Dong Chul Jeong
New South Wales, Australia
When I first met Dr. Koh at the Future Leaders’ Workshop in Jeju Island in 2005, she looked like a typical Korean grandmother with a warm heart and embracing generosity. Instantaneously, I was reminded of my late grandmother who shed the light of affection and dignity on my childhood. As Dr. Koh delivered a passionate lecture on authentic leadership and Korean diasporas worldwide, my simple image of her began to change dramatically. I came away with new insights and deep respect for a scholar who shared such a profound philosophy and observations about her own unique diaspora experience.
At the time of our meeting, my life had not much to do with reasonable stability and soundness. As a first-generation, young adult immigrant from Korea to Australia, I was confused about how to cope with the cross-cultural challenges ever pressing upon me and my young family. My life was besieged with daunting tasks, such as economic survival in a new country, learning to harmonize western and Korean cultures, raising four small children to have a balanced cultural perspective and strong sense of self, and so much more.
Dr. Koh’s emphasis on the classical Korean value of “virtue over skill” served as a call for me to awaken from my single-minded focus on practical matters of survival. I had been nearly obsessed with such concerns and approach to all life matters in those days. Her lesson inspired me to redirect my attention toward fundamental values rather than practical methods of finding workable solutions. Thanks to her wisdom, I realized that what I had to recapture was not “capacity,” but rather values so that I could manage and learn from my formidable challenges in Australia.
Dr. Koh encouraged me to rethink my cultural origins and values as I began to foster my own virtues adapted to the Australian way of life. Now I realize that recognizing and building up my own virtues with which to serve my family, as well as the broader community, shall be an endless process throughout my life. I am also trying to encourage my children and young people in the Korean-Australian community to ponder upon the implications of “virtue over skill” in their life contexts.
I remember Dr. Koh as an amazing halmeoni who provided an unforgettable lesson to carry back home. A million congratulations for your 80th birthday, Dr. Koh!!