We chatted with Sean Kim '09 about graduating in the SC Founding Class as an international student, serving in the Korean Arms Forces, and his career at YG Entertainment in Korea.
Having been born in Korea, I believe you came to SC as a 9th grader. What was that transition like for you?
Having lived in the U.S for almost 5 years, I made the decision to attend Sierra Canyon School as the first graduating class. I thought it would be a great opportunity to focus not only on my studies but finding my career path. The students, teachers and the faculty members were on the same boat to create a community for future students of Sierra Canyon. Having given the responsibility, the students were also given many opportunities to try many things that were not possible at other schools. From creating and joining clubs of our own interests, taking a trip down to Cuernvaca, Mexico and Hawaii and being the first class to graduate from SC, all of these steps we took as a class were really special. The close relationship between the students, teachers and faculty members not only helped me learn English in a short duration of time, but also find my real interests and shape who I am as a person today.
Tell us about your university here is the US. If we remember correctly, you attended Pepperdine.
One of the first reasons I decided to attend Pepperdine University was because it was very close to home and next to the beautiful beaches of Malibu. As I started attending classes, the beaches would soon become jaded to me as I would drive by them every single day. But, meeting new friends from not only different parts of the US but from other countries was something that interested me as the year unfolded. I really enjoyed my years there as the school offered many smaller size classes which prevented me from skipping class. Just kidding. Many of the major classes I took were between 15 to 40 people which helped me in my studies and closer relationships with the professors. The professors offer flexible time schedules for students to come in and discuss class assignments or to talk about career paths. Smaller classes in a higher level of education really prepared me for my first job and my current job today.
You have served in the Korean Arms Forces. What was that experience like for you?
Being a citizen of South Korea, all men are obligated to serve the country for 2 years. I enlisted and served in the army from year 2010 to 2012 as a drill sergeant to teach newly recruited trainees. It was a dramatic transition from being a freshman in college to being a soldier with no freedom and limited use of telephones and the internet. It didn’t help my first impression of the military when neighboring country North Korea’s previous leader Kim Jung Il decided to shoot hundreds of missiles just 50 miles out from my base just two weeks after I enlisted. South Korea, as a society, is all about respect towards higher ‘ranks’ whether it’d be superiors in your company, elders on the bus or teachers at schools. The two years that I stayed in the army, I learned not only to work under higher ranked officers but also to teach and cooperate with lower ranked soldiers. This really helped me adapt to my current company and Korean society as a whole when I decided to move back to Korea for work. In addition, being a drill sergeant and having to teach over 5,000 trainees in the course of 2 years really helped my presentation skills for school and my career.
What field are you working in right now and where do you see yourself in the near future?
I am currently working at YG Entertainment in Korea as an A&R assistant manager working to both plan and produce for various artists in the company. Being involved in both the production and the marketing aspects, I have been given the opportunity to learn all the steps to successfully sell music. I see myself being able to sell anything if given the opportunity! I don’t really have a concrete plan for my future but I am always open to anything. I have also been studying and investing in cryptocurrencies for the last 2 years in order to prepare my early retirement haha.
What advice do you have to give to our international students, many of whom are Asian.
One advice I have for international students is to never be embarrassed or ashamed of yourself when faced with language barrier issues. International students already have an advantage over other many students just with the fact that English is either your second or third language. I remember when my 6th grade teacher made me come out in front of all my classmates to write the Korean alphabets on the board. She asked the class if they understood any of the writings on the board followed by her explanation that I was from South Korea and would be going through the same troubles as the classmates with English. She would then suggest my classmates to be understanding and to help me when necessary. That experience helped me have pride towards who I am and where I came from which helped me learn English and also to make many friends that I still keep in touch to this day!
What about your experience at SC? Is keeping in touch with classmates important for you? Are there any particular classes, experiences or faculty members that impacted you or that you would like to mention?
My experiences at Sierra Canyon were really special for me and I believe that if our Class of 2009 met on any given day, it’d be like going back to our highschool days again. Out of many of the memorable things from Sierra Canyon, I believe my spanish and history teacher Mr. Fennell really taught me something that school can’t teach. The lesson learned was to ‘live a little.’ Mr. Fennell was a teacher that taught me when to get down to business and when to have fun and just enjoy life.
Feel free to add any other pertinent remarks you have to these questions.
I am both an opportunist and a person who has a optimistic mindset no matter what the circumstances or the results are. I always have loved to try new things that are outside my skills or boundaries. As a result, I have found a career path that I am more than happy with. We all have doubts, uncertainties and fears in life, but why not invest your early days to explore in order to have a more satisfying life in your later days? Education isn’t everything, but stay in school. Time flies and I assure you that you will miss it.