The Sacrifice for Children
Hyun Shin’s immigration to the U.S. for his children
essay written by Eddie Shin
Hyun Shin is a Korean immigrant who came to the United States in the November of 2000. He was a mechanic in Korea, but is now a cancer patient. Shin had immigrated to the United States for his children, as he wanted them to receive the best education anyone can possibly get. Shin does not know if he is one hundred percent with the decision to immigrate to the United States as he thinks it is too early to tell such a thing.
Shin came to the United States as an immigrant from Korea in November 2000. Through this interview, he shared the difficulties of the immigrant experience in the United States, what his expectations were and how he has come to adjust to living in America. This is the story of his life, beginning from his childhood in a small town in rural Korea to the hard times he struggled through to achieve his American dream. Shin came to the United States as an immigrant for his children because for him, “[If my children do the] things they want. [I will] be happy.”1
Shin was originally from Choong Jung, South Korea. Choong Jung is a small rural city where the people grow their own crops. The whole town had a small family-like feeling to it where everyone knew each other and their families. The town was a very quiet place. “There were mountains and rivers. It was a great place.”2 Shin grew up with the nature all around him. As a child, he would spend hours in the forests and mountains with his friends in his free time, and it taught him to be very independent. His childhood dream was to be a monk in a temple surrounded by the wilderness. From that time on Shin liked the peace and calmness nature gave off to him.
In Korea, children were expected to be studying all day long. “From pre-school, they had to study from morning to night.”3 All kids knew only how to study and nothing else. They would leave even on Saturdays to go to private tutors to study and catch up with the schoolwork. There was no time for fun with friends because the only way one could go to college was by education. Sports, community service, awards or any other special recognition did not mean and matter much for colleges in Korea as it does in America because education and test scores were the number one priority. For children in Korea, it was all about studying and reaching for the highest education possible. However, for Shin’s childhood, it was different as he enjoyed the rural area in Korea. For Shin, “going to elementary school was the funniest and happiest moment in my life”4 Sometimes, he got in trouble and received punishment from teachers because in Korea, teachers were able to hit the children. Shin’s favorite part about being in elementary school was when “[he held a position] close to [that of] a student officer. [He] would punish people and teach kids as well. That had a lot of power, being the most powerful next to the teachers. [He] would come up to the front in the mornings and punish the kids who were bad and tutor the kids that were having difficulty. It was fun for [him] while it may not have been for others”5 He received a lot of physical punishment as well, during his childhood, but enjoyed the punishment. He enjoyed being the physical pain as “being hit was looking like a hero in front of your friends.”6
Not only did he receive a lot of trouble from school, Shin fought a lot during his childhood for his brother. Shin says the reason he fought a lot for his brother is because “[his] brother’s intelligence was lower than most, and [he] didn’t like the ridiculing at school or around the neighborhood.”7 Because Shin never liked the mocking of a person based on their looks or intelligence, Shin fought bullies to prevent the ridiculing of his brother. Shin never regrets this to this day. One incident he remembers the most protecting his brother, “when [he] was 14 or 15, [when] a neighbor accused [his] brother [of stealing a “bike”] and cursed at him. [Shin had] heard that from someone and [he became very] mad. That [neighbor] was [his] friend’s dad, but [Shin] was so mad that [he] thought that if [he] saw [his friend’s dad, he would] do something to him. [He] went to the house and [he] cursed and threatened him. That time [he] was learning tae-kwon-do and [the art of] nunchucks. With the numb chucks, [he] broke the door and threatened [the neighbor]. It was a big deal in the neighborhood. [He] never forgave anyone who messed with [his brother] and protected him.”8 However in August of 2008 Shin’s brother passed away from an illness. To this day, Shin would do anything to protect his brother repeatedly, even with his own current health problems. He misses him as he only has one sibling left out of four, his oldest sister having passed away of breast cancer in 2001 and his older brother from an illness in 2008.
On an average workday, Korean people worked longer in days than the average worker in America, because a regular Korean job required an employee to come to work on Saturdays. Leaving at nine every morning and coming home around five or six from Monday through Saturday was the life of an average worker in Korea. Shin worked as a mechanic through his years in Korea, thinking that he would be a mechanic in America. He never thought his work was fun. He says, “It wasn’t fun, but it was so that I can work as a mechanic in America.”9 However, There were some times he enjoyed being a mechanic. According to Shin, his most enjoyable times were “When I fix the hard and difficult problems by myself and when a customer leaves happy with his car.” Working as a mechanic gave him joy as he was able to help other people. Still to this day, Shin, though no longer a mechanic, helps work on other friends’ cars for free. Although, they get free labor, it is a chance for Shin to keep his mechanic skills sharp and a chance for him to help out his friends.
Shin liked Korea; it was his home country with relatives and friends there. He enjoyed living in Korea as he spoke the language and knew many people. However, he chose to leave all of these behind. It was a struggle that took three years. After many visa denials, Shin was finally allowed to board a plane to Los Angeles, California. Though the ride on the plane was easy and uneventful, the actual journey and process was long and difficult. Shin had to work and work to get here, and once he had arrived, he continued working hard. His main reason for leaving was to give his children an education and opportunities -- in America, one’s efforts led to his success. Education was not the sole purpose; sports, leadership, community service, and all those extracurricular activities were important as well. By leaving his homeland and traveling to America Shin was giving his children the best possible chance at future success. Although it was difficult to leave family, friends and Korea itself his children’s future success made it worth it to Shin. Shin wanted to give his children the education he had never received.
Because children in Korea had to study from bright morning to midnight, it was hard for the children to grow up and difficult for parents to pay for everything. Shin recalls, “When I left Korea, the economy was bad, the International Monetary Fund [crashed], and the whole country itself was horrendous. The education cost too much, it was hard to raise the children, and it was hard for the children for themselves.”10
The economy was in a devastating time, and everything was difficult. Considering the bad economy and the hardship on the children Shin decided to leave Korea. It was not an easy decision for him as he recalls “I had thought about it for a long time, about 3 years whether to go or not. [Whether] we can live successfully in America when we cannot even speak English. It was a long process.”11 For three years, Hyun wondered and thought about whether to come to the United States of America, and then he came into the conclusion: for his children, he needed to immigrate.
However, there were many difficulties in coming to the United States as Shin received many rejections from the U.S. for a green card and visa for immigration. It was a grueling process because “by the U.S government [he] got denied, had to refile paperwork and interviewed. It was a long and difficult process. After getting the visa, it was easy. I remember being denied three times and then refililing once more. I lost hope but the visa came with the green card.”12
After the green card and visa were taken care of, it was an easy process the rest of the way. Shin remembers, “so all I had to do was to buy plane tickets. After getting the visa, it was easy.”13 After the plane tickets were bought, Shin packed his belongings with his family and flew to America by Korean Airlines on November 2000. It was not an easy flight here as he thought about the new life ahead of him during the plane ride. When asked if plane ride was enjoyable and exciting, he recalls, “No, because I had to think about the struggles about the future. I think I drank a lot of whiskey.”14 The fear and uneasiness of coming to the Unites States bothered Hyun because he did not know the language or culture of the foreign country he was going to live in.
In Korea, expectations for the United States had been high. Korean immigrants, such as Shin, expected the Unites States to have the most beautiful roads, buildings, homes, and parks. Those were the things expected from Shin on the first day at the Unites States.
When he arrived, Shin’s impression of America was different from the impression he had held before and disappointed him. “From the outside, when I first landed at LAX, I thought it was uncivilized. When I arrived at Downtown L.A, it looked like Korea in the 70’s. I still believe that [it does], but it was worse then. It look like the Korea in poor times, and I thought the people were dirty. The streets as well”.15 From the outside, America was dirty “[However], from the inside, [Shin] saw that laws were regulated because [he] didn’t see a lot of trash everywhere, and a lot of people were kind to each other, being polite. From that, [he] saw that [the] laws were regulated.”16 From the inside out Shin saw America as both good and bad.
When he arrived at LAX, Shin had the first negative because he noticed cultural differences. The weirdest thing for Hyun was when he was driving. He explains, “The most unexpected thing was that you have freedom as long as you don’t bother the person next to you. But, to me it doesn’t look like freedom. [For example,] when people drive without shirts on. In Korea, if you do that you are a crazy person. But from my perspective I feel uncomfortable with it and the fact that the people only think about themselves still.”17 The culture differences were huge between the Korean people and the American people. In addition to the shirtless driving, Shin remembers, “When I first saw the house [I was to live in,] I thought it was a place for the homeless. I thought [that] in America, [my home] would be nice. The apartment was not sound proof, made out of wood, and was dirty. It was so different from Korean apartments [even though] that apartment was a nice one in Downtown L.A.”18 The apartments, the opposite of what he thought it was going to be, shocked Shin who found out how low standard the apartments here had.
Adjusting to the culture of America was hard because Shin did not know the language, hence giving him difficulties to communicate with other people. According to Shin, “even now the language is the hardest because we can’t communicate. In addition, there was a different lifestyle between the Korean people and the American people. That was the hardest for me to fix and still, I haven’t been able to fix the difference between the two races.”19 As it is for all immigrants, the language barrier prevented Shin from adjusting quickly.
The hardship Shin faced was the business he began. Shin started a laundry business in the United States, something he had never done in Korea. He remembered how hard it were, “even though [he] opened up the business in a partnership, in Korea, there were no jobs in the laundry business so [he] didn’t know what to do. And it was a lot harder than the job in Korea.”20 Opening the laundry business took a long time for Hyun to adjust to because he had to learn how to communicate and work with the laundry business. He had difficulties through his business because at times, his business boomed, and at other times, it dropped. Hyun eventually opened a laundry business in Garden Grove, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, and Costa Mesa.
The choices Shin made for his children to learn the Korean and American culture was excellent. He tried to balance out the two cultures between them so that they get the best of both worlds. Shin wanted to give his children a taste of Korean culture, “explain[ing] the ways of Koreans and teach[ing] them the faces of Korea. More importantly, not to forget how to speak Korean.”21 Shin’s children picked up Korean with ease, and after a short adjustment period when they started elementary school in America, they could speak English as well. It appeared as if Shin’s wish to keep his children Korean while having them be successful in America had come true.
Shin does not regret coming to the United States although he says that it is too early for him to decide yet. Currently, his businesses have all been sold because he was diagnosed with cancer. He has been fighting the cancer ever since October of 2005. Though it is a Stage 3 rectal cancer, Shin had never lost hope and continues to battle this cancer. He tells his children, “As of right now, I do not regret coming to America. You guys are more happier here because in Korea you leave at 5 in the morning and come back at 11 at night. That is all you do in Korea so the kids are like robots. In America, you can show your talents and be whatever you want if you try your hardest. In Korea, all you do is study to go to college -- without summers, breaks, or anything else fun. [With] all you do in high school in the U.S., you can play sports and go to college if you try your hardest. When I think about those things, I become happy and not regret coming to America. However, right now, with no permanent results, I do not regret it.”22 For his children’s sake, Shin does not regret coming to America because his children can achieve whatever they wish to become.
Although Shin does not regret coming to the United States, he is positive that he will move back to Korea. Shin is not one hundred percent sure when he will return Korea, but he wants to go back to Korea with his wife when he has retired or at the time his children go to college. He is still undecided, but one thing is for sure: that “The road back [to Korea] is always open.”23
1. Shin, Eddie. Personal Interview, 26 May. 2009. 15.
2. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 1.
3. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 3.
4. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 3.
5. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 4.
6. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 4.
7. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 8.
8. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 8.
9. Shin, 26 May. 2009. 2.
10. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 2.
11. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 2.
12. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 3.
13. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 3.
14. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 3.
15. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 13.
16. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 13.
17. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 13.
18. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 13.
19. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 13.
20. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 14.
21. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 14.
22. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 15.
23. Shin. 26 May. 2009. 16.