Jenny Kim, North Coburg

“Maybe someone who didn’t know me, like someone I met in the park, would be surprised I have a clinic and own a business. They might be surprised: ‘Wow! How? You’ve been here only ten years!’”

An audioclip from this interview with Jenny Kim:

So, describe for me a typical day.

Okay, so my routine. Wake up in the morning at 7 o’clock and then prepare breakfast and get my older daughter to school.  And I come to work with my little one. By that time, it’s nearly 9 o’clock.  And then I start to work and I leave my little one with a babysitter in the back room in the clinic.

And then I continue working ‘til lunch break.  I stay in the office a half an hour to let my receptionist go for lunch, and that’s when I have my lunch break.  And then when I finish around 3 o’clock, I pick up my little one from the babysitter and go to school to pick up my older daughter and go home.

So by that time it is 3.40 to 4 o’clock. Then I cook dinner or get them do homework and get them baths, and do housework. Usually that is near the end of the day but nowadays because I’m covering for one of the physiotherapists who is on annual leave I do all these things and more. I wait for my husband and when he comes home I go back to work at 7 o’clock.

So yes, these three weeks are really busy, because I’m filling in.  I come back to the clinic and work in the evening. Normally I work three days a week but at the moment it is five days a week, and I’m also working every Saturday. So Wednesday is my day off. Things are pretty busy.

My partner works at Warragul Hospital; he’s a doctor there. He is usually free every weekend but if he has something on, he can’t be here.  So then I’m pretty much the one taking care of the kids and my work and housework.  Full time mum and full time worker as a physio.  It’s crazy and I’m surviving.

You mentioned why it was that you’re working late at the moment.

Because another physio is on annual leave. Yes, so I have to cover it. In a small business [Merlynston Health Clinic], you cannot  let people down. So I have to maintain her schedule so when she comes back she can continue seeing those

Okay.  So have you always lived in Australia?

No I lived in South Korea; I came from South Korea.  I was born in Seoul and lived there until I was 10 years old, and then my parents decided to move to a smaller city in the south part of Korea, where I lived until I finished Uni. I lived half in Seoul half there in my 20s.  And then I married my previous husband when I finished my university, but the marriage didn’t last long and we broke up after one and a half years. It was a real shock. We had had a daughter together. Then I decided to move back to Seoul just to be away from all this.  I probably didn’t like the town much too so then I worked in Seoul five for six years before I came out to Australia. During those years, I lived in a few different places. After finishing Uni I lived a very short time, like six months, in the south east of Korea.  Each place I lived in had a different environment. Seoul is really busy. There are ten million within the one city so it’s really crazy and busy and everything 24 hours.  It’s really different to Australia.  Whereas the other city I grew up, where I finished secondary and Uni, that’s a little quiet.  If you drive like half an hour to an hour you can get to countryside with rice fields and mountains all around.

That’s my father’s home town actually.  My parents are still there, but my brother my sister and me all went back to Seoul after Uni.

So, what brought you to Australia?

Yes, very good question.  When I went back to Seoul with my work I started to work for my professor who taught me at the University.  He finished working with the Uni and he open up a new clinic. I got the chance to go to Germany and Japan for conferences and to different courses for physio. This was more likely because I divorced at the time and I had a little baby and my parents were looking after her. And then I started to think, maybe I should do more, improve myself and further develop my knowledge. And learn more English, because my English was really poor at the time. My former professor said, “Why don’t you consider living in a country like Australia or Canada. The life is better and the people don’t think divorce is as a stigma”. He encouraged me and he also said, “If you study there and get a degree I can definitely promote you to a position in the university, like lecturer. He said that because he knew a lot of professors in Korea. So I said to myself, “Oh, maybe I’ll give it a try”. So I started studying English at Sydney Uni and my aim, if I was lucky, was that I might get into Sydney Uni.  But then the competition was too high and it was too expensive for me.

I was 27 and I didn’t have any money on my hands.  Without savings, I had to rely on my parents. So, I thought of just doing a Masters and going back to Korea to continue my life as a lecturer, all set with money to meet my dreams.

But then my former professor gave me another suggestion: “You are better off studying broadly rather than just mastering one area.  You will have a much broader understanding of what physios do, because physiotherapy in Korea is not like that in Australia.” It’s not as evidence-based. Physios in Korea are technicians, fixing things using techniques rather than studying the evidence and what is happening in the human body. So, the profession is different in the two countries. So, I decided to study from the Bachelor, and my English was good enough to get in Bachelor but not Master.  Masters required a higher English score, so I say I think I should’ve studied more and stayed longer to improve my English.  So, that’s why I decided to study Bachelor. My parents disagreed, of course. Because I had my daughter, they wanted me to re marry and settle down. I didn’t want to leave Korea with my young daughter because it was too much stress. And I wanted to live in Seoul but then my income wasn’t good enough to survive.  With the cost of private tutoring and medical expenses, if you don’t have money it’s just hard to survive. That’s life in Seoul.

So I decided that if I could just live in Australia until my daughter grew up and return to Korea, I would still be young enough to do lecturing things. So, that’s why I studied again and chose to study at the uni in Albury, because it was the cheapest uni. The exam for my English level went well and they also gave me credit. I think it was ten subjects. One subject cost me $2200, so ten was around $20000. So, I saved on that. That’s why I moved to Albury from Sydney after the six-months English course. Then just four years studying and I finished Uni.  Luckily, I finished on time. Of course, I had to sit an English test again because they changed the law. I didn’t know until the second year of my course this would be necessary, but it worked out and here I am. My parents had looked after my daughter until she turned ten. When I finished my uni I got a permanent residence visa after few months of working, and I applied for PR for my daughter as well. It took me 10 months in total after finishing uni to bring my daughter to Australia.

So how did you come to be in Melbourne?

I came down to Melbourne from Sydney because there were too many Korean patients in Korean community and I did not like the atmosphere. I wanted to be away from Korean culture due to my personal circumstance. So I came down to Melbourne and I got a job just across the road from here in Merlyn street. I was working for Markita, who was a physio. She sold the clinic to Joshua who used to work for her. I worked for him and then I took the clinic over from him. So that’s why I decided to settle in Melbourne.

Okay.  So how is life in Australia different from life in Korea?

First of all, it’s less stressful, financially and in terms of employment.  Every Australian complains about unemployment getting worse here.  But I can say that here it is like Korea ten years ago, and I expect that what is happening in Korea now may be what Australia experiences in ten years.

Get worse and will be worse still?

Yes. So even though you’ve finish Uni at a top Uni in Korea, maybe only one in 200 students can get a job. And the 80% look for job, for years and years. And they were super smart. You can’t compare them to students in Australia because they study, sleep four hours a day, and study, study, study. That much is really silly, yes. Then also, when you reach sort of senior level and you are forty or mid-forties, you are the first one who will be kicked out because companies don’t want to pay anyone in high positions. If you become senior, they don’t want you stay. They’d rather give cheaper jobs to younger and more energetic people. So, it’s really hard.  And living costs in Korea are like those in Australia – really expensive – but wages are half that here. The average Korean income is probably $40-50 thousand but with costs of living like here or even more. So you can’t survive on one income there. Both, husband and wife need to work, and kids go to their grandparents or childcare centres.  But there the government doesn’t provide much support for child care costs, unlike the child care benefit here. So they pay like $200 something for one kid, plus extras.

So life is really stressful financially.  To get the degree, to study, you have to compete. Everything involves competition. There are 50 million Koreans in small country, smaller than New South Wales.  And you have to be able to work to survive. For example, the average income for doctors in Korea is three or four thousand a month. So, I think that’s why a lot of Koreans like to go out and live in Australia or in America or Canada.  They go because they don’t see a future. And corruption is getting worse in politics. So, it’s like a small America with the richer getting richer, the poorer getting poorer.  Two parts of society.

Okay.  So a different sort of question.  If someone saw you in the street who didn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?

I think if they knew I married to Sam. I think that’s a very surprising thing.  My friends are always surprised when I tell them, because it is very uncommon for a South Korean to marry a Middle Eastern man.  Different religions – I’m Christian, he’s Muslim – different skin colour, and different cultural backgrounds.  So, people are very surprised I live with him, and he experiences that reaction too. He doesn’t really tell his friends he’s with a Korean. They start to tease him. They know I’m from Korea but they say, “Oh, is she Vietnamese or Filipino”. I’m different to their concept of an Asian girl, in a good way and in a bad way I think.

And maybe the other thing people would be surprised by is that I’m divorced, because I look young and they wouldn’t think I’ve gone through that stuff.  And maybe also someone who didn’t know me, like someone I met in the park, would be surprised I have a clinic and own a business. They might be surprised: “Wow! How? You’ve been here only ten years!”

Is there anything else that you would like the readers of this blog to know about you?

Sometimes when I got on the tram in Melbourne during my Uni period and I travelled by myself I could see that people sometimes thought I didn’t understand English. Probably they noticed me because I looked a little bit hesitant or because I didn’t know the tram system. They often started to use body language to communicate with me. When I answered them in English with, “Do you mean this?”, they then started to talk. But they didn’t do so straight away.  That was in my Uni period though, not now.  But I felt that when I was in Sydney people didn’t think I didn’t understand English, because Sydney is more multicultural. There are a lot more not white people in the city. Now though when I’m with my partner and we are travelling together on the tram, people talk to us straight away in English because obviously we look different and we are together.

So they’re assuming you must be communicating in English.

Yes, yes in English. So I noticed this more in Melbourne that Sydney. In Sydney people feel free to talk anybody, whereas in Melbourne they observe first. Maybe they were considering my feelings. I don’t know. But I want people in Australia to know that even if someone has an accent they can still understand English. That’s why they can survive and live here. So people shouldn’t assume someone doesn’t speak [English] or know. Sometimes even when I shop in Highpoint or Myer … I have an accent and when I start to talk and they can’t understand me, I can see they’re frustrated by their facial expression. I feel like they can’t be bothered to listen carefully sometimes. Do you see people switching off? Yes, or sometimes not really trying to say stuff because they think it’s going to be hard.  People should know, they understand you.

Don’t assume that someone can’t understand you just because they’ve got an accent.

Yes, yes, that’s right, yes. I have experienced this a lot in David Jones and Myer: places selling expensive stuff rather than in simple shops. I find that a customer service person who has skin colour like an Indian or Asian often has a better attitude than an Australian. Because Australians think, “They don’t understand”. And so they don’t explain things, even though I’m asking. And this is worse with people over forty or fifty than for the younger generation.

This interview is part of the This Is Us Australia project. If you are interested in taking part, and would like to find out what is involved, please use our CONTACT page or email us at thisisusaustralia at

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