Why did you leave Korea? Were there any incidents that made you want to leave Korea?
JUNGEUN LEE: It’s not an easy question to answer, but after graduating from my previous university, I often experienced discrimination and unfair treatment at work. I didn’t want to put any more effort and use my time for those who didn’t respect my time and me as a person. Also, I was a person who was always searching for ways to make a work-life balance. It is such a long and complicated story but I wanted to experience a new environment and new people and decided to move overseas.
How long and how did you prepare for studying/working-abroad and being an independent graphic designer?
JL: I spent around three months to prepare my portfolio and language tests. For my portfolio, I was working on my projects and assignment at the same time. After hearing from the school that ideas, processes and sketches can be more important than the final outcome, I improved those. My work involved mostly the printed matter, so I tried to work on different mediums like installations, videos and other elements. Compared to other applicants, the time I spent on preparation was way shorter, but to me, spending less time and concentrating was more productive.
What was your reason for choosing the city and the country you live in now?
JL: Like I mentioned above, I wanted to experience living in a country, where good career and private life coexist. I chose the Netherlands because I heard it was one of those countries, and I grew curious about people, culture and environment.
How much is the cost of living in your city? How much do you pay for rent? What is the living environment like?
JL: Things are done much slower here, yet more strict: If I have to install internet, I would have to wait for at least a month. At 5.50 p.m. customers are asked to leave the shop because most of the shops close at 6 p.m., so you must hurry in order to get your grocery. But if you come to think of it, people who run the business have their own life too and need a break like the rest of us, hence it is nothing strange that shops close early. However at first, I had trouble adjusting to it. About the cost of living, I think it is about the same as that in Seoul or a little lower. In the Netherlands, we pay deposit (paying about two or three months rent in prior) when renting a room, so the settlement costs are slightly lower in the beginning. The grocery costs less than Korea and, here we have a bigger variety of products and the quality is also better with lower prices. For example, in The Hague, the local market is very vibrant, so you can get high quality food for a low price.
Are there any differences in working environment for female designers as compared to Korea? If yes, what are they?
JL: In general, working hours and personal time are completely separated and this is surely one of the biggest differences. After working hours, people try to avoid sending emails or making phone calls to colleagues and clients regarding work. Even if I get a phone call, I’m not obliged to answer it, and if I must answer, I would always get an apology first. Here, people think that all employees are obliged to enjoy their personal time after work, but because I rarely had experienced this in Korea, I feel more respected here as an employee and a person.
Do you experience any sexual discrimination and/or racial discrimination? How do you deal with it?
JL: Once, somebody threw stones at me on the street for no reason, and recently when I parked my bike on the street, a stranger shouted at me saying that I should use my brain properly. These are extreme cases and at first, I just ignored them, but nowadays I fight back. Within my experience, most of the time, attackers don’t expect an Asian girl to fight back, so in return, they feel ashamed and run away. But discrimination comes in many forms and for us, discrimination is an everyday reality; for example, people making fun of my name or trying to fit me into stereotypes of an asian girl, or being treated unfairly in the working environment. I get angry and it is sometimes devastating to admit that wherever I go, I will always be a minority either in South Korea or the Netherlands. But I know I should not give up on my rights, thus, I try to raise my voice whenever I face discrimination.
Compared to when working in Korea, do you now have more free time after work? How different are your weekends and holidays here in The Hague.? How do you spend your free time?
JL: I’m more of an indoor person, so I spend most of my time at home with friends but here, there are also various activities that one can do outside. Sometimes I ride a bike along the coast and swim in the beach, or just lie down on the grass and rest. Sometimes I also visit nearby countries.
What are the hardest parts about living overseas? How do you overcome?
JL: One of the hardest things is obviously missing my family and friends back in Korea and I still don’t know how to overcome this yet. I just remind myself that all my friends and family have their own path back in Korea and they will do their best there. So I also should do that. Thankfully, I met a lot of nice people in the Netherlands. Most of the friends I got to know in college are also from many different countries and this strengthened our bond. Sometimes in life, we lose one thing but gain another. That’s what I learned and I’m always grateful to the people around me, near or far.
How do you study english? Do you have any tips? Do you study also Dutch?
JL: When I first arrived here my English was not good at all. Most of the conversations involved active discussions and I found it hard to participate or to explain my work properly. One of the methods I used was to ask for an agreement from teachers or even friends, and recorded all the conversations and lectures which I would listen to afterwards. By memorizing new vocabularies and idioms, my English improved dramatically, but of course, and there is still room for improvement. I’m also studying Dutch in parallel, but I’m not very fluent yet.
Do you plan to go back to Korea? If yes, what are the reasons?
JL: I don’t have plan to go back to Korea, yet.
If you don’t plan to go back, what are the reasons?
JL: As I have worked as a freelance designer while living a college student’s life, I have to admit that I could not experience everything to the fullest. I finally graduated, and I want to stay within this vague boundary a bit longer to try new things as much as I can. I’m considering a lot of things at the same time, but for now I’m preparing to move to another city and apply for different visa.
Do you have a female role-model? Who is she?
JL: If a role-model refers to following in someone’s footsteps, I don’t have one. However there are a lot of females who are brave and make me proud of being a woman. I respect and appreciate that they are fighting for women’s rights.
What are your plans for now?
JL: To be honest, I don’t know yet. I am not sure when and how I will go back to Korea, but hopefully I will become a designer and person who has a clear role in society, doing things for both duty and pleasure.
Lastly, do you want to say anything to female job seekers, who are pursuing their career overseas?
JL: I think you are brave to consider the possibility of leaving your home and everything behind, to be somewhere you’ve never been before. I root for all women, no matter what happens.
The interview was conducted on July 2017 via E-Mail.
Are you a Global Citizen?, 2017, Jungeun Lee
(Collaboration with Marika Seo), Photo: Sanne Gielens
TO LIVE IN
A COUNTRY, WHERE
THE JOB AND QUALITY OF LIFE ARE GUARANTEED”
Royal Chess Club #20, Poster, Jungeun Lee
Collaboration with Peter van Langen
Collaboration with Peter van Langen
“ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS IS OBVIOUSLY MISSING MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS BACK IN KOREA”
“I MET A LOT
OF NICE PEOPLE
The Right to Opacity, 2018, Jungeun Lee
“I ROOT FOR ALL WOMEN, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS”
Objects of Worship, 2018, Jungeun Lee