The news of failing to get into university spread like wild fire. It was a big shock to my father who said that I had brought him and the family shame because I failed to pass the entrance test. He believed that it was the worst moment of his life. I felt helpless at that moment in time. I had no idea what to do.
I gathered my guts one day and asked my parents to send me abroad to seek higher education as I didn’t want to study in South Korea any longer. They accepted it mainly because they wanted me to go away after bringing shame to the family name. I decided to go to France and enroll myself in the Institute of Design in Paris. My parents were shocked to hear my decision which had been a well researched one.
I went to a travel agency downtown and was on a plane to Paris, France within 10 days of my decision. My parents told me that they wouldn’t be able to help me, but I was not worried at all. I knew that it was time I stood up for myself and did everything on my own. This was my first experience abroad with no one backing me.
I moved to Paris in a studio apartment all by myself. This move made me realize that there was a whole lot in this world that we, as a South Korean community, don’t know about. We considered our culture to be complete. Whereas, this is totally false. I realized this after I moved to Paris and saw an all together different world.
I was in love with my new life as I was independent and free. I wasn’t that independent financially, but I still had wings to explore and live my life the way I wanted to. I enrolled myself in the design institute by myself. The whole schooling and living system was totally different from what I was used to.
I felt like I was part of a culture that was living like frogs in a jar, that jumped but only saw the sky. This was the first time I came out of my comfort zone and enjoyed life. I was amazed to see myself learn French so quickly. This was a language that took people one year to speak and understand, but I learned it only in three months. I realized that I had this skill to acquire languages quickly. Not only did I learn French, I met many different people from different parts of the world.
I stayed in Paris for one year before I had to return because my parents divorced in the midst of the economic crisis in South Korea. My father sold everything that we owned and did not give us a single penny. My mother didn’t have money to sustain my education in Paris so I returned. This was not before I spent an amazing year in Paris getting to know that there was a whole new world out there.
Two people that had a huge impact in my life
The first person was Andrea, who was half Indian and half English. He was actually the first non-Korean friend that I made in my life. He was an amazing guy who helped me grasp fluency in French. He showed me Paris and, something I never thought existed, life!
Nisha was the second person who had a big impact on my life that year. She was younger than me but went to the same fashion school as I did. Her mother was from Finland but she spoke perfect French. Nisha helped me improve my French drastically. She also helped me in my class work, and I was always welcome to stay at her big family house which made me feel at home. 1997 was one amazing year for me which paved the way for my future life.
Photo from 1997
We, Koreans, gathered gold from home to save our financial crisis