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(Yonhap Interview) Bullied Korean girl beat all odds to become criminal defense lawyer in Canada

All Headlines 14:23 August 29, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- Strutting down the conference hall with her chin up high and her long black hair gently moving across her back, Juyung Jacqueline An exuded confidence and a sense of defiance in every step she took.

She was attending the three-day conference of the 16th Korean Women's International Network (KOWIN) that was held on the southern resort island of Jeju last week to enhance the global network of Korean female professionals.

"It is very important for the next generation to continue on the foundation works for the international network for Korean women, so that they don't forget all the diaspora around the world and we can network and continue on the Korean legacy and heritage," An said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

A lawyer of 19 years based in Toronto, she moved to Canada with her family when she was nine. Born to what she described were very traditional Korean parents, she defied their wish to marry a Korean man through matchmaking.

"From aged 17 to 27, I received a lot of pressure to marry a Korean man, which I refused," she said. "I was often heavily criticized when I was a young girl for being very strong-willed. But at the end of the day, that worked for my benefit."

Not only did she manage to not bend to her parents' pressure, she also beat all the odds as an Asian immigrant girl to join in one of the toughest professions -- criminal defense lawyer.

"I always knew I am not going to be less than a man, not beneath a man, and that I am just as good as a man."

Traumatic experiences of being bullied and discriminated against in her early years in the foreign country made her more determined to live an independent and strong life, she said.

For the past decade, she has handled a series of high-profile criminal cases including the false gang-rape charges filed against Korean churchgoers in Toronto in 2012 that rocked the city's Korean community.

Recently she is working with the Canadian government to bring home Korean Canadian pastor Im Hyeon-soo who was sentenced to hard labor for life in North Korea on Dec. 16, 2015. He was reportedly detained by Pyongyang during a humanitarian trip to the reclusive nation in January last year.

At 35, she took up the Korean traditional martial art of taekwondo for relieving stress from her work as well as self-defense.

While the sport teaches her "great discipline, determination and indomitable spirits," it is also good to know how to take care of yourself. You never know when bad things happen, especially as a criminal lawyer. Things could happen," she said.

Calling herself a hybrid of the Korean and Canadian cultures, she said the biggest challenge that Korean Canadian women face is Korea's patriarchal culture in which women are often reduced to play certain "women's roles."

"What I took from the Canadian culture is that women can do anything and I lived it, I lived by example. You could be a criminal lawyer, you could be a wife, you could be a mother, and you could still be a leader," she said, adding "I'd like to demonstrate who I am through just doing it, not talking about it."

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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