June Elizabeth Kang is striking her own path as an indepdent-thinking, change-oriented career woman, a role she has prepared for through 16 years of marriage with one of Korea’s top movie stars. / Korea Times
By Oh Young-jin
Don't call her the former Miss Korea or wife of a famous movie star. Not that she would mind being called those things.
Rather, June Elizabeth Kang looks and sounds quite comfortable being addressed as such, but spending five minutes talking with her makes you see her other side - an independent-thinking, change-oriented career woman who no longer needs her widely-known associations to get recognized. Kang is now the director of communications and development at Seoul Foreign School.
Of course, it all started with her meeting Choi Min-soo, a movie star known for his rebel- without-a-cause image and unique presence in movies, back in 1993.
She was a 22-year-old college student aspiring to be a dentist who came to Korea to represent Canada in the Miss Korea pageant. Choi, now her husband, fell in love with her at first sight and spent three hours persuading her to get married.
The two got hitched the following year, with a confession he made during the three-hour discourse perhaps playing a key role in moving her to give up her life in Canada and settle in her parents' nation, where she didn't have any friends. Choi's confession was that he had planned to live a bachelor's life - because of his father's four marriages and four breakups - before he met her.
Their love story may sound corny until you hear her compare it to the "white feather" from the novel and movie Forrest Gump. "It was a start," she said in an interview with the Korea Times.
But that start may have turned out to be more like a "box of chocolates," another reference from the film, as it has led to unexpected boons.
A Korean cook book was one of the first gifts her husband gave her. She studied the recipes and prepared meals for him in their early days of marriage. She hasn't said how much her husband liked those meals. She had a maid come to the house twice a week but the rest of the household chores fell upon her.
Kang implied that this Cinderella-like role was pleasurable, saying, "I was a princess of my own back in Toronto." The very reason she decided to participate in the beauty pageant was because of the encouragement from her mom and professors to broaden her horizons by learning more about her parents' country.
In a way, those years of learning about her new environment also apparently prepared her well for her present position as the communication director of one of the best foreign schools in Korea. She has her whole heart in the task and appears to be ready to push for changes not just for her school but in the Korean school system. She thinks she knows how to strike a balance so as to bring about changes without upsetting the existing order.
"I know that Korean schools can be more attentive to the needs of individual students," she said. In other words, helping athletic students excel in sports and academic students fulfill their potential is a mission of the schools, she believes.
"Just because I was educated in the western school system and my two kids study at Seoul Foreign School, I don't think my contributions should be limited to my immediate community," she said.
She believes that she stands at a crossroads between the two systems, enjoying the benefit of seeing from both perspectives, which gives her the position of helping the two sides learn from each other.
She said that she has already talked to some people who can influence Korea's education policies and is planning to continue to do so.
Changes are already taking place in her school, observers say. They say that Kang is closely working with the new chief of the school and that change is their common theme. In addition, regional alumni reunions are being planned, with a gathering of all graduates in the pipeline.
"Our school has produced a great number of graduates, but keeping them informed about their school ties gives them a sense of pride and camaraderie," she said.
Asked what plans she has in store, she said, "I do the best doing what I should, day by day."
In a country where Lee Charm, a German-born naturalized Korean citizen, set a new precedent by being appointed to head the Korean Tourism Organization, it can't be ruled out that Kang may be one of the next candidates to help globalize Korea.