Jin Hye Soon (pictured above) affectionately known as “The Andong Bride” to mabig ny of her fans, is an acoustic guitarist who arrived in South Korea in 2008. As she begins strumming her guitar under a glittering spotlight, the voices of her fans cheering “Andong Bride” fill the room. She has become somewhat of a local celebrity in Andong, where she is often recognized by people while she shops at the market near her house.
Her ongoing love for the guitar began 9 years ago. She took a four-month acoustic guitar class at a women’s welfare center during her first year in Andong. Now, after countless hours of practice, she can play many difficult songs with ease. Her hardened fingertips are a testament to her determination and passion.
She began performing live because there are not many North Korean defectors living in Andong and she felt the need to tell her life story. She wanted to change the perception of North Korean defectors and actively began searching for Korean bands to join.
Ms. Jin is now part of a larger ensemble with fellow guitarists, saxophonists and other musicians between the ages of 40 and 60, who take to the stage at various venues. She has performed on numerous stages including performance theaters both big and small, but says her most memorable performance was at a nursing home.
Her audience at nursing homes are mostly senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s and other serious illnesses. One elderly fan who Ms. Jin often thinks about frequently asks, “Is the North Korean bride coming? When will she be back again? Is she coming this week?” He may not remember too much these days but he certainly looks forward to Ms. Jin’s guitar performances. Ms Jin plays free gigs at the nursing home every week for her elderly fans who eagerly await her performances.
She says the secret to her new life in South Korea is not money but rather a genuine interest in people. She found this through regular volunteer work. “Instead of chasing money for success, it’s more fulfilling to invest in people’s hearts and minds,” says Ms. Jin. “By becoming a good person myself, I meet other good people and “wealth” naturally follows afterwards.”
Her words are evident in her daily life. She volunteers most weekends, but her main job is working at a supermarket, where she clears out fruit stands and is known for her sales skills. Andong is not a big city, and many of her customers are people she meets while volunteering. They often go out their way to buy from the supermarket she works at.
Ms. Jin has naturally surrounded herself with kind-hearted people through her regular guitar performances and volunteer work. These newfound friends offer her various opportunities, both direct and indirect, including introducing her to better jobs and inviting her to give lectures on unification. Ms. Jin says she receives financial help from time to time and believes it’s because she lives life with a giving heart. She enjoys the intimate provincial life, where there is a sense of neighborly bond, rather than the hustle and bustle of cities like Seoul.
She emphasizes that it is important for North Korean defectors to stay at a job long term and build experience. “If you can endure for one year, or even three years, despite the low pay, you will gain experience,” Ms. Jin notes. “We don’t receive minimum wage not because we’re North Korean, but because we don’t have the relative experience. You must have realistic expectations from the beginning.”
Ms. Jin majored in food and nutrition at a Korean university, driven by years of experience as a cook during her time in China. She has also obtained culinary certificates for Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Ms. Jin believes that accumulating experience by focusing on one area for a long time, while consistently investing in obtaining certificates will eventually lead to success and recognition. Her advice for fellow defectors wanting to challenge themselves is to put pride aside and persevere to successfully settle in South Korea.
On an ending note, she adds that she didn’t come to South Korea to make money. She came because she wanted freedom from intrusion. She loves her life and believes that is why she gives back to others. She isn’t financially wealthy but has found life’s rewards through her volunteering and donations.
But she is also preparing for the future and believes opportunities come to those who prepare. She is currently studying to become a skin care specialist. Ms. Jin’s giving nature has helped her successfully settle into life in South Korea and the “Andong Bride” has fans cheering her on for the future.
※This article was made possible in part from funding by the Korea Press Foundation