Here comes the long-awaited moment to introduce Elisaveta (@2haru_film) to our readers.
Although firstly, I want to congratulate Lisa on the birth of her daughter! After all, your pregnancy surprised your old followers and me as well. In this final interview of the mini-project about the Ukrainian women’s lives in the country of morning freshness, we talked about pregnancy in South Korea, childbirth, family, and joriwon.
How did you meet your husband? Were there any difficulties in the relationship with the Korean family?
We met plainly via the Internet. At that time, I decided to resume my learning of Korean, so I logged in to one of the most popular language exchange websites (I don’t want to specify the name of the program because, as far as I know, it worsened; besides there had been enough dubious people back then). One day “the guy without a profile photo”, texted me, and now he’s my husband.
I didn’t have any particular difficulties in my relationship with my Korean family, and they were optimistic about me becoming a part of the family from the very beginning. I think the knowledge of the language (at least some of it) also positively affected the situation. It seems that now international families are perceived less aggressively by Korean parents. However, there are still many conservative families. From my experience and the experience of my acquaintances and friends in Korea, I can say that all of us were kindly accepted into the families.
You have been blogging on Instagram for some time. How do your family feel when you turn on the camera?
I can’t call my Instagram profile a blog, as I just started it as a personal page, and over time, my “narrow circle of people” gathered there.
My immediate family don’t mind me taking pictures and shooting videos for Instagram or YouTube. Because since my first day in Korea, I’ve been doing it permanently.
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?
It seems to me that in 10 years, I won’t blend in here. It is mainly not because of cultural differences but because of people’s attitudes, and I will always be a foreigner to them, at least because of my appearance.
As for the language barrier, it is challenging to live here without a good knowledge of Korean. I have an intermediate level, so I generally feel pretty comfortable communicating, but my husband always helps me with banking issues and red tape. It would be quite a challenge for me to do everything without him with my level of Korean.
How has your relationship with your husband changed since marriage? What do you value most in your beloved?
My relationship with my husband after the marriage has changed dramatically. We seem to have moved to the next level. Of course, it has its pros and cons. From the drawbacks, romance disappears, dating and travelling are decreasing a lot. However, like a real family, you become much closer, work harder, and think more about the future together.
What do I appreciate in my husband the most?
I think I’m most impressed by him being “a family man.” Family plays a significant role for him.
How is your pregnancy going in Korea? Are you glad to deliver a baby in a foreign country, or are there any judgmental looks?
Pregnancy in Korea was disappointing because of trivial things. For example, no one gives up a place in transport, and non-pregnant women or men constantly occupy the seats for pregnant women. But these are little things, and there was a positive experience. Also, I have never faced public disapproval.
What is your opinion about medicine in Korea? Can you share your experience of staying in joriwon (조리원 – a postpartum center)?
In general, I liked how the childbirth went. At first, I heard many stories from other Ukrainian girls and prepared myself for the worst. But in the end, everything went well. There were polite and caring staff and comfortable maternity and postpartum wards. Before childbirth, the issues of anesthesia and delivery are discussed. All your wishes regarding childbirth are taken into account. You mention what you prefer: natural or cesarean, to cause delivery or wait for natural. A huge advantage was that the food there was delicious! At the moment, that Korean maternity hospital is the only hospital in Korea where I have had a minimum of disappointments.
I didn’t like staying in joriwon, and I didn’t feel comfortable there. It’s such a pity that we wasted a lot of money as it turned out to be about $ 4.5 thousand for two weeks. But, as I understood, we were just unlucky to choose that center. There are other postpartum centers where the prices are more pleasant, and the conditions are much better! We relied on good reviews on the website and the convenient location. We chose it because it was a 5-minute walk from our house.
The attitude of the staff was the most disappointing part. Behind polite smiles and feigned kindness were hiding indifference and self-interest. Many workers have tried to send off the baby to their mother at every opportunity. However, their responsibilities include caring for the children, as a joriwon primarily focuses on the mother’s recovery after childbirth. But in our case, our daughter was with me almost 24/7, and sometimes she was taken away so that I could have some rest. I want to extract your attention that it’s only my personal experience.
According to my observations, Korean women didn’t often stay with their children. Maybe they asked for it. But in comparison to them, who were walking from one masseur to another, I almost didn’t have a chance to leave the room. It was challenging, and I was insanely tired during those two weeks.
It was also unfortunate that my daughter was constantly crying because of a stomach ache. I tried my best to ask the workers to help me solve that problem. But for some reason, everyone, with a polite smile on their faces, kept telling me that I just needed to feed the baby. According to them, if the child doesn’t have a high temperature of 38°C, everything is fine. Feeding is the solution for all diseases. As a result, my baby girl started to overeat, and now, in her first month of life, her weight is above average, even though she was born very small, even by Korean standards.
Of course, the world is not without good people. There was the staff that sincerely loved their work and helped me with the baby in every possible way.
On the bright side, there were tasty three-times meals a day and two small snacks. The food was delicious and well prepared. Your room was cleaned every day, and you also handed over things for washing, and they brought them to you clean. And the most significant advantage of joriwon – is a specialist who helps establish breastfeeding. It is a very complex and painful process. But they try to make life easier for mothers: daily examinations and massages help accustom the child to the breast in joriwon.
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.
Koreans are really obsessed with food. If you want to make sure, the only thing you need to do is just turn on any program on TV. Whether it’s a K-drama, an idol show, or a show about nature and the mountains, there will be people who enjoy their tasty meal.
At home, we often eat Korean food. It’s easier that way. The prices on products you need to cook Ukrainian dishes are pretty high, and it is challenging to find the ingredients, if not impossible. In addition, unfortunately, my husband is not a big fan of Ukrainian cuisine, like most Koreans. For them, our food is too stale and dietetic, without a rich taste.
Foreigners’ wives are divided into two types: they either become housewives or work after university/childbirth. What about your family?
We have a unique case. When I came to Korea, at first, I couldn’t work because of my visa restrictions. But I found a way out – I had some beginner students whom I started teaching Korean online.
Later, when I received my wife’s visa, I was finally given a free hand in finding a job, but the pandemic was in full swing. Then I got pregnant, and all plans went to waste.
Generally, my husband doesn’t want me to have challenging part-time jobs. Because if you are a foreigner, you need to have at least excellent knowledge of the Korean language and higher Korean education to get a good job. After trying the role of a housewife, I realized that it was not for me. So I’ll wait until my daughter grows up a little, and I’ll start looking for part-time jobs and enroll in courses.
What does your day look like?
My day is quite monotonous after my daughter’s birth, as you are attached to the child 24/7. However, I still try to devote at least some time to myself and my hobbies. I’m very thankful to my mother-in-law, who often comes and helps with Seol-ah.
Do you think you have fully adapted to South Korea? Do you have reasons to stay here all your life or return to Ukraine?
My adaptation period was about six months. At first, there were a few months of euphoria from coming here, and then I had depression which is a common part of adaptation.
Everything is fine now, but I believe that the complete adaptation is when you can solve problems of any complexity on your own, and I haven’t reached such a level yet.
I am not going to return to Ukraine, at least now, but I am not sure if I want to live in Korea all my life.
How often do you visit your family in Ukraine? Were there any plans to live with your husband in your home country?
I was going to visit my Ukrainian family 1-2 times a year, but I haven’t been to my homeland for a particular reason.
We definitely aren’t going to move to Ukraine in the upcoming years, as we are attached to Korea because of my husband’s job and his elderly parents. But in the future, anything is possible!
What is important to remember once and for all before starting an international relationship?
I have been thinking a lot before answering this question. In my view, there are no particular rules. Koreans are the same people as us! It is essential to comprehend and not live under the illusion after watching Korean TV series. It is equally important to understand that there are more difficulties in such relationships as distance, language barrier, and cultural differences.
I would like to thank all the project participants and wish them always be healthy and happy in the place where they are now.
Journalist Viktoriia Holovach, English translation by Anastasiia Malakhova
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