Journey Seeking for New Life

The past, present, and future story of immigration of Byung J. Chung who came in 1998 from Korea

essay written by Tae Chung

In this paper, the author writes the story of Byung J. Chung’s immigration to America from Korea in 1998. The main focus is on the past days in Korea and the life right after his immigration. The immigration provided Chung an important chance to accept the different cultures of the world and break the prejudices toward other races. Chung had many language barrier experiences that every other immigrant has, too. Also, the paper shows the differences between the Korean and American culture and some anecdotes resulted from language difficulties.

   Byung J. Chung was born in 1957, seven years after the Korean War had begun. He was born in the baby-boom generation. There was a great increase in the population of the Korea, and the percentage of the new generation was overriding that of the old generation. He lived in a small country-side town, Hamyang. But he went to the famous port city, Busan to attend a better middle school and moved to the capital, Seoul for a high school education. For Chung’s personality, moving to the big city by himself was a great challenge because he had lived his whole life with their parents close; he felt he would not live without his parents’ help in the new society. After he arrived to Busan city, he had to get a small room to live in and do everything. He had to cook, clean, wash clothing, and pay the bills for rooms. Even he had to do part-time jobs because the money from his parent was relatively small amount compared to the amount he needed for keeping school attendance. In the both harsh economical and social conditions, he kept his high academic grades in his school and obtained several scholarships. Chung was even admitted to the highest level university in Korea, Seoul University. In his teenage years, Chung and his friends liked to listen to the American music. When Chung came to America, he expected to listen to the music he did in his teenage years. However, the time changed and the style of music also changed. Showing the disappointment in the American music, he said, “In the store, I keep the radio on the FM 101. Even though I am not familiar with the new music, I still set the radio to attract the customers…the new styles of music are too different for my period and I am too old to accept new trends of music” Chung usually bought the old music CDs and enjoyed at home before he started the liquor store. However, after he began to run the store, he could not keep doing it. After finishing his education, he worked at the Samsung Marketing Research Department. His job was to analyze the current flow of capitals in the economy and to develop programs that would increase the consumer consumption. However, he realized that his position in the company would never rise. Because he knew that when the company fell into depression, his position would not be safe, he resigned. After quitting his job, Chung worked at the Korean National Security Agency for several years, an organization similar to the CIA in United States that investigated national issues and solved problems dangerous to national security. In late twentieth century, the economic condition was poor as the IMF crisis occurred in Korea. The treasury of the Korea had very low monetary values. So, the Korean government should have borrowed money from the IMF organization to solve the economic crisis immediately. The currency rate was falling drastically. The president of South Korea at the time was Young-Sam Kim, the nation’s first democratically elected president. In contrast to what former presidents did, Young-Sam Kim’s administration declared that the citizens can immigrate freely. With the chance given by the government, Chung immigrated to America in 1998 to find new job and life style opportunities.

   Before his immigration to the U.S., Chung’s view of life was limited as he was unaware of the many opportunities outside of Korea. Throughout his teenage years, Chung spent most of his time studying for admission to the upper level schools. During this time period, there were various tests for the admission to higher level schools, even though they were not private schools. Since the age of thirteen, he and his friends had been studying for the admission test to enter middle school and high school. In Korea, because the education level served as an important status symbol in society, the sequence of higher level education was very important. But because there were extremely many people in his generation, it was hard to emerge among them as a unique and brilliant student. Furthermore, the educational department of the government could not support many classes. In his generation, a typical baby-boom generation, “every class was filled with about 70 or more kids. [He and his classmates] were upset about the small number of classes.” In his early years, the government did not allow any citizens to immigrate to the foreign countries. However, when Chung at Seoul University, the government freed immigration and enabled travels abroad. The first time he heard the news about immigration, he did not accept it as an important change. In contrast to his ideas, many of Chung’s friends were so pleased with the government’s change in the immigration policies. During that time period, people were paid only two or three dollars per hour of work for an hour’s works. However, in America, even the minimum wage was seven or eight dollars. Knowing the differences between the wages, Chung’s friends were eager to immigrate; many of them actually immigrated in the 1980’s. Chung had a conservative view if he was a Korean, then he should live in Korea land, otherwise, living another region would damage the honor of Koreans. His friends who immigrated at that time had set their life in America and still contact with Chung currently.

   He did not know much about America when he was a teenager. The only way he could know about America was the U.S. army stayed in Korea near by his town. Chung said about first impression of the America, “the beginning of my knowledge of America was the chocolates that I got from the American soldiers when I lived in Busan.” From the 1950s and 1960s, Korea was deep in depression right after the Korean war. The kids who did not have enough food went to U.S. Army soldiers and begged. The American soldiers used to give chocolate, such as M&Ms and Hershey’s. The sweet chocolate became the generalized image in Chung’s brain in his early teenage years.

   When Chung went to high school, his English class made up a large portion of his schedule. Naturally, he learned the culture of America during his English language lectures. In his university, many students read English magazines. Chung said “reading the Times was a proud activity…America felt familiar to them [students].” However, people could not know all about America by just reading American magazines. Chung said “I had an image of America in my brain after I had read some of the magazines. But when I actually experienced, most of the images were disappeared.”

   When Chung first came to the U.S., all of the things he saw, heard, tasted and felt were new to him. As he started to adjust to his life in America, his view of the world also expanded as he experienced the other cultures. The first place where Chung moved was Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, he worked at a Baskin 31 Robbins. Interestingly, Chung said that he did not experience racial discriminations and that, “the only people who [he] would encounter were the customers at Baskin Robbins 31…” the work that he did was simple cleaning and there was no opportunities to encounter racial discrimination. About two years later, with the suggestion of his Korean friend, in Los Angeles, Chung moved to Los Angeles. Three major reasons made Chung to move to Southern California. The first one was that since the population was larger, there was a better opportunity for jobs. The second reason was there was large variety of races in Southern California so he did not need to be concerned about discrimination. He said about 99% of the people he met in Los Angeles were Koreans. He “felt the difference among Koreans, between the americanized Koreans and traditional Koreans.” For him, the difference among people of the same nationality was another shock that he never thought in Korea. Another shock came from the types of leisure activities. The type of leisure in America was different than that of Korea. In Korea, Chung and his friend used to play Korean traditional card games or go to Karaoke. For Chung, said of leisure time in America, “Just having a Bulgogi, a type of meat, B.B.Q. party at home would be a playing event.” Chung also suffered language barriers over the immigration period. For example, for the first eight years after his immigration, he “had been always ordering number 1 combo because the serving person could not understand the order when [he] asked.” The unsmooth communication because of his language barrier lessened the choice of selection for Chung. After the conflicts coming from the language miscommunications, the fear of speaking was piled up in Chung mind and never been removed. As one can notice the difficulties in languages of immigrants, Chung says “Instead of solving the language barriers by effort to study English more, I always have been avoiding the problems.” Chung had to change his career because of his language disadvantage, along with other immigrants in American society. Chung wished to work in the governmental office. He was confident to be admitted because his resume presented him as bilingual, Korean and English, although he was not fluent in English. However, Chung could not get in the federal office because he was not an American citizen. So, Chung applied to small company, UPS as a foreign trade manager in Korea. However, it was also denied because Chung had no education in American school. He was very disappointed about this because his magnificent effort for studying and sequence of high level education in Korea had no advantage in the U.S. Because of the blockage in application for the jobs, he had to give up all his hopes. Other than the linguistic problems, the different cultural etiquettes made Chung hard to get friendly with the American people. Once he was invited to a businessmen party by a Korean co-worker. He suffered from the first he arrived there because of the formal dinning style. Without knowing the order of foods, he ate anything he had in front of him. He stopped doing it after his co-worker quietly whispered him about the correct sequence of the dinner. Even though, the people in the banquet understood his actions, Chung felt shamed and never tried to go to the American style banquets. He missed the Korean style reception where he could have anything he wanted and no one cared about him. Before he has Contact with his old high school friends in Los Angeles ignited Chung’s life in the Korean community. Meeting each other, Chung and his friends shared the information of business chances and good opportunities. However, unlike the majority of the Koreans who went to the Korean churches, Chung does not attend them because he was busy with his business. Also, he felt that the Korean churches in America were different from that in Korea. The Korean-American church had weaker connection among the church members while the churches in Korea worked everyone to be involved. After he arrived to Southern California, he loaned money from the bank and owned a small accessories store, ‘Fancy Plus’. Located in the Korean Arirang market in Garden Grove, Chung sold many school accessories and stationery products to Koreans. Since he was always affiliated with the Korean people and culture, he thought he wasn’t “adjusted to the American culture yet …the food [he] ate and the TV programs I watch were all Korean.” It was hard to experience the American culture in Southern California because the population of California was integrated with many other races. He was disappointed in not experiencing the American culture, but at the same time he was pleased to experience the other cultures such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and Latin culture.

   As the American economy had been in depression over the last several years, Chung suffered great decrease in his income. He said, “About five years ago, I closed the Fancy Plus store and about three years ago, I closed the Mama’s store, too. The closing of both stores damaged critically to my credit and also bank account balance.” The Fancy Plus was his first store after he came to California and the Mama’s store was his second store in Garden Grove which sold small products. Chung started a lollipop business after he opened the Fancy Plus store When the Arirang market first built in the Garden Grove, the Fancy Plus Store was set at the same time. In the beginning, Fancy Plus produced great income by selling trendy items from Korea. The Korean-American students in America loved the characters that were popular in Korea. Many stationery products were produced and many products became sold out. However, Chung started to worry about running the Fancy Plus store because the rent cost had been increased suddenly and there was no more of the new popular characters in Korea. After deep consideration, Chung closed the Fancy Plus store in 2005. About the start of the new store ‘Mama’s store’, Chung “spent nearly two hundred million dollars I earned from the Fancy Plus to open the Mama’s store.” Although Chung spent great amount of money on Mama’s store, it produced a more dreadful result than the closing of the Fancy Plus store. The rent was still high and as the economy started to decrease, the consumers did not want to spend their money on the stationery products. After about one year after opening the store, Chung would close the Mama’s store again. Unfortunately, he could not even sell the store to somebody else because nobody wanted to buy in the economical depression. So, he just closed it and carried all the products in the store to the storage. The lollipop sale had its cycle; in the summer season, the sale of lollipop was low but in the winter season, because of many specials days such as the Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the sale of lollipop was high. After the closure of the Mama’s store, Chung though “I cannot live with only the lollipop business since it has only half year of sale period. I need a business which was persistently running all throughout a year.” He chose a liquor store as his last hope. The liquor store was a well-known business that was be influenced by the economy of the nation. Chung decided to put down the serious economical problem and he actually solved his monetary conflicts. However, as he ran the liquor store, his health condition became poor, “working at the counter of the liquor store is just standing in one site and deal with the customers. I feel like my weight is pulling down me during all day and get easily tired.” It is a hard to run the store without any holidays even in the New Year or Christmas. After starting to run the liquor store, Chung had not much time to meet with his friends in California and share information about business.

   Chung immigrated to America as his friends did in the 1980’s. even though the process of his adjustment to the American society and culture, Chung set his life style based on his small business chances. His immigration provided great opportunities and view of the world in which Chung would not obtain in Korea.


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2. Chung, Byung J.. Personal interview. 19 May 2009. 1.
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