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  • Writer's pictureAjumma EXP

Ajumma Eunjoo: cancer survivor and devoted mom who caught Ajumma fever




Tell Us About Yourself

Circa 1978. Eunjoo at Berkeley

I was born in Seoul, Korea, and came to the US in the mid 70s as a teenager. 

I had just begun 9th grade in Korea in March of 1975, then I came to the US and started high school that September as a 10th grader. Thinking back to my high school years, my teachers must’ve been very generous with my grades, because even with my limited English, I was able  to get accepted to UC Berkeley.    


My high school history teacher got me interested in US history and the American political system. So I majored in Political Science. Eventually I went on to get my MA in International Policy Studies from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. In the meantime, I met and eloped with my husband, Thomas, who was also trying to finish his degree at Cal Berkeley. At the time, both of us were just trying to make a living.  


Eunjoo and Thomas, 1986

I did a few different jobs back then, from working at a bank, a talent recruitment agency, and as an elementary school teacher. I also moved around a lot, from Redondo Beach, California, to Boston, Massachusetts, then to Morris Plains, New Jersey, due to my husband’s graduate school and jobs, and we ended up in Carlsbad. During those years, when I was teaching elementary school, I got pregnant with my daughter Ashley, and after she was born, my husband and I decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom. 


One is faced with many choices and making decisions in one’s life. I chose to be the best mom that I could be over whatever career I would’ve or could’ve had. I had my son Adison some five years later. I knew back then, as I do now, that I am not good at multitasking. I wanted to focus on raising my kids and do the best that I could do for them. I see many ajummas who successfully juggle their family and career, and I can only admire and salute them. For me, I needed to focus on one thing, and one child, at a time.


Eunjoo and family at her son Adison's dol (1st birthday)

Then, in the early 2000s, my husband started his own company supplying novel nutritional and dietary supplement ingredients, and I eventually became the Chief Financial Officer for his company. At the same time, I also did many hours of volunteer work at my children’s schools all the way through high school, and spent many hours giving them rides to schools, lessons, and classes.


Eunjoo with daughter Ashley, son Adison, and husband at Ashley's wedding. 2022

Now, my daughter’s been married for almost two years, and my son is living independently. I could not be more proud of my kids and who they turned out to be. Not because of what schools they went to or what kind of jobs they have, but because they are truly good, compassionate, and caring. I rather think that I did my job pretty well. (Although sometimes I think I had nothing to do with how well they turned out.)


My whole life, and especially since my children have left the nest, I’ve always loved to travel and am always thinking I need to go and see more places. I love reading books, watching live theater and performing arts, visiting art museums, skiing, and playing golf.  


And I am an introvert. But participating in Ajumma EXP has been so fun and liberating.


What does being an Ajumma mean to you (and also being part of Ajumma EXP)


Ajummas are unafraid. Ajummas are unapologetic. Ajummas are full of life and vitality. But most of all,  Ajummas are strong and powerful. And the source of that power is their love for family and friends. 


For too long, the notion of Ajumma has been associated with being too aggressive, too loud, unreasonable, uninteresting, and forgettable. I believe in Korea, being called an Ajumma is an insult. Ajumma EXP is redefining Ajumma for the world.

Eunjoo with son at her first Ajumma EXP flashmob

When a couple of my friends, Sunah and Susan, told me they were doing a flash mob dance with the Ajumma EXP, I admit I scoffed at it first. Really! How interesting…? They eventually  convinced me to try out last year, so I went to the first meeting.They welcomed me with open arms, and now I’m so proud to be part of the crew. 


Ajumma EXP provides many things: camaraderie, new friendships, an outlet from everyday life, and the satisfaction that you can learn new things and overcome physical challenges (which it certainly is to me). But the reason I am back is the sheer joy and fun I feel when we are actually flash-mobbing, when I actually let go of everything and just enjoy dancing.

 

Ajummas are known to have super-human strength and extraordinary abilities.  What is your Ajumma super-power? 


I can always find anything that neither my children nor my husband can find in the house. It usually goes like this:  


Them: Where is [such and such]?

Me: It’s in the [pantry, cupboard, closet, drawer].

Them: No it’s not. I can’t find it.

Me: Look on the [second shelf, behind the box, right at your eye level].

Them: No, it’s not there.

Me: Aigoo… Let me see.


I get up, go to the place where I said it would be, and find it immediately. 🙄 

*Now if I need to find something that I (!) misplaced, that will require a next level superpower.


What is one of the biggest challenges you've overcome?


I had Stage IIA breast cancer in 2006. I went through a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy, a total mastectomy, a prophylactic mastectomy, and two reconstructive surgeries, all in about a nine month period. In the beginning, I set small milestone goals: I wanted to see my daughter go to college; I wanted to see my son graduate from high school, then college. My family kept me going. It’s been over 17 years since my initial diagnosis. I’ve come a long way. And I am looking forward to the next 20-plus years. 



Any sage advice to live by?

Forrest Gump says in the movie, “My Momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.’” There are many choices in life. But you get to decide, and you need to own it.  And the glass is always half full, never half empty.


Any guilty pleasure that you can share with us?  

I love reading mysteries, especially the English-cottage-whodunnit kind. My favorite authors are Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Edmund Crispin, and of course, Sherlock Holmes, among others, and I have read almost all of their work.


And what calms me down when I am hopping mad (usually because of my kids or my husband or the state of US politics) is listening to Baba O’Riley by The Who. But you can only do this with earphones or in the car. Because you have to crank it up to the max!!



New Year's Tteok Mandu Guk (Rice Cake Soup with Dumplings)

Favorite Korean food

Mil-guksu (also known as Jhanchi-guksu) is my favorite. But I like any kind of guksu (noodles).  Kal-guksu, Naeng-myon (Mul and Bibim), Bibim-Guksu… and then Tteok-Guk, Tteok-mandoo-guk… Mmm.

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