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Jeong Kim
Jeong Kim
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Jeong Kim Interview

President Emeritus of Bell Labs

May 23, 1998
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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  Jeong Kim

What was your childhood like? Where did you grow up?

Jeong Kim: I guess I will start when I immigrated here. I was 14 when we arrived in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. We lived in subsidized housing at first.

Korean immigrant history is relatively short, and most of us came at a time which was 1975, looking for better economic opportunities. They had almost no money when they came. Most of us, most of our parents, actually had to walk to work, which is kind of impossible in today's environment because everything is so far. You know, a couple hours walk just to get to work. Most of us had to get our clothing from thrift shops, 50 cent kind of things because they didn't have any money. I guess there is a language barrier, obviously, because I never spoke English until I came to the States. And, I was actually a shy kind of person, so it was even more difficult. In some ways, that was probably one of the most stressful times in my life, not necessarily because life was harder, but because you are a teenager, you couldn't take it as well, and I used to have a nose bleeding all the time coming home, just simply from stress.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Jeong Kim Interview Photo
Some people adapt much quicker, and I'm one of those guys who really didn't. But I did eventually. I have one older brother and two younger sisters, and out of the four of us I'm the only one who speaks with an accent. I think that tells you that everybody's different, even among your siblings. I have no excuse that I speak English with such an accent after 23 years. My older brother, three years older than I, didn't get to go to college but speaks without an accent. We all turned out okay.

Were you all born in Korea?

Jeong Kim: We were all born in Korea. Like I said, my older brother is about three years older than I, and I have two younger sisters.

Were you close to your siblings growing up?

Jeong Kim: Not as close as I wish we were. Our life was very difficult. We came from a broken home, and I think my brother let out a lot of his stress through me, so we had a lot of difficulties growing up together.

Did he fight with you?

Jeong Kim: Yes, he used to pick on me all the time and I used to get really upset. Now I can understand why, because he didn't have anywhere to vent his stress, so he would pick on his little brother. Now, I have children of my own I see that's probably a very normal thing. But in my case it did affect me personally. I said to myself, "I'm going to do better than him."

Were you at all close to the two younger sisters?

Jeong Kim Interview Photo
Jeong Kim: Not as close as I really want to be. My next sister is four years younger. That's enough age difference that we aren't really friends. But yes, I looked after my little sisters.

You said it was a broken home. Your parents were separated?

Jeong Kim: Right. They were divorced when I was very little and we have a stepmother.

Did you stay with your mother or your father?

Jeong Kim: My father, which is typical in Korea. It's the first time I'm telling anybody about this. At a lot of interviews I don't feel very comfortable talking about the past because it's not very pretty. It's not something that I want to remember. Here, when people get separated, normally the mother gets custody of the children. In Korea it's normally the father, and divorce was so unusual back then. It was something you didn't want to let anybody find out.

Did you feel chastised because of that?

Jeong Kim: I don't feel that I was chastised by people outside the family, but I would imagine this is not as good as if you had your own parents looking after you. I felt that my parents neglected me. As a matter of fact, when I left home you could say I was kicked out of home. My father disowned me when I was 16. I'm not quite sure why. I wasn't a bad kid. I was never into any drugs or did anything bad. Actually, I was a good student, but for some reason there was a lack of interest. And, maybe it's the way this first generation immigrant -- there's just so many problems, so many things to worry about, and I'm just one of the kids. And, I guess because my parents were divorced and I never really lived with either parent for a very long time, so we probably never established that bond.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Did your biological mother stay in Korea?

Jeong Kim: Yes.

And you didn't have contact with her after the divorce?

Jeong Kim: Right. I was five years old.

Are the two younger sisters from the second marriage?

Jeong Kim: One of them is, and the other one is the same bloodline.

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This page last revised on Apr 21, 2014 16:52 EDT
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