Minh is a bridge between two communities and two cultures, because one of her main motivations in becoming a policewoman in South Korea was to help her Vietnamese brethren there.
Last August, Minh became a proud member of the Jangseong County Police Department in South Jeolla Province, making her one of seven Vietnamese female police officers in South Korea.
“Becoming a policewoman gives me the opportunity to help the Vietnamese community living in Korea,” Minh said.
At 33, Minh has accomplished a longstanding goal, overcoming considerable odds.
Born and raised in Vinh Town, central Nghe An Province, Minh went to study economics at the Chosun University in South Korea after graduating from high school in Vietnam.
As a student, her fluency in Korean helped her find work as an occasional interpreter for the police and residency departments, as well as a translator working on court documents in Gwangju City.
The part-time jobs allowed her to meet many of her compatriots who accidentally broke the law because they were not fluent in Korean and not knowledgeable about South Korean law.
“Many Vietnamese people have been arrested for mistakes that they could have avoided. If they knew the law, they would not have broken it,” she said.
What she saw sparked in Minh the desire to become a police officer to be able the Vietnamese understand local laws and culture better, and to help minimize crimes committed by the community in a foreign country.
Eyes on the goal
Minh had to jump over many hurdles as she kept her eyes on the goal. After graduating from university, Minh worked for an import-export company for nearly 6 years but the dream of being a police officer still burned within her.
She was still obsessed with police officers wearing the uniform of justice and handling tough cases. Meanwhile, she tied the knot with a local man and gave birth to three children – a girl and two boys.
Nguyen Hong Minh, her husband and three children celebrate her appointment at the Jangseong County Police Department. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Hong Minh.
The birth of the third child only made Minh more determined to act on actualizing her dream. She quit her job at the import-export company and began to prepare for the police exam.
Immediately, she ran into a weight problem. “After the birth, my weight was close to 100kg,” Minh recalled. “Being so heavy, I knew it was impossible to overcome the fitness test, so I set myself the goal of losing a lot of weight.”
In addition to taking care of her children and doing the household chores, Minh began jogging and doing exercises she saw on online tutorials. She also vigorously adopted a strict diet with higher protein and less fat and carbs.
Every meal was carefully planned so that the number of calories she ingested was the same as the number of calories she expended. After 10 months of training and dieting, Minh managed to lose more than 40kg.
After dealing with the weight problem, Minh realized the next item on the list would take a lot more emotional courage.
After three months of technical knowledge and fitness tests, Minh won a ticket to the police department, but she also had to undergo additional professional training for six months and a 2-month internship in order to get appointed to a position.
Minh is now a police officer who specializes in domestic violence, school violence and cases of missing persons.
She was initially terrified and jittery at seeing bloody crime scenes and dead bodies, but gradually got used to it.
Working as a police officer has also meant that the mother of three sacrifices time spent on herself and her family. It is not rare that she comes home after midnight and leaves early the next morning to a crime scene.
“Fortunately, my husband takes care of the housework and the children on my behalf after his office hours,” Minh said. “Having a supportive husband really helps me stay focused on my job.”
Minh said that even after learning so much on the job, she still feels the most rewarding aspect of being a police officer in South Korea is when she gets to handle cases involving Vietnamese people and helping them, which is what she wanted all along.
She recalled meeting a Vietnamese worker who was stuck after being cheated, but did not dare report it to the police because she was an illegal resident. A labor broker had promised to help her obtain a legitimate work visa for 2 million won ($1,646), but nothing happened.
The case would not have been solved without the woman reporting to the police. After Minh explained the law to her, the case was finally brought to justice with the scammer returning the money.
“A lot of Vietnamese people here think that the police will arrest illegal residents, but that is not the case. That is the job of the residency department,” Minh said. “So, I want them to know that if they are a victim, even if they are staying in Korea illegally, they should not be afraid to report crimes.”
Nguyen Hong Minh, second from left, and her colleagues at Jangseong County Police Department, South Jeolla Province. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Hong Minh.
Minh also regularly handles domestic violence cases involving Vietnamese brides and she says the rate is increasing.
However, she also sees this as a good sign because it means more Vietnamese women have become more aware that they can get protection instead of hiding the fact their husbands are abusing them, as they used to.
Minh attributes the newfound confidence to efforts taken to inform Vietnamese women about South Korean laws.
“Most Vietnamese brides don’t know much Korean language and culture. The husbands force their wives to study their native language and culture, but they themselves are not willing to learn the mother tongue and culture of their wives, so it leads to misunderstanding and then comes violence,” Minh said.
According to the South Korean Embassy in Vietnam, about 6,000 Vietnamese women marry South Korean men every year, making up the largest number of foreign brides in the country.
However, a report by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea shows that four of every 10 immigrant brides are abused by their husbands. The most common forms of violence that the brides are subjected to include verbal abuse, sexual abuse and coercion, the report says.
Minh said the number of violent cases tends to increase in the summer, when the weather is hot and South Korean men drink more alcohol than usual.
“Many husbands not under the influence of alcohol are very kind, but once they sip some of it, they beat up their wives,” she said.
Minh also takes time to go to multicultural family support centers to speak to Vietnamese brides and inform them of local laws.
She thinks that before deciding to marry a foreign husband, Vietnamese women should equip themselves with local language skills and acquaint themselves with local culture.
Police badges and the legal system, however, are not the only way to address these issues, Minh said.
“I think that at the visa interviews, the immigration department needs to check the language competency and cultural awareness of both the husband and wife,” she said.
Minh is also running a Vietnamese class on weekend evenings for children whose mothers are Vietnamese so that they can talk with their mothers and grandparents in their mother tongue, and get to know and understand them better. Her children are also learning Vietnamese at home.
Minh’s husband, who preferred to be called by his last name, said he was both proud and worried about his wife.
Park, 40 said: “I appreciate my wife’s effort and initiative in taking the police exam, because she is a foreigner and this is not easy, even for South Koreans.
“I love her, so I try to support her by doing the housework and taking more care of her children so that she can focus on her work.”
Overcoming many challenges has made Minh more confident about facing whatever comes next.
Her aim remains the same: “As a police officer, I will try my best to help the Vietnamese community get along well in a foreign land.”
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