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The Job Search: Dr. Jungnam Kim

February 19, 2018

The Job Search is a series for international graduate students.

Dr. Jungnam KimBorn 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 capita 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.

Kim current serves an assistant professor of School Counseling in the Department of Educational Psychology at Ball State University. She sat down with us to talk about her recent job search in the hopes that other international students will benefit from her insights.

How did you prepare for your job search?

I should say at the outset that an academic job search is different from those outside academe.  This is why I used websites such as HigherEdJobs.com and ChronicleVitae.com. My advisor, Dr. Julia Green Bryan, also forwarded me job ads when she received them. She was also instrumental in helping me with my cover letter, research and teaching statements, and job talks. Particularly, when I came to the job talk stage, she rehearsed interviews with me. Since my first trip to the U.S. was as a doctoral student, I didn’t know the cultural norms - attitudes or strategies. Not even how to lead conversations at the breakfast/dinner table. For job talks, I had to learn and accommodate, what I call the ‘American style’ of communication – to me, this meant being intentionally confident and trying to sell myself to others. In my culture, we listen to authority and avoid looking someone in the eye. We try to be humble and respectful in the way we approach others, especially superiors. But this approach doesn’t work well in the United States. So without my advisor’s influence, I might not have been able to get this job at Ball State.

Did you have an internship as a doctoral student? 

I had an internship, but it was a required component of our program. I had to work at an elementary school as a counselor intern for one year. It was good experience for me to understand the realities of school counseling and compare between the approach in South Korea to here. Even though I had experience as a teacher and school counselor for 10 years in South Korea, when I applied for a job here, I was expected to have experience as a counselor in the United States. So, the internship experience here helped me to meet basic job requirements.

What does networking mean in your home country?

In South Korea, networking is a powerful tool to get a job. Like in the United States, who you know is related to whether or not you can get a job. Particularly in higher education, it is important for others to see who your advisor is. Through networking, I gained valuable information and resources about places to work, interview types, and other job-specific details. Initially, I thought networking here would differ from South Korea. But I realized that networking is equally important in the United States. For example, I had to submit a list of professional references as part of application process. If you don’t have a network, and people aren’t aware of your work, then you cannot produce such a list. The problem was that as an international student, it was hard to establish a network at first. Sometimes, I felt that I was the only one who didn’t know what was going on related to the job search process. It seemed like American students knew lots of information through networking, and that those insights may well provide them with better opportunities. Even now, I continue to build my network through conferences and by staying in touch with colleagues and friends.

What advice or tool worked well as you searched?

My advisor, Dr. Julia Green Bryan, and professors in my department were very supportive. They invested their time, and energy to help me with my preparations for job interviews, feedback on application documents, information about jobs, and encouragement to keep going. It also helped that my advisor was also an international student at one time, and knew my economic, financial, and emotional situation. In particular, my visa issues. So, she was instrumental in making sure I asked the right questions in the interview process, and that I coped with some of the stresses in a healthy manner.

I also had a social and emotional support system through my church. I talked with people there who were in the same boat - those who got a job in the U.S. or those who were looking for a job. Once a week, we were able to share concerns, experiences, and information in a safe and encouraging environment.

What do you think a Korean mindset (or approach) can add to your job as a counselor or researcher?

Sometimes, we can see a phenomenon more accurately from a distance. I am from a collectivistic culture that emphasizes harmony, filial piety, respect for elders, patriarchal obedience, and family-centeredness. In class, I am used to sharing how my cultural views and behaviors intersect with others in the United States as a neighbor, colleague, and scholar. I am also comfortable sharing my experiences as a Korean-American in the United States and help students understand what challenges and experiences we might have. By sharing of myself, students hopefully learn the importance of cultural differences and develop strategies for working with clients from different cultures.

How do you hope to influence the field of counseling in South Korea, and the way support services are delivered to children?

As a global society, there are multiple ways of influencing the field of counseling. Whenever I visit my family in South Korea and meet with people, this is on my mind. For example, last year, I presented my research at a symposium at the University in South Korea. Currently, I am collaborating with professors there on parent empowerment through a transnational study. We want to understand how parents’ perceptions of empowerment might differ between South Korea and the United States. I am also looking forward to teaching college students in South Korea this summer. Lastly, I plan to design parent empowerment programs and implement them in both South Korea and in the United States.

What do you hope to do long term?

Before coming to the U.S., I wanted to go home and teach students in South Korea. At the University of Maryland, my counseling classes focused on how to solve some of the burning issues related to school counseling in the United States. Those discussions and readings intrigued me enough to look further and develop a research agenda. As a global society, there are ways to deal with issues universally – poverty and lack of access, I think are common themes no matter where you go. For me, tackling a question (and helping others which is what I set out to do in the first place) in one culture inevitably builds collective knowledge that can benefit everyone.

Any parting advice?

Sometimes, Asians do not readily seek out help. I think that it is important to ask for assistance when we look for work, and beyond. In my experience, the faculty and staff at the University of Maryland understand the experience of international students and they are willing to help us. I would urge other international students to seek help, no matter how large or trivial the problem might be. Also, it is critical to get advice from people who were international students themselves at one point – because there is the added complication of dealing with visas, and sponsors.

More information about Dr. Jungnam Kim can be found here.

(By Anna De Cheke Qualls)

Contact Information

The Graduate School
University of Maryland

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301-405-3644
gradschool@umd.edu