Born in beautiful Suncheon-si, South Korea, Dr. Jungnam Kim (‘12, School Counseling) is keenly aware of the effects of poverty on a person’s education and long-term prospects. During her formative years in the 1980’s, the average GDP per pita in South Korea was $2300 and her single-parent household was no different.
As a child, Kim loved to read but because books were expensive, she spent many hours reading in her school’s library. Through connections with her church, her household received regular financial support from an American family, with whom her mother maintained a regular correspondence. “Perhaps subconsciously, this is where my connection with the United States began,” says Kim.
She also received mentoring and intervention from two caring schoolteachers - Jeong-ryeol Seo, and Hyeongbok Jung. They were aware of her financial and family deficits, met with her mother, and encouraged Kim to apply for undergraduate study at Seoul National University of Education (SNUE). Others classmates were less fortunate, and to this day, Kim remembers what can happen to children and adolescents when they do not have a network.
“Young people in South Korea need help with academic, social, emotional, and career development. For those from low income backgrounds, even now, this is especially true because social class is a very salient factor in determining the kind of access people have. If you are poor, you are less likely to have resources, support systems and information to develop your identity and therefore career aspirations,” says Kim. “As someone who directly experienced this, I wanted to study education,” she adds.
After completing her degree, Kim worked as a teacher and counselor in an elementary school in Seoul. This experience again brought home her own struggles and the need to provide children with academic and social counseling. Kim also realized that to be effective educator, she needed to learn more and applied for graduate study. She chose the States because many of the textbooks in her undergraduate program were written by American researchers.