Mongolian wife a voice for multicultural families in South Korea

First Mongolian native employed by central government ministry


Jeong Su-rim is an exceptional housewife, mother and public servant who still finds time to pursue further education. 

The 36-year-old mother cares for her two sons, who are nine and 11-years-old, while working a nine-to-six job at the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, in the Multicultural Family Division.

At night Jeong also attends graduate school courses at Seoul Women’s University to get her master’s in social welfare.

Jeong might sound like an ambitious Korean woman but “Jeong Su-rim” is the Korean name she took after moving here more than 11 years ago from Mongolia. Her Mongolian name is Jadamba Lkhagvasuren and she is the first migrant wife to be hired by any central government branch.

Hired by the ministry in April, this year, Lkhagvasuren liaises between multicultural families and the 200 centers throughout the nation.

Lkhagvasuren is rarely in the office because she is visiting centers all over the country from metropolitan cities to country back roads. 

“Two to three times a week I go to different centers and meet migrant wives, collect their opinions and listen to things that the ministry or center might need to develop,” Lkhagvasuren told The Korea Herald.

And she has an upper hand in the field when compared to her Korean counterparts.

“I think they are absolutely more open with me because I am a migrant wife myself,” she said in fluent Korean.

But juggling between consuming work and her family, it is a wonder that the university graduate finds time to squeeze in night classes at SWU three times a week, till 10.

“It is really hard, but I have the habit of studying and it is a great cultural experience for me as well, as I meet North Korean defectors, senior citizens and other people I would not have normally met.”

The Mongolian native from Ulaanbaatar was able to get her position because she is always one to further herself through challenges.

After a multicultural resource center opened near where she lived in Namyangju city, Gyeonggi Province, in 2007, she decided to take Korean classes.

Already more fluent than most immigrant spouses, through self-education, she studied at the center until 2009 when a translation service started at the center and offered her a position.

Then when the announcement came from the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family of a job opening directed towards migrant wives, Lkhagvasuren tossed in an application without expectation.

A university graduate in Economic Management at Khan Uul Institute, Lkhagvasuren had worked as an accountant for a year before coming to Korea in 2000, where she met her husband.

But things were not always smooth sailing.

Alongside the typical slew of racism that foreigners and more specifically Southeast Asians experience in the largely homogeneous country, most of her difficulties stemmed from adjustment issues.

Those same issues were made even more challenging as even the term “multicultural,” often used by the government, did not exist in 2000, let alone resources.

“I had a hard time with my children because I was unable to educate them at home, so I had to take them to preschools and ask the teachers to show extra care towards my sons,” said Lkhagvasuren.

The mother also said that because resources for immigrants were non-existent, she felt akin to migrant blue-collar workers, who shared most of the same experiences of not knowing the language in another country.

“There were so many little differences that I felt like I spent a lot of time just trying to acclimatize to things,” she said.

But Lkhagvasuren has perservered despite the lack of resources and hopes to ease the adjustment issues that newly incoming migrant wives have.

“There are a lot of good programs that the government provides and migrant wives need to really utilize them, rather than going just once or twice,” said Lkhagvasuren.

“This is all free and I hope that they aggressively take advantage of those things and also take Korean classes,” she said, adding that it was because of those same programs that she was able to thrive in Korea.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldm.com)


Jadamba Lkhagvasuren poses for a photo Friday at the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, where she was the first migrant wife to be hired by the central government. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
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