International Couple Love Story #1: interview with Iryna

“Live as your heart tells you” was what I thought one summer day while I was at the shooting, and I decided to do my own mini-project to distract readers from Instagram for a moment.

I don’t want to remind you of how the wave of k-pop and Korean dramas has affected the popularity of starting to follow Korean bloggers. Instead, during the next 3 weeks I’ll be introducing you to 3 Ukrainian girls. All of them are absolutely different and interesting, and they have a lot to say.

Meet Iryna, or you probably know her as @angyylover!

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

How did you meet your husband? Were there any difficulties in the relationship with the Korean family?

My husband and I met at university when I first came to Korea as an exchange student for one semester. He noticed me at the university but did not immediately come to introduce himself, although he decided to wait for a better time. It turned out that I was attending the same class and was in the same group with his friend. After his friend found out about it, he tried to arrange a discreet meeting for us. Several times his friend offered to have lunch together, but I refused, but one day, when we finally arranged the meeting, the friend came with my future husband. We immediately had a spark and sympathy, we were interested in communicating with each other, and it all grew into love over time.

My husband’s parents and I met when I moved to Korea to study full-time. They always try to respect their son’s choices, so they accepted me very kindly. My mother-in-law said that, at first, she was anxious about how we would communicate with her if I did not speak Korean. But then, when she got to know that there would be no problems, we immediately found a common language and became friends. Now my husband’s parents are like second parents to me: they take care, help, support, and love me like their daughter.

You have been blogging on Instagram for some time. How do your family feel when you turn on the camera?

My family only support me because they know that many people, especially my family and friends from Ukraine, are interested in learning about life in Korea! And Instagram is one of the ways to show life in Korea precisely how I see it. Especially my daughter enjoys posing in front of the camera and often asks me to take her photos and share them with followers.

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

During the period when you live in South Korea, do you feel like a stranger there? What about the language barrier and cultural differences. What difficulties do you face?

I have been living in Korea for almost 7 years, and it has become so dear to me that I do not feel like a stranger. I have my home, family, and friends in Korea. Of course, the fact that I speak Korean well played an essential role in the adaptation. Knowledge of the language opens many possibilities: I can do my favorite hobby, work, learn something new, travel, and communicate freely with people without worrying about the language barrier.

The longer I live here, the more I understand all aspects of Korean culture and mentality, and many Korean values relate to me easily. Probably the only thing I’m not used to is the age hierarchy. In Ukraine, everything is somehow easier, and for Koreans, even one year of age difference is important, and it affects whether you can call each other by name or not.

How has your relationship with your husband changed since marriage? What do you value most in your beloved?

We lived together before getting married, so our relationship hardly changed after marriage. The bonding time was successfully completed before that. After the wedding, there was perhaps even more confidence in each other and more common plans for the future.

Talking about what I appreciate in my husband the most are his love, reliability, care, determination, sense of humor, and attention to everything that concerns us as a family. Sometimes we disagree, but he always tries to understand my point and respects my opinion. He is very open-minded, loves my Ukrainian family, and respects Ukrainian traditions, which is also very important to me.

Koreans are proud of the cult of food and constantly talk about it. But do you cook Ukrainian dishes at home, or is it exclusively rice and Korean snacks? Please tell.

I cook more Korean food at home because I’m used to it, and the food and the atmosphere are more conducive to it. My husband and daughter also love Ukrainian cuisine. Once a week, we always have a Ukrainian dish or dessert on the table. They love plov, cutlets, stewed potatoes or cabbage, and various soups. We even bought an oven, which is rare to have in Korean apartments, to have a chance to cook Ukrainian casseroles and pastries.

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

Foreigners’ wives are divided into two types: either they become housewives or go to work after university/childbirth. What about your family?

I can say that I am now a mother on maternity leave who is actively looking for a job. Last year, I graduated from Kyung Hee University in Seoul (ed. 경희대학교) with a degree in tourism, and I was going to arrive in Ukraine first and then start looking for a job. But the pandemic changed all our plans, and we had to postpone the trip back home to Ukraine. Since tourism lost its popularity and kindergartens worked irregularly, I was focusing on parenting my daughter while preparing for and passing the exams that I would need to get a job. I work with Korean-Russian translations from time to time, but now I am looking for a permanent position.

What does your day look like?

My daily routine often changes depending on the day of the week. Usually, I have free time until 4 p.m and try to do everything: study, work, do Pilates, meet with friends. After 4 o’clock, I pick up my daughter from a kindergarten, and we go for a walk. By the time we come home, it’s already 6 o’clock. I spend time having dinner together, playing with my daughter, studying, getting my daughter ready for bed, and generally spending time with family. Although my husband and I share household chores – time flies really fast. On the weekends, we always choose one day for a trip to have fun, and the other day we just relax at home.

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

Do you think you have fully adapted to South Korea? Do you have reasons to stay here all your life or return to Ukraine?

I can confidently say that I have already fully adapted to Korea. I got used to people, their behavior, customs, traditions, and Korean landscapes: from majestic mountains to narrow streets. Korea has become a part of me, and I can’t imagine myself without it. So I have many reasons to stay here now.

Maybe my family and I will decide to live elsewhere in the future, but we are happy here for now.

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

How often do you visit your family in Ukraine? Were there any plans to live with your husband in your home country?

I used to go to my home country once a year for about a month. Now, unfortunately, due to the situation in the world, I have not seen my family in Ukraine for 2 years, and I miss them a lot. I hope to come and see them next year.

As for Ukraine, sometimes my husband and I talk about moving or experiencing a short-term living there because it would be a new experience for us. But the fact that my husband doesn’t speak Ukrainian becomes the main obstacle. Still, we have more opportunities in Korea because I am fluent in Korean, graduated from a Korean university, have a good sense of direction, and am used to living here.

Photo from the personal archive of Irina Bondaruk

What is important to remember once and for all before starting an international relationship?

In fact, it took me a pretty long time to come up with the answer to this question. As for me, international relationships are the same as any other, and there is no single rule. The only thing I would suggest doing before starting this kind of a relationship is getting to know as much as possible about your beloved: their preferences, culture, and mentality. Due to the difference in cultures and mentalities, mutual respect, understanding, and trust are essential in international relationships. If one partner of the couple does not adhere to this, it is unlikely that you will be able to build a strong relationship. Trust your heart and feelings, and I wish everyone to meet their true love!

Journalist Viktoriia Holovach, English translation by Anastasiia Malakhova

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