For Shim Gab-young, chief of Anyang Customs Office, English language is more like a religion. She frequently sought solace at a nearby English Conversation Club each time the going got tough at work place, known for its chauvinistic male atmosphere.
The 53-year-old veteran often found the atmosphere at the conversation club liberating. The mere experience of native English speakers and locals heartily conversing about virtually every aspect of their daily lives and a chance to improve her language skills excited Shim.
"It was a lot of fun there. I could absorb a spirit of freedom by speaking in English, breaking a stereotype of Korean thinking," said Shim over the phone.
She said her passion for English played a critical role in her being the first Korean expert trainer last month in the World Customs Organization, which represents 179 customs administrations. She passed a series of tests at the organization's accreditation workshop for expert trainers, where of whole process was conducted in English.
"I did not intend to study English to join an international organization. I just enjoyed the language and it naturally led me there. To enjoy something is definitely better than to do something earnestly."
Shim said affection for the language opened her eyes to a bigger world and broadened her horizons. Thanks to her fluent English skills, she got a chance to study at Michigan State University sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in 2008 and 2009.
To compete with rivals is another factor for success, which Shim suggests could help young jobseekers gain a job at an international organization.
"It is a very practical strategy. If you find a rival, you can control yourself and make more efforts to follow him or her. I always keep in mind someone to overcome." She declined to disclose who her rival is.
Shim said she plans to treat her undisclosed rival to a meal as a token of her appreciation for the person's contribution in stimulating her.
She is a leading officer in the customs agency where she became the first female commissioner of a district customs office last month by taking helm of the Anyang office in Gyeonggi Province, on the southwestern outskirts of Seoul.
The mother to one daughter was full of energy and chuckled loudly from time to time during the 30-minute interview, showing her positive attitude and free spirit, which she believes came from learning English.
As head of the district customs office, she dreams of transforming it into an education center for global talent. She leads an in-house English conversation club every week and seeks to connect local customs officials with their foreign counterparts.