A Businesswoman

“My mother…new business.”

I looked at the white sweatshirt hanging on the drying rack. It said “M*Actors Academy,” with a large blue star in the center of the shirt. Su Bin was wearing a matching sweatshirt and holding a leather book that contained a libretto. Host Mom had opened an acting hagwon!

I am amazed at how quickly new businesses emerge in Korea. Sometimes I walk down the main street on Monday, and the businesses and restaurants I see will be different by the end of the week. In fact, I didn’t know that Host Mom was opening a hagwon until after the new semester started and Su Bin asked me to meet her there after school. This must have been in the works while I was traveling.

As I walked to the hagwon this afternoon, I thought about how Host Mom is such an interesting person. I’m never sure what to make of her. At orientation, when I first received my slip of paper with details about my host family, the paper listed her occupation as 주부, or housewife. But that small word does not fully encapsulate what and who my Host Mom is. Yes, Host Mom is a housewife in the sense that she takes care of her family and the house. She is also heavily involved in the parents’ association at the high school and she attends most of the school ceremonies. She has an active social life, especially with the other mothers involved in the parents’ association, and she is generous with friends, family, and the school community. She is dressed to the nines when she leaves the apartment, but she is quick to put on a ratty Jack Sparrow t-shirt and a headband as soon as she as she comes home. Most recently, she is also a business owner.

It seems that this new hagwon is all her own, rather than hers and her husband’s. South Korea is infamous for its gender inequality and strong barriers to entry in male-dominated industries, and I am particularly proud when I see women in leadership positions or managerial roles. I often see my Host Aunt and Host Grandma at the hagwon too, and it seems that most of the day-to-day operations are run by these women and the teachers they have hired.

Host Mom is not a traditional housewife like the slip of paper led me to believe. I admit, I still don’t know much about her–if she went to college, how she met my Host Dad, what’s her favorite color. I still don’t know anything about her childhood, her young adulthood, or really anything about her life before I came to Korea. But in the months that I’ve known her, I’ve highly respected her kindness to me, as well as her hard work and her complexity. I wish her great success in her newest endeavor.

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