By Jamie Jung Eun Kim | New Organizing Project blogger
Unexpectedly, suddenly, and devastatingly, it struck…When I think back to my childhood, there is one acronym that stands out – the “IMF.” Only seven years old at the time, I couldn’t yet comprehend who or what exactly the IMF was. What I did know was that this simple acronym changed many people’s lives –particularly my own. These three mysterious but powerful letters would be the reason why my family would no longer be able to stay in South Korea, our home country.
It was in high school that I finally discovered what IMF truly meant. I had accidentally stumbled upon the same acronym in a library book, as if it were a scene in a movie. Looking at the word suddenly made me stop. That day, I stayed in the library for hours devouring developmental economic literature and looking up anything that I could find on the subject of the IMF.
During the late 1990s, IMF was everything and the only thing that my parents and the adults around me talked about. The IMF was like Hurricane Katrina. Like how many would use only “Katrina” to reference the devastating Hurricane Katrina, Koreans used “IMF” to describe the ripple effect of the 1997 Asian financial crisis that the IMF bankruptcy caused.
I vaguely remember tagging along with my mom to sell her gold jewelries for cash to feed our family. Numerous suicide incidents and staggering unemployment statistics were a common sight to witness in the news. My elementary school friends and I opted to buy 500 won (about 50 cents) erasers rather the ones that cost 7oo won (about 70 cents) just to save some money.
Because I have always remembered “IMF” to be a monumental occasion in my life, in my naïve thinking, I actually thought “IMF” was a specific event, an event that caused my family to flee from South Korea and find economic refuge in the U.S. However, looking through the library books, I finally learned that IMF, in fact, was an International Governmental Organization called the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
I stood, blankly staring at the acronym. I had finally unlocked my past, yet I did not know what to feel. These “things” had always happened to “other people,” so it felt a bit surreal to know that my own family had endured the infamous IMF bankruptcy in 1997. I remember thinking that because my family and I tried so hard to move past the crisis that it felt as if this “IMF” never happened at all.
The three letter acronym IMF places a strange yet special place in my heart because it reminds me of the bitter fact that my life was forced to transform out of my homeland but also reminds me of how my family has made it through the difficult times. As a ten year old going through the IMF, the future looked dim. The current economic time is still not any comfortable, but it is better.
Today, the financial crisis of Europe and U.S may affect another generation of families like it did mine. The political revolution in the Middle East, the economic boom in BRIC nations, the cultural evolution of social media, and historical events of NAFTA and 9/11 will create another cohort of young people with different life experiences and a fresh way of looking at the world. Change can have different effects in people’s lives, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
My family’s move to the United States provided my sister and I new opportunities and ambitions. I once feared this acronym that I did not understand, but now it is through this acronym that I know that whatever happens, I am going to survive and thrive.