Kun-Woo arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa in 2006, when he had one semester left to finish his undergraduate studies. His main aim was to improve his English, which would increase his job prospects in Korea, but he also thought it was a ‘last chance’ to have some new experiences before he graduated and started working. His girlfriend, Seo-Yeon, who he had been with since high school, stayed in Korea. They were used to being long-distance as they attended universities in different cities in Korea. They talked a lot on the phone and hand wrote letters. Kun-Woo travelled around a bit on his working holiday, but spent most of his time in Brisbane, studying English. He got a job as a dishwasher at the noodle restaurant Wagamama, where he made lots of friends from around the world. He went back to Korea in 2007 to finish his final semester of university and then decided to come back to Australia in February 2009 on a student visa for his Master’s degree in Communication Studies and Political Science.
Kun-Woo’s family didn’t approve of him going overseas again. They felt he should be ‘settling down’ in Korea and getting a job. But he had enjoyed living in Australia and was hopeful of being able to stay there longer-term. He wasn’t willing, though, to shape his career choices around skilled migration criteria, as the ‘occupations in demand’ for migration didn’t interest him. He decided to pursue his own career goals in academic research or journalism and just wait and see if the option to stay happened.
Kun-Woo finished his Masters in July 2010 and remained in Australia on a temporary graduate visa. This was a way for him to extend his time so he could plan for his next move. He was still working at Wagamama to save money and was applying for PhD scholarships in the US. In January 2011, he went back to Korea to get married to Seo-Yeon, and they came back to Australia together. They felt in many ways that it was the ‘right’ time to get married, because they had been together for so long and because they were in their late twenties – but at the same time Kun-Woo thought it was ‘outside the norm’ to get married when he still wasn’t sure where his career and life were heading.
Kun-Woo was starting to get stressed by the lack of funding opportunities to complete his PhD in the US. So he felt fortunate when a PhD scholarship opportunity was announced specifically for Korean students to study in Australia, as he was able to draw on his existing contacts from his Master’s to get support for his application. Kun-Woo was successful in receiving a scholarship from this scheme and commenced his PhD on a new student visa in 2012. He was worried about Seo-Yeon being homesick and isolated because it was her first time living overseas, so they looked for things she could do to be connected and find work. Seo-Yeon ended up applying for a working holiday visa, rather than remaining as a dependant on Kun-Woo’s student visa, so that she could access a child care training and work program especially for Korean working holiday makers, even though this wasn’t a career she had thought about before. Kun-Woo found his PhD interesting but challenging, and life became even busier when their daughter was born in 2013. Kun-Woo spoke again about the unconventional timeline of his life, in terms of having a baby while studying and on a temporary visa, but he and Seo-Yeon didn’t want to postpone starting their family for too long.
In 2016 Kun-Woo was still waiting for his PhD examination results, which he found a little frustrating. He found himself stuck in a "vicious circle", unable to advance his academic career without some tutoring experience but unable to work as a tutor due to visa restrictions after the end of his scholarship. Kun-Woo visited Korea for six weeks after he submitted the thesis to celebrate with his family and also to connect with former professors.
Kun-Woo and Seo-Yeon needed an income while they were waiting for the thesis results, so Seo-Yeon considered applying for a student visa to complete her certificate in child care, which she had withdrawn from after they had their baby. But they found that the costs for student health insurance for her application, on top of all the other fees, were more than they could afford. They were not entitled to child care benefits after the end of Kun-Woo’s scholarship, which meant they had to juggle any jobs around child care at home. While they waited, Kun-Woo prepared all the documentation for his permanent residency (PR) application. Their financial situation was a little stressful after the scholarship but Kun-Woo’s parents offered to support them for up to one year after his graduation. But Kun-Woo was really enjoying being able to spend more time with his daughter and take her out to play on the weekends.
It is mainly for their daughter that Kun-Woo said they would like to stay in Australia, as they feel it is a good place for her to grow up, with less pressure than in Korea, and more opportunities for a balanced life. Although they would consider moving back to Korea in the future if Kun-Woo gets a full-time job in a university there. Kun-Woo also said they might eventually end up there simply to be reunited with his family. Kun-Woo and Seo-Yeon would like to have more kids, but only after they can get more secure, full-time employment, and of course, security in knowing whether they are staying or leaving.