When asked to write an article about my experience in Korea, I was at first hesitant because I am not the kind of person who likes to talk about myself and I think that the readers may not want to read the same stories about how exchange students enjoy the nightlife and shopping here, in Korea.
I want to talk about someone I met who has an enormous impact on my life. I met Lilly during one of my class. When I saw her , she had so much energy and was so joyful I was intrigued by her. We begin to know each other more and she told me her story. She is from Burmese decent and has been in Korea for over 15 years. Lilly is one of the strongest person that I have ever met: at an young age she had to leaver Myanmar in order to study. It is by foot that she went to India, accompanying by four other men that she did not know. She stayed 6 years there, she completed her bachelor in business and started her master’s degree. Her next destination was Malaysia and she was hired as a nanny at first but was exploited by her employers. When she understood that all the promises from the family to obtain her a visa were false, she was trying to find a way to leave. Penniless and with many debts, she was lost and did not know what to do but when her brother came to find her in Malaysia, it was a relief for her: she could go back to her motherland, Myanmar. Korea was her next stop and her ‘final’ stop (she went to study in the United States in the meantime) Lilly is a person that I look up to.
From the hardships, the humiliation, she persevered and became the person she wanted to be, she kept on pursuing her dreams no matter what. Lilly, is applying for a PhD now and she is, as well, a counselor. She, and one of her friend Miss Kim, are helping migrant workers.They have a center: Sustainable Management Foundation: Multicultural Management Center which aims to help Burmese migrant workers. They are helping them to adapt within society: from finding a job to purchase a sim card, they are following each of their steps and are giving them the guidance needed. When Lilly asked me if I would like to teach them English, I was more than happy. Teaching them English, gave me a totally different insight on life here in Korea.
As a foreigner, adapting into this society is something that has been challenging. I am working as a waitress in a pub/restaurant in Gangnam and I will be honest, it is difficult. Between the customers who are scared to talk to me because I am a foreigner, and the drunk customers who are trying to touch me or being disrespectful, it has been difficult. Being in a different land is something always hard to overcome, I am not complaining as I understand we are all different from each other. I can understand them in a way, but I can not compare my situation to theirs. Hearing their stories about them being beaten up by their bosses or colleagues, the danger and the amount of stress that they are going through which leads them to alcohol, the stares that people give them because they are ‘different’ made me realize that we are still in an era where we are afraid of each other, where the Other is considered as someone dangerous. Through them, I understood the lack of understanding and of tolerance of our societies. Coming here, they know that life will be hard, they need to earn money for their families, but they did not imagine what will happen to them. They have rights but they do not know how to use them. If something happened, it is hard for them to find the help and the support, that is what Lilly is fighting for.
Lilly wants to bring awareness and she wants better solutions for them. She is truly a role model because she sacrificed her life to help people. From a fragile girl leaving for India she became this strong independent busy woman who receives 50 calls per day. She stands for her principles and will do her best to help anyone in need. My exchange here, in Korea, would have been totally different if I did not met her and I am so blessed that I did.
If you are interested on her story, you should definitelygo and read this great article which is dedicated to her: The Sensational Story of Lilly Lee in The Groove Korea.