Meet Jamie Choi

Location: New York, NY
Age: 50
Marital Status: Married
Education: Self-taught

Where were you born?

South Korea.

Did you grow up there?

By the time I was 14, both my parents had died and my older brother cared for me. I had always dreamed of going to college, but couldn’t afford it, so I started to work after high school.

When did you come to the US?

I met my future husband in Korea, but told him I couldn’t marry him unless he went to college. I figured that since I couldn’t go to college, I needed a husband who did.

He agreed to go and we married. He studied English and went to the United States after graduating. When he returned to Korea, he said we had to go to America because it offered us so much opportunity.

How did you feel about that?

By this time, I was very pregnant, and nervous about making such a big move. But I went.

Where did you live?

We moved to a small apartment in Astoria (in Queens, NY). My husband worked and I stayed home with our baby daughter.

Was it hard for you to adjust?

Yes, especially because I didn’t speak English at first.

How did you decide where to go to work?

We knew a Korean woman who owned a nail salon in New Jersey, so I went to work for her, making the long trip from Queens every day.

Did you enjoy it?

Yes, I spent seven years there and learned all about the business. That’s also where I learned English.

When and why did you decide to venture out on your own?

It occurred to me, 15 years ago, that I could open my own salon, using my knowledge of nails, combined with my business background [I was in banking in Korea]. I also am outgoing and love my customers.

Tell us about your business now?

I still own the salon I opened on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, and I am a partner in two others.

Did you have more children after your daughter?

Yes, a son, who recently graduated from Northwestern in Chicago. He works at a lab in a big hospital and is applying to medical school.

What does your daughter do?

She also graduated college and then went on to culinary school. Now she works at a restaurant in Manhattan and loves it.

I know you are an ambitious woman. You must be pleased your children are doing so well?

I am always worrying about whether they’re getting the best grades and jobs they can, but I’ve learned to accept that they have their own plans.

What are your favorite things about US?

The education. Even if you don’t have money, you have opportunity.

Least favorite?

I like most things here.

Passions?

Training the young women who work for me to have their independence, their own power.

Hobbies?

I used to do water paintings and give them as gifts. I want to start again.

How do you keep so trim?

I keep moving. I never sit still. I walk a lot. I swim three times a week and exercise two times a week. I eat three good meals, but no sweets. I love avocado.

Do you exercise?

I heard that swimming would be good for my back, which was giving me trouble, but I didn’t know how to swim. I took lessons at the Y, but I couldn’t move my legs and arms correctly. I was so embarrassed I went someplace else to continue lessons. I finally figured it out and now I’m back at the Y, swimming three days a week. That was the best thing I ever accomplished for myself. Here I am, 50 and swimming.

Have you traveled much?

My husband and I recently went to Spain with a group of wonderful people, and we plan to go with the same group to another country next year. It was my first trip to Europe. I used to think that having a big house was the answer to happiness. Now I know it’s traveling. I also realized how smart my husband is. He knew so much about the history of the country.”

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