When my nephew Lanny told his son, "This is an important day. Mommy is going to become a Canadian." Luc responded, "Good! And I'm going to be an Oiler!"
It was an exciting day when Jungmi married Lanny, and it was beautiful bonus when she officially joined the country we call home two months ago. Luc even wore his Oilers' jersey to the ceremony in Yorkton, Sask.
Born and raised in Seoul, Jungmi met my nephew when he was teaching English there. He was also learning Korean, and Jungmi, who wanted to learn English, was teaching his Korean teacher to speak Chinese. That's how it works in the world of language learners, evidently. Long story short, Jungmi and Lanny taught each other. And that worked so well that they married in Seoul in 2010.
A year later, they moved to Canada, believing that it’s better to raise children here. "It was hard for my family, but they trusted Lanny and believed I would have more opportunities here,” Jungmi told me, adding that her grandmother was separated from her own parents during the Korean War. "So I am lucky. I can visit my family, and we Skype all the time." After living with 10 million people in Seoul, she simply took a leap of faith settling in Wadena, Sask. (population 1,306), where Lanny now teaches elementary school.
Jungmi Lee and her son Luc. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Pogue
Jungmi says that she has been surprised by the generosity of Canadians: "People are willing to donate and to volunteer to help others in need. Neighbours are friendly and kind," she says. "Our 84-year-old neighbour became a grandma to my boys. We tried to help her, too, by shovelling snow. She is like our family. Her generosity influenced me to help others like her. She is a good role model as a Canadian citizen."
At this time, however, the Korean government doesn’t allow dual citizenship; Jungmi had to choose between the country of her birth and Canada. What helped her to decide was discovering that Canada protects culture by law. "My boys are Canadian and also Korean,” she said. “I wanted to be like them.”
There are no Buddhists near Wadena, but Jungmi continues her tradition. "I chant every morning. Sometimes, my husband and boys join me. Sometimes I go to a temple in Saskatoon or Regina."
Clearly, Jungmi is an eager student of all things Canadian, too. She mastered English and has started to learn First Nations history in the province and gardening in a prairie climate. What’s more, she obtained her driver's license and learned to watch hockey and baseball. And after the boys became as independent as they can be at four and two years old, Jungmi began studying for a long-term care certificate through Saskatchewan Polytechnic. She’ll graduate next March.
"I wish we all enjoy celebrating 150th Canada Day and be thankful for our country, which is full of nature and freedom,” she told me. “I hope we all continue to speak up for justice and continue educating ourselves to be better citizens."
Of course, Canada is not a perfect country. Our history is fraught with mistakes and false starts. In my lifetime, though, we've moved from hiding a major part of our history to openly trying to deal with it. We continue to invent ourselves as a country, learning as we go. So when new citizens like Jungmi share their stories, skills and dreams, I am reminded how thankful I am to live here, too.
Happy Birthday, Canada!
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