A journey to Canadian
Sunmi studied sports medicine in her undergrad, and was already looking to study in the United States, but then she met a Canadian….
… And then she fell in love…
Tell me about your journey.
I was working at the time, for a company that hires English language instructors to send them to Samsung, LG, Humex, Coca Cola, we’re dealing with big companies. I got a job there to learn English before I could come to study in the US. So one of the coworkers that was working there, she was Korean Canadian. She saw me working every weekend because I wanted to make as much money as possible for my studies. Working there was good because I could study at the same time, so she saw me working and she said,
“You are a fine looking women, why are you working every weekend? You have no boyfriend?”
“No, I have no boyfriend.”
“I have a really cute friend. He’s from Toronto, he’s very good looking, he’s very sweet, he’s very cute. But he’s white.”
So I was like, “Uh, no.” So she was very persistent for a few months, telling me and showing me his picture. She organized a gathering in a big izakaya, she invited 15 friends of hers. This would be a good opportunity to practice my English, it wouldn’t be one on one. I met Tom and he said he was going back to Canada in a couple of months, and I said there is no way I am dating this guy. He messaged me, and I messaged him back three days later and I was so not interested. But at the time, I was lonely, and I wanted to practice my English. Also I was telling myself, Sunmi, you don’t have to meet a guy who you can only get married to.You can just meet guys just for fun, even just for the short period of time. Who cares? Who knows about the future? Just let it be, just let yourself go, just go hang out with him.
Yeah, you can just go out for fun. It’s scary though, still.
I started hanging out with him for about two months, then he left to Canada. But he was visiting his family for a month, but the whole month I was waiting for him. I missed him. I was counting the days, counting the time, and then when he came back, I said okay. This is okay, it’s okay to fall in love this way, even if he is going to leave, let it be. The period of time that I am going to meet him, if I feel love, if I make good memories with him, that’s all that matters. I had two boyfriends before when I was in university and it didn’t go well even though I thought I was going to be married to them. I didn’t get married to them. We broke up. Even married couples they divorce.
That’s the thing, you’re right, you cannot predict life.
Exactly. That’s the moment that I said, let go, just don’t get obsessed with it, just enjoy, you love him now, so let’s see where this takes you.
And now you’re Canadian. Look at what happened!
Yes, now I am Canadian living in Ottawa. And then he was very interested in this health field actually, so he brought up this school of naturopathic medicine.
“What is that?” I had no idea about this.
He said, “There’s a clinic there where you can practice after you finish, you know, the school teaches you how to become a doctor without using pharmaceutical medicine.”
“Oh that sounds amazing.”
We applied together, we got accepted together, we came together, but he didn’t start. But I did.
He had an opportunity to start the business, so I said let’s put the eggs in a different basket. The school is not going anywhere, if the business doesn’t go well you can start the school anytime. To do that he moved away to Montreal and I was left in Toronto. I was so lonely, I was crying every day, I was calling him, “I don’t want to do this,” you know because it was so stressful.
We learned everything the medical school students learn on top of that, we learn all the natural remedies, botanical medicine, acupuncture, homeopathic is one of them and a lot of intensive nutritional courses. My English wasn’t 100%. I think I only understood 70% of what everything was said in class.
So you had to try that much harder.
So I recorded every lecture and I subscribed after and I typed the notes again. I had to work twice the amount of time that everyone else. I would miss out so much, I would think, “What did she say?” So I recorded every single lecture. And reading takes way longer time than everyone else, these guys would read 20 to 30 pages in one hour, I would take 5-6 hours. One period of time, I was sleeping with this recording file on so my subconscious brain records what is said.
Somehow, I got through it. It was four years. I don’t know how many times I cried.
And his business it didn’t go well, it didn’t go as he expected so after a couple of years, he came down to Toronto. You start something, it doesn’t work well, there is a cost to it.
You paid because of the distance between the two cities, the effort to stay in contact. The cost of energy to work so much on a small business because you put in more time than at a regular job and then the actual money.
You spend your own money to survive. It costs money to maintain, for my practice, I have to pay for things that come out regularly out of your bank account.
And then he got a job at Costco and that’s why we moved to Ottawa. I finished my school and he was promoted, so he transferred to the headquarters. Timing was good, but we had to move from Toronto to Ottawa
Tom was like, “Um Sunmi, we have to move to a different city, are you okay with it?”
I told him, “I flew half the globe following you. Moving from this dot to this dot doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Even the marriage, a lot of disappointment comes from expectations about your husband or your wife. I formed that expectation in my own head without telling anyone. My husband is not a mind reader, he does not know what kind of expectations I am forming in my own head with my own laws and experiences, he is living in a different world. He is a man, he has different experiences, different expectations, different logic. When you form the story of your life with your own logic, but I expect him to know what I want without telling him “You should know what I want. Why don’t you do this that I really wanted you to do, that I never told you to do, so you should do this.” This is a conflict. I keep telling myself, “explain to him if this is what you want, explain to him. Don’t form unfair expectations in your own head and expect him to know.” Expectations forms a lot of conflicts in different types of relationships that’s why I was telling myself.
What you need to do when you come to a new situation when there is a misunderstanding is just accept that’s who they are.
What was it like to decide to babywear, was it even a question of doing otherwise?
I just feel like he wants to be carried, that’s how he sleeps the best, I feed him to sleep and I try to put him on the bed, time for me. But then he wakes up in ½ an hour, but if I carry him, he sleeps for 2 to 3 hours no problem. There must be a reason he feels more comfortable on me, that’s what I was thinking.
That is a Western thought. That you need to grow up. In order to be strong, you need to impart strength from a very early age.
That is way too early, they just came out of the womb.They trust the world better, it shapes their brain in a different way.
And what about other things, what was hard to get used to in Canada?
Metric system is a real struggle. In medicine, I use EMR an electronic medical recording system. And then would record weight in kilograms and height in inches. Stuff like that. And I don’t have sense in miles and inches and pounds.
And buying. Okay I am a big online shopper. When I was in Korea I was buying the stuff online and there you buy online, it gets to your door the next day. If it takes long, the longest time would be three days. People would get mad because Korea is such a small country. The whole size of Korea is 1/3 of Ontario, like a Giant Toronto. We have 55 million people living in a tiny country, it has good logistic systems like high speed internet because land is so small, population is so concentrated those infrastructures are so easy to layout. Subway system is like a spider web. Here I order something and “WOW it take a two weeks to get here, sometimes a month!”
What things did you find were weird about Canada and Canadians?
Not saying things that you see. I mean things that even you see obviously, like someone walking around with something on their face, you wouldn’t say anything because you were afraid of offending that person. That would be very rare in Korea, someone would definitely come up to you and tell you had something on your face and then they would just walk away. You would say, “Oh thank you!” That would be the end of it. We wouldn’t think twice, if I say this would that person be ashamed.
So the person receiving the comment, they would not get offended about that.
Some people complain about that culture too because we can be very blunt and very frank. First thing, if I gain weight, then you saw me and it’s been awhile, “Oh I see that you gained some weight!” Some people hate that. “What happened to your face, you have some acne going on. What happened.” Here they never say it, even if you have a zit right on your forehead, they don’t say a word. That’s the biggest difference I felt.
I like learning about my country through the eyes of others. Thank you very much for bringing me into your home, Sunmi, and telling me about your journey.
Sunmi and I originally met October 15, 2016, and we spoke for about four hours. This article is a condensed and edited version of our interview. Her story, like many, was so interesting it became a three part series. The first is called Growing up Korean. The second article is called Becoming Canadian, where she shares how she moved to Canada and then stayed.
Sunmi Cha is a full trained and license naturopathic doctor in Ottawa. Visit her website here.