A Cultural Shift: Learning to Say 'I Love You'

Joyce Lee, left, with her mother, Hee-sook, in Los Angeles.

Joyce Lee, left, with her mother, Hee-sook, in Los Angeles. StoryCorps hide caption

itoggle caption StoryCorps

For many, immigrating to a new country represents a chance to start over, to explore work or cultural opportunities that didn't exist back home. But the move can also allow a new approach to daily life — and the way a husband and wife interact.

Hee-sook Lee came to the United States from South Korea 43 years ago. As a child, she had seen very little affection or tenderness in her home. Lee decided she wanted her marriage to be different from what was customary in Korea.

Speaking with her daughter, Joyce Lee, Hee-sook describes the ideas she had back in 1963, and the way she went about getting what she wanted: a responsive husband.

"I wanted to be a happy, sweet couple," Hee-sook says.

Her husband, also newly arrived from South Korea in those days, had ideas about affection that were slow to change. But for Hee-sook, it was just a matter of steadfastly saying, "I love you." The rest, she says, got better with practice.

Hee-sook and her husband have now been married for nearly 40 years. They are currently working as missionaries in Asia. Hee-sook and Joyce Lee spoke at a StoryCorps booth in Los Angeles.

StoryCorps is the oral history project collecting stories around the nation, as friends and family members interview each other in a mobile recording booth. Copies of the conversations go to the Library of Congress — and excerpts are played on Morning Edition each Friday.

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