Actually I’m Korean
Sue Kim immigrated to New Zealand from Korea with her husband 24 years ago and almost immediately fell pregnant with daughter Bokyong. The family moved first to Auckland (which Sue initially thought was a small town compared to her hometown of Busan) before moving to Dunedin, and then briefly settling in Balclutha where they were one of three Asian families in the entire community.
“I started learning English, but a few months later I realised that’s too hard, so I gave up. I decided to just mingle with the next door ladies instead of going to language school. My English at the beginning I learnt from the next-door neighbours in that sort of way,” says Sue.
Now Sue works as a high school teacher in Ōtepoti teaching Korean and Japanese. She also wants to learn Chinese too so she can communicate with Bokyong’s boyfriend and his family. Aside from her day job, Sue also serves as principal of the Dunedin Korean language school, helping local Korean kids stay grounded to their culture and language.
Bokyong is currently studying Law and Science at Otago University. She also has a younger brother called Jahoon who is 21. When Bokyong was about 13, her mum and dad got divorced. Bokyong feels part of the breakdown of the marriage had to do with how differently her parents adapted to living in New Zealand.
“One of the biggest differences between you and Dad... obviously you had basically forced yourself to learn English, then becoming a teacher, and so you’re using English every day and you’re meeting new people every day. Then I saw Dad… struggled quite a lot, especially with becoming familiar with English and just finding a community. I don’t think he ever felt at home in New Zealand.”
Sue describes not knowing at the time how to leave her 14 year marriage, “It was just really heart-breaking and I felt really sorry for him. I learned later why I was really stressed and sad about my marriage life, but I couldn’t do anything, and I didn’t know what to do. It was always financially very tight, and life was very very tough, but I didn’t know what to do.”
In 2018, Sue got remarried to a Pākehā man named Ken, despite believing she would never be in another relationship.
“Once I had broken up, that’s it, that’s my life, and I thought that that’s my end of relationship. But when [Ken] started approaching me... it just amazingly fits well.”
This episode reveals the tight knit bond between mother and daughter as they talk about relationships, New Zealanders’ preconceived ideas and stereotypes around East Asian people, and the perseverance to keep on adapting.
Series Classification: G (General Programmes)
Conversations With My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.
Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer. Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a first generation South Asian New Zealander.
Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.