Jane Jae Kyung Shin – A journey of chance encounters and pivotal moments

Jane Jae Kyung Shin, Vancouver Community College’s VP, Students and Community Development, was recently nominated for YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award in the Education, Training & Development category.

Shin, who was also named one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants 2019, says that she is both surprised and humbled to be nominated for the award.

Defining moments of a journey

“Eleven is such a wonderful age, because you are old enough to develop a strong sense of your heritage, but just young enough to adapt to a new country without significant barriers,” says Shin, recalling moving to Canada from Korea at age 11 along with her family.

In her adolescent years, Shin says a few major events significantly shaped her values.

At age 16, Shin was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening blood disorder but was nursed back to health at B.C. Children’s Hospital. She attributes her smooth and speedy recovery to the healthcare system and is grateful to be a recipient of Canada’s large web of support.

She also saw her parents struggle to make ends meet, which strengthened her resolve to give them a better life. Like many other immigrants with foreign credentials and language barriers, Shin’s parents were forced to abandon their professions and accept minimum wage positions and graveyard shifts. And then later, in their 50s, they had to  find new careers.

“When I was in university, by pure coincidence, my mother applied for government funding to attend a Health Care Aide Certification program at age 51. Even though she was embarrassed to be the oldest student in the cohort, seeing her walk across the stage on her graduation day was one of my proudest moments as a daughter,” says Shin.

Acknowledging that her family was a beneficiary of government and community support, she was motivated to contribute to Canadian society meaningfully.

Career pivots

Shin decided that pursuing a career in medicine would fulfill her multi-fold goals of giving back to society, becoming financially secure and most importantly, making her parents proud. However, after completing her MD, Shin realized that she was not cut out to be a doctor.

“During my gap year, coincidentally, I went to visit an old professor. He was very busy that day and just needed someone to fill in his biology class. He asked me to go in and talk about first year biology,” she says.

That lecture was the beginning of Shin’s flourishing career in the educational sector.

A couple years down the line, in an attempt to learn about Canadian politics, Shin reached out to some elected representatives. Much to her surprise, Derek Corrigan—mayor of Burnaby at the time—wrote back and invited her for a meeting. It was during their conversation that Shin first considered a career in public service .

At the time,  the BCNDP was committed to a gender and minority representation agenda.

“Before I knew it, I was running to be an MLA in Burnaby,” says Shin.

After a term as an MLA, Shin bowed out of politics and has since resumed her work in the educational field full time.

Perseverance vs chance

To an outsider, it might appear that Shin’s career pivots were a function of chance encounters.

 “I recognize that not every visit to your professor will lead to a revelation about a new career and not everyone walking into a mayor’s office will be encouraged to run for local government,” she says. “However, in between those pivotal moments and seemingly chance encounters, I walked into a hundred different rooms and spoke to thousands of people. It’s all about approaching those hundreds of opportunities with the same curiosity and perseverance.”

Shin’s message is simple; she believes that there is power in sharing stories because many such serendipitous conversations can be pivotal. We are connected to each other in more ways than we can imagine, and each act of kindness matters.

For more information about the YWCA award, visit https://ywcavan.org/women-distinction-awards