Kim Okran's story an inspiration to other immigrants
Kim Okran's self-published autobiography about her struggles as a new immigrant to Canada has touched other recent immigrants like Comfort Ero, who came from Nigeria, David Naidu, from Fiji, and Masoud Azar, from Kurdistan.
Share this story
By Mario Bartel - Burnaby NewsLeader
Published: March 20, 2012 5:00 PM
By all appearances, Kim Okran is a successful businesswoman entering her middle years with confidence and style.
From her office in Burnaby's "Little Korea" area on North Road, she runs 20 English-language school agencies in Korea, Japan, Mexico, Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto. She does marketing for wine companies.
Okran's come a long way from the anxious young woman who boarded a plane in Seoul, South Korea when she was 29 and out of work. With $5,000 to her name, she hoped an education in Canada would lead to a better life.
It did. Eventually.
But not without a lot of stress, hardship, sacrifice and doubt along the way.
Okran's story as an immigrant to Canada is extraordinary for its very ordinariness. It's the story of so many immigrants who come seeking the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.
That is why she decided to write a book about her journey. And why it is touching so many immigrants who have read it.
Okran grew up in the very south of Korea, the youngest of seven children. Her father struggled with alcoholism, her mother sold fish to support the family. She says she was a frail child, often ill. Whenever she played outside, she often looked up at the contrails of jets passing overhead, dreaming one day of climbing aboard one herself.
"My dreams were adventures in my heart," she says.
Okran taught kindergarten in Seoul for three years before illness put her out of work. She spent a year traveling around Korea, pondering her options. On the last day of her self-imposed journey of discovery, she decided she wanted to become an interpreter. But she needed to improve her English, and to do that she'd have to climb aboard one of those planes to get to Canada, where a friend assured her there were plenty of opportunities to speak English.
But when she landed in Edmonton, all she found was a cold, quiet city—pretty much the polar opposite of bustling Seoul.
"It looked so empty, it's very flat," Okran recalls. "I wanted to go back right away."
She didn't. She couch-surfed with friends and friends of friends. But since most of them spoke Korean, her English wasn't improving. And her money was running out. She became depressed and disappointed.
She had enough money to afford bus fare to the warmer climes of Vancouver. So in July 1992, that's where she landed next. Life was still hard. She had no stability, no job. On more than a few occasions she questioned the wisdom of her choice to leave Korea.
But she didn't give up. She started keeping a diary to remind her of her struggles and accomplishments, and to help her commit to her goals.
Now Okran's self-published autobiography of her difficult early years in Canada, Kim OK: Travelling the Unpaved Road, has moved dozens of other immigrants from countries around the world to contact her by email, phone and even in person. Some of their notes move her to tears.
"Your daily life experiences (seem like) my experiences," says one from a Filipino woman.
"Most of us repress that part of our journey," says Masud Azar, who came from Kurdistan five years ago. "You have so many difficulties that you want to forget." Okran didn't want to forget, and she's hopeful her experiences will encourage other new Canadians to persevere.
"I want to let people know that life is not miserable," says Okran. "We have to work together and reach out to those who need it."
Like Comfort Ero, who left her poor background in Nigeria to seek a better life in Canada.
"As a landed immigrant myself, there are many places in which I empathized with her character as she struggled to overcome the challenges of her story," writes Ero in a note. "Many people in my community have used her story and action to act as a catalyst to propel them into positive changes in their lives."