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Why I Moved to Korea in my late 20s

One of our readers requested notes with our vlogs for those who prefer reading rather than listening. Maddie's question along with notes written to summarize what was covered in the vlog are included below.

Shared with permission:

Dear Dr. Kim,

Thank you for your recent video on choosing a career. I am not looking at a job in health care but I found what you said toward the end of the video really encouraging and smart. I’ve never heard anyone put it the way you did, to get to a place where I am needed more than I need my job.

My question for you is this - what if I know what I am interested in but I’m not sure how I can make a living from it? My parents have been really supportive and I feel like I will let them down if I don’t get a job in tech or finance.

I appreciate all that you share.



Thanks for your question, Maddie. I definitely feel your angst and I can tell you that I have felt this struggle firsthand.

To share a bit of my own history, when I began university, my parents weren’t able to provide any financial support. At that time, they were just a couple of years into starting a church, and my father’s salary barely covered basic living expenses.

Given our financial circumstances and being the only son of our immigrant family, I felt it was my duty to get through undergraduate and graduate studies as efficiently as possible so that I could begin working and help support the family.

This is why moved up to rural Alaska just after turning 24. My time there allowed me to pay off my student loans and help my family back home. Once these first goals were met and I was able to build some savings, I moved down to Northern California to gain experience with water fasting, something I was quite interested in both personally and professionally.

I loved my time in California - I lived at the clinic where I worked which was nestled in some peaceful hills just south of Santa Rosa. There were multiple fig, apple, plum, and other fruit trees all around, and even persimmon trees along the road that led to the clinic. It was paradise.

I could have stayed there in a job that I found fulfilling, but with each passing month, I couldn’t ignore this feeling that I really wanted to go to Korea to learn Korean.

Not just to have Korean as a second language, but specifically to be able to express some frustrations to my mom. I tried to be a good son, but the truth is that I carried some emotional wounds and resentment over certain expectations. Up until that point, while I was close to my mom, our communication was quite limited, and there was no way for us to share back and forth on a meaningful level - she spoke mostly Korean to me, while I spoke English only.

So at 27 years of age, I made the decision to put my career on hold and follow my instinct to move to Korea to learn the words and phrases I needed to be able to express all of my resentment to my mom. It sounds irrational and even petty to summarize it this way, but that was my reality.

Nobody in my life at the time, including my parents, understood why I needed to make this move. I’m sure it looked like a foolish decision. But for me, there was no denying that it’s what I needed to do most. And I felt like I had earned the right to follow this instinct. I didn’t have a large nest egg of savings, but I had enough to pursue my goal in Korea.

Looking back, I think that was one of my best decisions. I met the best friend I have ever had, a fellow who would later fly all the way over from Korea to be the best man at my wedding, and I learned all the Korean I needed to be able to communicate all of my feelings to my mom.

This isn’t to say that I have an always peaceful relationship with my parents today. But it brings me enormous relief to be able to share back and forth on more than just everyday matters.

To give you an example, my parents are orthodox Christians, and one of the things that drives me crazy even today is when my mom hints at what I should be doing to strengthen my faith. I love my mom, but she and I have very different opinions on this. I don’t think any of us can judge another person’s faith, while she feels that factors like frequency of church attendance and titles like deacon and elder are markers for how strong a person's faith is. In her mind and heart, she genuinely believes that if a church makes you an elder, this is proof of you having impressive faith in God - this is the sort of point that I can’t just nod my head to. I have to let her know why I disagree.

Our conversations can get heated, but not surprisingly, I believe such back and forth actually brings us closer. As a parent myself, I would rather know what my children are thinking and feeling, even if their views are opposed to mine, than have them feel that they just can’t talk to me so they’ll either ignore me or pretend all is well. I cannot imagine living with a vast emotional gulf between myself and loved ones.

So Maddie, that was an off-the-beaten-path look at why I think that you shouldn’t ignore your genuine interests. Depending on your and your family’s financial circumstances, you may need to use some of your time and energy to take care of basic needs for survival, but I don’t think you can go wrong in using the rest of your time to pursue anything that brings you fulfillment, anything that makes you feel grateful to be alive.

Steve Jobs once talked about how all of the interests that we feel called to pursue are like dots that we put down over time, and at some point, we’ll connect our dots in a way that is unique and meaningful to us, like how his dot of learning calligraphy as a student led to fonts adopted by Apple and other computer makers in the 80s.

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful. Remember that you’re not being courageous or brave unless you are somewhat afraid. Best of luck.



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