Who are the world’s greatest musicians, teachers, and preachers of positiveness? Were these people among the names that popped into your head: Beethoven, Helen Keller, and Nick Vujicic? These well-known people all lived with impairments yet succeed in life. However, there still exists some prejudice between people of non-disabled and abled. Somehow globally, people living with impairments suffer social oppression and as such are disabled people. There is one person in Korea who is trying to break these walls. She is trying to remove the barriers by teaching children to open their eyes. Middle school English teacher, Kim Kyungmin (KIM), is broadening Korean society day by day. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met with her to hear the story.
SMT You have had your guide dog, Mi-dam, since entering SMU. It’s been six years now. There is even a book detailing your strong companionship. How much does she truly mean to you?
KIM Mi-dam is much more than just a dog. She is my friend. She is always there for me, and I accredit most of my glorious days to her. She is more than my eyes to the world. Mi-dam has helped me to take my first steps in society and to speak more comfortably with others. Even now, she is the bridge by which I get close to my students. Students gain a sense of closeness with me by playing with Mi-dam while conversing with me about her. I am what I am today because of Mi-dam.
SMT Studying at SMU must have been several times harder than non-disabled students. Nevertheless, you graduated top of your department in only 7 semesters. How was that possible?
KIM Yes, I needed to put forth more effort than others. Even getting textbooks was hard. Although I bought course books, I couldn’t read them. I had to ask SMU student assistants or the Welfare Center to convert my textbooks into Braille. Also, research materials needed for reports were limited since very few were translated into Braille. Nevertheless, I was able to attain top grades by starting on work a lot earlier than other students. I did this because I knew that I could not benefit from cramming. Moreover, I thought deeply about each assigned project and added to my reports my own ideas since I had limited access to essential data like other students. This produced original and unique results, which my professors valued.
SMT Currently you are working as an English teacher in a non-disabled academic school. Why did you apply for a teaching position at a non-disabled school rather than at a special needs school for people living with impairments?
KIM The biggest reason for my decision was to break stereotypes. Not only does the general public not know much about them, people with impairments also do not know much about non-disabled people. People with impairments also have many erroneous concepts like it is hard to get close to non-disabled people because they are constantly viewing us as disabled people and showing only pity for us. After all my experiences, including those at Sookmyung, I realized I had to break barriers. The best way I could think of was focusing on young peoples, the trees of the future. I want young people to understand that people who have impairments are not limited in life, but “disabled” due to society.
SMT From this year, you opened a Braille extra-curricular activity class for non-disabled students at your school. What do you hope students gain from this class?
KIM Frankly, it is hard for students to learn Braille in just a few classes. I didn’t open the activity dreaming students would actually learn Braille. I wanted to give students another perspective. On the first day of the activity, I discussed my impairment, blindness, and had one to one conversations through Braille. By this process, students were given the chance to “see” life from a different standpoint. They were able to understand what it’s like to live with blindness. I hope to give students the eye to “see” the world from someone else’s shoe.
“If I hadn’t lost my sight, I wouldn’t have realized how blessed I was to have seen the blue sky. Likewise, even the buzzing sound of a mosquito or a parent’s nagging could be cherish by someone with a hearing impairment.”
- From KIM’s Diary
SMT These days, some people are unsatisfied with their current state and feel unhappy. However, as your journal clearly states, you value every little thing in life and somehow found true happiness.
KIM “True happiness” is being grateful and enjoying what you have. If you are not truly thankful for the things you possess, you will never be happy ever. An unhappy person will only seek more. We need to think about what we already have. The things we take for granted are others’ lifelong wishes. For example, seeing the world through my own eyes again is my lifelong desire. Non-disabled people have so many precious gifts. They can hear their own voices, see the world, and hear others. How blessed are they! A person that is not grateful cannot enjoy life to the fullest nor feel happy.
What is SMU to you?
KIM Sookmyung is the stage upon which the second act from my life’s play raised its curtain. On that stage, I was able to inhale SMU’s fragrance, and I became more beautiful and happy than ever before. Now, I stand on a larger stage for act three to share that delicate scent with the world. Thank you Sookmyung.