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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JIYEON YOOK: TURNING NIGHTMARES INTO DREAMS, DARKNESS TO THE DAWN OF NEW DESTINY

Author: DIDIER DUBOT .

Date: December 02, 2021 12:00AM


 

I have a friend I’d like you to meet:

 

She is only twenty-six but has been in the business of Samsung Semiconductors for seven years as an engineer. She is so bright, positive and volunteers in her free-time for social causes, dreams of becoming a wonderful mother one day. 

 

Wouldn’t you like to be friends with her? I would.

 

I also know another person: 

 

Her parents divorced when she was five and since been brought up by an alcoholic father who beat her. Unable to take it any longer, at fourteen she called child protective services and was put in Group Home (an orphanage run by volunteers). Now she is in her mid 20s. 

 

Would you care to be friends with her? 

 

Stigma can be so brutal. I had to go through many polite rejections from people, especially women who were afraid of coming forth about their upbringings and background because sometimes being too honest can disadvantage you, financially, personally and also physically.

 

They treat you differently.

 

They treat you wrongly not knowing they are the ones committing the wrong. 

 

But that was also exactly the reason that I wanted to and needed to share stories and voices of people like Ji Yeon. We all needed it. 

 

I always conduct what I call pre-terview. These are super casual, free, fun, relaxing coffee chats I have with my guests before I decide to feature them on our series.  And even though it's the most “chilling” part of the entire process, it is the most “challenging” because this is when I get to meet them for the first-time, have them share their deepest stories to a total stranger (me) and then make decisions on whether or not (or how!) to have their stories told.

 

And sometimes, you just know that their stories are what you’ve been looking for so long. Ji Yeon was my long-last story. 

 

She was only fourteen years old, a second grader in elementary school when she rang the number for domestic violence rescue call service. 

 

“I live with an alcoholic father who beats me. I would like to be rescued.”

 

They told her to call back if it happened again. The night that she made her second call, the protective services came and helped her sneak out of the house. 

 

As I sat across, listening to the heroine of her own life, I had a brief flashback to when I was fourteen; child-like, careless, my biggest concern probably being whether or not my siblings would snatch the ice-cream I hid behind the fridge. Which is also probably why Jiyeon tried so desperately to hide the fact that her mum ran away, she had an alcoholic dad, and that she had a sister with a developmental problem.  Because children are so child-like, careless, and innocently cruel. She watched them bully her sisters because of the way they dressed, smelled, and acted. 

 

So I faked it even harder. I knew what kids could do to me. Even though we were poor, I would risk stealing from my grandmother to have some money to buy my friends something. So they would never think or treat me like I was an orphan. 

 

I was always hiding from who I really was.I was always scared they would find out and accuse me, abuse me. 

 

So why did you decide to be so open with us? 

 

Because I am no longer that person anymore. I ran from my house because I wanted my life to deserve more. I deserve more. I knew that if I stayed and accepted this situation I would forever be stuck. I had to rescue myself. And since the moment that I made the decision, I was no longer the same fourteen year-old. 

 

Take yourself back to the day you made your first call to the rescue service. What would you do differently? 

 

I would leave much, much sooner. My dad, even though he became abusive after drinking, really felt attached to his children. My younger sister, who had a developmental problem, was always his favourite and he never hit her. So when I left the first time, my younger sister refused to come with me. And even though it breaks my heart… I would still run even if I can’t take my younger sister. And I know there are young children in abusive homes who chose to stay to protect their siblings. I really know how they feel. But we must save ourselves first in order to save others. 

 

...A few years after, I received a text from my aunt that my father attempted a suicide by drinking pesticide. I read it but didn’t visit. I was still afraid of the repercussions that would befall on me for ditching my family. A few years after that when I got my first job, I went back to see my dad because I was strong enough to face him. He apologised for his past behaviors and I was able to rekindle the relationship. But I was able to build this strength, wisdom, anad courage precisely because I left. I exercised my will and determination to change my destiny and create my own story. 


What happened after you ran and was put in a Group Home? 

 

(smiles ever so brightly) The most amazing years of my life. I had the most kind-hearted, generous, and loving aunts (group home volunteers) who became my mothers, my role-models, and my supporters. I experienced what “being loved” is for the first time. I experienced what having a family means for the first time. The unconditional love and support they gave me and all the children made such a deep and profound impact on us that now we have the abundance of love to give to those who need it most, like I did when I first came to the group home. 

 

As she was sharing beautiful episodes of her group home mum who waited outside the library to pick her up during exam weeks, celebrating her very first birthday, and being appreciated and loved for who she was, I saw, beyond Jiyeon’s tear-filled eyes, the miracle of how true love could transform someone. The Jiyeon that I was talking to was ever so brave, deep, sincere, and beautiful. 

 

With great curiosity, I drew upon my last question: 

 

Jiyeon, how do you define a beautiful person? 

 

She paused for a moment. Looked up at the ceiling and back at me. 

 

This might not be the answer you were looking for but… (I assured her there no “the answer”) for me it is someone who doesn’t hide anything. 

 

I waited for her to continue.

 

To be so confident and assured in who you are, what you have, how you are that you don’t need to hide or cover any of your flaws or imperfections. I spent my entire childhood trying so desperately to hide everything: the fact that my family was poor, I didn’t have a mum, that my dad was abusive, you know?

 

 “I get it”. I said. And I really, really did. 

 

Funny thing is, it’s one of the reasons that I don’t wear make-up. I want to be true to myself. And I like myself without make-up too!  

 

She smiled shyly and giggled. And there, I saw the little fourteen year old girl looking as beautiful as ever.

 

We finished the three-hour conversation with her dream of becoming a wonderful mother who could provide the security and love she craved from her own family. I held her hand and told her she will be the woman of her dreams because her entire life had been about her chasing her fairy tales and turning them into her story. 

 

She didn’t wait for the prince to come rescue her: she became her own knight in a shining armour.  She didn’t wait for the fairy godmother to conjure up a magical dress: she weaved her own beauty and wore it with a proud smile. 

 

On the day of the interview, we threw a surprise non-birthday party with Didier Dubot’s necklace with Jiyeon’s birthstone and a handwritten birthday card to celebrate the new beginnings of her life. And as I watched the necklace dangle in her neck, her eyes bright with joy and tears, I realised I have never been so sure of someone who deserved the title of our series herstory more than she did. 

She was the very heroine of her own legend, the writer of her own story, turning her nightmares into dreams, darkness into the dawn of a new beginning. 

 

And if she can, so can I. So can we, be our very own herstory. 

 

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