J.J. Kim and his family put their life in South Korea on pause to spend a year more than 7,000 miles from home.
Kim, a visiting scholar at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is returning to Seoul in July, but he’s already looking for ways to come back to the U.S.
“I would like to stay more because my wife and kids love this life,” he said.
From July 2009 to June 2010, 503 scholars came from China and Korea, a more than 40 percent increase from the 2005-2006 school year. The countries have been the top two contributors of foreign scholars to UNC every year since 2005.
Sarah Whang, chairwoman of the Chapel Hill Asian American Parent Advisory Council, said many visiting Asian scholars move their families to Chapel Hill rather than places like New York City because they can get a great education at a fraction of the big city’s cost.
“This is an ideal place for many of the Asian families because they value education so much, and the community values education so much,” she said. “They find this area very attractive.”
For the past school year, Kim conducted media research at the journalism school, but his exchange visitor visa only allows him to remain in the United States until July.
The contract he signed with his company in Korea, Kukmin Daily newspaper, also requires that he return at the same time.
Kim said he chose to study at Chapel Hill after hearing his colleagues talk about how great the community is for families.
“Many Korean visitors, as far as I know, are satisfied with this life because of the nice weather, well-organized public education, good security, low price and good neighbors,” he said.
Seven of the 11 visiting scholars in the journalism school are from Korea. Three are from China, and one is from Finland.
Kim said the lifestyle in the United States is much more relaxed for him and his wife, Jung Mi Choi. But adjusting to the area was harder than he expected at first, he said.
“I failed to get a driver’s license, and I was very frustrated at the examiner at the DMV,” he said. “He was very tough, very strict. I asked, ‘Please speak slowly so I can understand,’ but he didn’t.”
Kim got his license the second time around from a different examiner, but he still had to get adjusted to driving in North Carolina. One month later, he received his first American traffic ticket.
“I drove carelessly, so a policeman chased me, but I didn’t recognize that so I kept going on,” he said. The officer wrote Kim a ticket for failing to pull over.
“In Korea the sirens are very loud,” he said. “Here there was the blue light and sirens but I didn’t hear.”
Kim’s daughter, Ji Yoon Kim, 11, had a difficult time adjusting to school stateside, although she has grown to appreciate a U.S. education.
She couldn’t find the after-school program on the first day of school and almost took the bus home instead, she said. But now, she plays an important role in translating for younger Korean children.
Ji Yoon said she likes school better in the United States than in Korea because she doesn’t have to attend additional lessons after school.
Kim said his family is sad to leave so soon, but they have made the most of their short time in the U.S.
“We have traveled 20,000 miles since we arrived,” Kim said.
The family has been to Quebec, Orlando, Chicago and eight Western states since their arrival in the country.
Kim said it was always a dream of his to move his family to the U.S., and he will try to find an opportunity to return as soon as he can.
“That dream came true,” he said.
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