her half-brother in the U.S.

What was it like to suddenly find out that you had a brother?

I ended up being more like a mother figure to my brother because I’m nine years older than he is. I was a babysitter and mother figure rather than a sister. Because my mom worked a lot, I took care of him. Making his bottles, changing his diapers- I did it all.

What did you miss most about Korea after moving to the U.S.?

My family, my grandparents who raised me. And all of my uncles and aunts. They raised me during my most important years, the first eight years of my life. I bonded more with them than my mom. I still miss them dearly.

What were some differences you noticed between the U.S. and Korea?

I remember access to a lot of [material] stuff in U.S. They had a lot of stuff, everywhere in the house. Living in Korea, it was very minimal. At Christmas time in Korea, we got one thing. My uncle who raised me, he would call home from work on Christmas Eve and ask what I wanted him to bring me. I remember that one Christmas, I said I wanted a pencil box. So he’d go and get that and that was my Christmas present from Santa.

So more access to material stuff.

In Korea, we only had things for necessity. There was not an abundance of material stuff. When I came to America, it was like, we can just go to Walmart and get anything we want. There’s shelves full of clothes. In Korea, my whole closet had three shirts and three pants. In the U.S., there was access to an abundance of stuff. And toys. I didn’t really have toys, partially because I moved around a lot.

I got introduced to fast food. I’d never had it before coming to America. I remember going to McDonald’s for the first time and eating a hamburger. I got sick, so sick. My body was not used to processed, greasy food.

But I thought it was fun to go to McDonald’s because you got to order your food. In Korea, we’d never eat out. We didn’t have a lot of money so we never ate out. When I came here, you could go to McDonald’s, order your own food, get a Happy Meal and you get a toy. In Korea, we ate rice, soup, side dishes, and kimchee.

Any other differences that you noticed?

In Korea, in school, it’s very strict. You have to sit a certain way, with your back straight, your left hand holding your book or paper, your right hand with the pencil. There’s no slouching. When the teacher walks in, you bow to the teacher and greet the teacher. Each class has to stay after school to clean the classroom. Monday, row one had to stay after and clean. Tuesdays, another row did it-we rotated. We moved all the desks back and scrubbed with an oily cleaner and a rag and polished the floors.

If you got in trouble, they hit you. If you did something bad, you had to stick your hand out and the teacher hit the palm of your hand. If you did something really bad, you had to sit with your legs folded under you and both of your hands raised above your head. You had to sit there for a long time. Everything was based on respect. U.S. schools were more laid back and it was very fun. It was different but it was fun.

So you became introduced the U.S. school system.

Pretty quickly, they enrolled me into school. I started third grade on the army base. They gave me an ESL teacher dedicated just to me. She basically did all of the schooling with me. I remember sitting in the back while the kids were doing something else. I remember sitting in the back of the classroom.

I started learning English with a coloring book. I had a coloring book that said A for apple. I had to trace the word apple and color the apple.

Did you know any English when you arrived?

I actually didn’t know much—I only knew how to say hi and maybe the alphabet.

Before I left to the U.S., my third grade teacher in Korea, who had the same name as my grandfather, told the class that I was going to America. He showed me on the map the United States of America and told me how to say hello to English.

What was it like entering the U.S. school system?

Initially, during the first few weeks, they wanted to integrate me into the classroom. I went to school on the military base. The ESL teacher sat with me in the main classroom. There was another girl who was half Korean and half American who they set me up with so I’d feel comfortable. She knew a little bit of Korean. When it was lunchtime, I had no clue what that was when the teacher said it’s lunchtime. The girl came up to me and said, muk go? Muk go? That was sweet.

What were some of your first memories of school in the U.S.?

The first meal I had at the school was grilled cheese. My mom didn’t pack me a lunch or anything. She had me eat the school lunch. I’d never had grilled cheese before. My first meal was grilled cheese and I got gas. It tasted really bad. I remember taking that first bite and wanting to throw up. It was the unfamiliar taste of the cheese.

In Korea at that time (maybe it was because of my socioeconomic status), we didn’t have cheese. It was a delicacy. Not many Koreans at that time had cheese or ate dairy. It was expensive.

Maybe because my grandparents were not well off, we didn’t have that much dairy. Maybe milk once a week. Definitely not cheese. It was a taste I never had before, let alone bread. In Korea, the starch is rice. I’ve never had bread with butter on it, with cheese.

Was it difficult for you to adjust to school in the U.S.?

Aside from the first instances, it was pretty good. After about a year and a half, I fully learned the language. Looking back, I don’t remember it being a real struggle to fit in or learn the language. It was pretty quick. I really, really loved school. It was my outlet to get away from home. I wanted to be at school rather than at home.

The ESL teacher eventually got pulled out. I didn’t have math lessons because my math was far more advanced from what I learned in Korea. They pulled me out during math class to do ESL stuff.

It sounds like you had an overall positive experience entering school in the U.S.

I loved school. My home life-my mom was really busy working. She worked so I spent a lot of time on my own or with my stepdad. My brother went to a babysitter because he was an infant. Maybe I came home from the bus and stayed home by myself until my parents came home when we were living in Louisiana? I can’t remember. I remember going to other people’s houses.

Was it difficult for you to learn English?

One of the first movies I saw was Dumbo. It seems like I watched Dumbo about a hundred times. I think it helped me to learn English. I just went with the flow and I enjoyed school. It’s so weird seeing my kids watch Dumbo now.

You mentioned your home life earlier. What was your relationship like with your mother when you were reunited in the U.S.?

My mom and I didn’t have that motherly bond when I was young. It was kind of like, you’re here and I’m there. Just have her sign whatever papers she had to sign for school.

Mom and I were never warm and fuzzy. She never told me when I was young that she loved me. I tell my kids twenty times a day that I love them. Mom never liked to hug or say I love you or you did a good job. At that point, I knew that. I didn’t expect her to, but it was just hard. Whenever I was having trouble with something and needed to be consoled or when I was sad, I just had to deal with it on my own.


Susan in her school portrait

How long did you live in Fort Polk after immigrating to the U.S.?

We were in Fort Polk for a year and a half, from 1985 to 1987. In 1987, my stepdad got stationed in Germany.

When did you move to Germany?

We moved to Mannheim, Germany in 1987. We were there for three years until 1990. At school, I got held back due to my lack of English proficiency. I did third grade twice basically. I finished third grade in Germany and stayed there for fourth through sixth grades. I ended up skipping seventh grade to catch up to my age group/grade.

Can you tell me about your experiences in Germany?

Germany was fun times. I loved school. That was my outlet. I did ESL for a little bit. Then eventually I didn’t need ESL anymore. As a young child, I soaked everything up quickly. By fifth grade, they told me that my reading level exceeded my grade level so they stopped all special services.

Germany was a family-friendly environment. We didn’t live on base. We lived in Frankenthal, which was about thirty minutes from the military base. It was still military housing. We could ride our bikes and go to the candy store. I loved traveling. We went skiing in the Alps with the Girl Scouts.

Was there any difficulty adjusting to Germany?

I don’t remember the adjustment being hard from Louisiana. I spoke English and was pretty good at making friends.

Babysitting all the kids at church-maybe because I was one of the oldest kids and I like kids. I remember babysitting a lot for my family’s friends’ kids. I’d make a lot of money. A lot of money for a ten year-old. I read The Babysitter’s Club books at that time and I remember hiding my money in the books. [laughs]

What was your relationship like with your family after you moved to Germany?

My mom was just working all the time. She was gone a lot. I spent a lot of time with my stepdad and my brother. It was always that anytime something happened and I got in trouble, it was my fault. One time, I got in trouble and I cried myself to sleep. I remember thinking my heart can never be broken because it’s already been broken by my mom. I remember saying that to myself.

There was never motherly love. We didn’t have any emotional attachment. I didn’t look up to her as a mom. I was just another person in their space, living there.

One thing about my mom is that she’s a hard worker. She’s not lazy. She’s worked all her life. She’s had various jobs- working at the commissary as a bagger (I think all of our Korean moms did that!) [laughs]. She cleaned office buildings. She worked as a custodian and a cook. She opened up her own restaurant for awhile in Ft. Polk. It was a to-go restaurant, burgers and Chinese food fried rice and yaki mandu. It was mostly military customers. Typical military base food.

Where did your family move to after Germany?

After Germany, we moved back to the U.S. Our family was stationed in Fort Stewart, Georgia. I completed middle school and high school there, then stayed in Georgia for college.

Where are your parents living now?

My mom now lives in Jonesboro, in the Atlanta suburbs. In the past, she worked as a truck driver for two to three years. Initially, she and my stepdad drove a semi-truck. Then she split off and teamed with another lady. Team driving. Because of her English, it would have been difficult for her to do it herself. The other woman wasn’t Korean. At one point, my mom and stepdad were working together for various companies, delivering all kinds of different things. Freight delivery.

Now she works at the dry cleaner, which is so much better. Driving trucks, she gained so much weight. It was so hard on her body because she had to be constantly awake. She didn’t get much exercise and she gained a ton of weight.

Do you have any contact with your biological father?

My aunt, my mom’s sister, keeps in contact with my biological father. Any time I come to Korea, she’ll call him. It’s been years since I’ve seen him. He’s seen my older two kids. We visited Korea in 2010. That was the last time I saw him. He doesn’t have my phone number. I don’t have his. But my mom’s sister keeps in contact with him and tells him how I’m doing.

It’s just hard. I don’t remember living with him- just that short time when he got married to my stepmom. That was not a good experience because I told him that she wasn’t being nice to me and he took me to his parents. So I don’t have a strong connection.

What was it like when you visited your father in Korea?

When we met up, he would just sob. I feel bad for him. I’m not blaming him but there’s something he could have done differently. My aunt (my mom’s sister) says I’m not very nice to him. She says that I should tell him I miss him and things like that. But I don’t have those feelings for him because I never had a chance to bond with him.

I know that he’s my dad and because of him I’m alive now, but I don’t have very good memories of when we’re together. The last time I was in Korea, we were going to try to get together but we ended up not meeting up. If we had both tried harder, it could have happened. It might be hard for him to see me. Not because of any tension but we’re just not that close.

It sounds like a difficult situation.

I’m not bitter about it. I think he’s just a victim of life circumstances. Every time I see him, I try to make him a part of our family. I show him pictures of how I’m doing.

Deep down, I just didn’t have a relationship with him. I have a half-sister. He has a daughter that he had with his wife. I met her once. I never really kept in contact. Part of me, because I don’t have a lot of family here, there was a little bit of yearning for family. But I’m in the U.S. and they’re in Korea, so it’s just harder to keep in contact.

Whenever I’ve gotten together with him in Korea, it’s been hard. I don’t have anything to talk about about besides, “How are you doing?” and on the surface stuff. Just, “How’s your health? What kind of work are you doing?” That’s it. I tell him how my kids are doing.

There’s a seven or eight year age difference between my half-sister and me. I met her when I was in college and she was in middle school. She’s older than my half-brother from my mom and my stepdad.


Susan and her husband, Scott, at their wedding

I want to ask you about your marriage and children. How did you meet your husband?

My husband, Scott, and I met at Georgia Tech. We were the same major, computer science. We graduated the same semester. I didn’t get to know him until our last semester of college. We ended up being in the same class.

We didn’t start dating until after college. We ended up working for the same company, Nortel Networks. We looked back on the transcripts and we actually had seven classes together but we didn’t start getting to know each other until our last year in school.

What did you study in college?

I have a B.S. in computer science from Georgia Tech. In high school, I had taken a computer programming class. I was really good at it and enjoyed it a lot. My teacher was also my calculus teacher and she encouraged me to pursue computer science.

At eighteen, I started working at IBM through a cooperative education program. It was such a blessing in my life. That, along with scholarships, allowed me to put myself through college without accruing a lot of student loans. Between my coop and after college, I worked in the technology field for about ten years before I pursed my teaching degree. I worked at IBM, a start-up company called Micro Strategy, Nortel and my last job in the corporate world as a systems engineer for Conklin Intracom.

You made the decision to leave the corporate world. Can you talk about that?

In between pursing my teaching degree, I started having my kids and then I taught for two years. During my corporate career, I traveled a lot for work. I made the choice to leave the corporate job to teach. I wanted to work with children. I decided it was the best thing for my family. I tried to quit once before and my managers convinced me to stay. I was good at what I did.

Morally and ethically, I didn’t want to stay in the corporate field. I always wanted to work with children, so I decided to go into teaching. It was a good career to raise kids, to be on same schedule and home with them in summer. I obtained my M.A. in early childhood education from North Georgia University and got my teaching certification.

What interested you about early childhood education?

I’ve always loved children. It may be a gift from God. I think that the childhood I had, because of the struggles, I could have said I don’t want to have a family. Maybe it was because I had an example of what a true family is from my grandparents and uncle and aunt. I always wanted a big family. In the U.S., it was just me, my mom, and my half-brother. We didn’t have that family bonding, that closeness.

How many children do you have?

I have three children. Katie is seven, Ryan is four, and Nathan is a year old.


Susan’s children, (from left) Ryan, Katie, Nathan

What are your dreams for your children?

The whole Korean parenting thing-many want their kids to be a doctor or a lawyer but I just want them to be happy, passionate about their own interests, and compassionate toward others. You could be a doctor or lawyer and not be successful, have a broken family or not be a nice person. I just want them to love God and help people in need along the way and have good relationships with family and friends.

Could you talk about your experiences returning to Korea?

I left Korea in 1985 and have been back about eight times. I love going back to visit Korea, every minute of it.

The first time I went back to Korea, I was in high school or middle school. When I came back to the U.S., I missed Korea so much. Because of the time difference, I was still jet lagged. I’d be up in the middle of the night and I’d cry my eyes out because I missed it so much.

My family in Korea has shown all of us so much love every time we go back to visit. My kids get so spoiled by my grandmother (my grandfather has passed away), uncles, aunts, and cousins. They feed us from the minute we get there until the minute we leave. It’s the Korean way.

Have you gone to Korea with your husband and children?

Yes. Scott loves most of the food in Korea. My aunts love it when he asks for seconds. Most of my uncles and cousins are able to communicate with him in English. Aside from visiting with family in Korea, we traveled a little bit within Korea. One of the highlights was visiting Jeju Island with my cousin and her family.

Katie’s been there four times. She just asked me yesterday, “When are we going to Korea?” My cousin has two daughters around Katie’s age. It’s an instant play date for her. They just know how to communicate, even with the language barrier, no translation needed. It’s amazing.

Korea is where I learned about family and unity. Here, in the U.S., my mom was constantly working and she’s never around. She’d never be the one to spend time with us. Her way of giving love is working hard and making money.


Susan and her relatives

Thanks so much for speaking with us. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I wanted to share a story. When Katie was about three or four, my mom came over to our house. It was time to put Katie to bed and I asked my mom to help. We went up to Katie’s room and got her all ready in her PJs, read her two books and sang a couple of songs. After that, I was laying with her in bed with a CD player, listening to songs.

My mom couldn’t believe it. She said, “This is how you put your child to bed?” She was feeling bad because she’s never done anything like that for us. She couldn’t believe the love we were pouring onto Katie. She said, “I never did anything like this because I was always working.” She just didn’t know.

Maybe it was because our Korean parents grew up in poverty, just working to survive. It was an eye-opening experience for her. I get a lot of benefits from playing with my kids, singing songs with them, praying with them.

Looking back, I don’t have bitterness toward anyone. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life because I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. My aunts say, “You did all of your suffering in childhood so God has blessed you with everything in your life now.”

Grace Jahng Lee is a writer of prose and poetry.