Chloe Kim knows the feeling of being embraced by two countries. Kim is the daughter of Korean immigrants, and grew up in Torrance, California. For years, the Kim family has been targeting the 2018 Winter Olympics once it was announced South Korea would host the games.
Pyeongchang marks the first Olympics Kim has been eligible to participate in, despite qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics she did not meet the age requirement. Chloe’s father Jong Jin Kim knows how special his daughter winning her first medal in South Korea would be for the family and the country.
“If Chloe brings the gold medal to the U.S. and can be in the history books as a Korean-American, that is bigger for Korea,” Jong Kim told ESPN. “Then the American people are very proud of her and think Koreans are more reliable, better people.”
Kim admits it can be hard to know how to identify yourself when you love two countries, especially when you can only compete in the Olympics with one team.
“I always get the question, like, ‘Where are you from?’ L.A. ‘No, where are you really from?’ I was born in Long Beach. ‘No, no, like, where are you really, really from?’ ” Kim explained to The Washington Post. “. . . I always get that question. It’s never, like, my first answer would be, ‘I’m from Korea,’ or, like, ‘I’m Korean.’ It’s always, like, ‘I’m American.’ ”
Not only is Kim talented on the halfpipe, Kim speaks three different languages: Korean, French and English. During elementary school, Kim spent time with her aunt in Switzerland where she learned French.
“People think Chloe moved to Switzerland for snowboarding, but we are not athletes,” Jong Kim told ESPN. “Her education was important. Sometimes I hear people say education is the backup plan. They have it backwards. Education is the life plan.”
Even though Kim grew up speaking Korean, it was not until recently that she publicly spoke Korean at an Olympic press conference. Kim admits the American culture feels more familiar to her, but she grew up visiting Korea nearly every year when she was younger.
“I’m so used to America, used to the traffic in L.A., and I don’t really feel it click with the Korean culture,” Kim told The Washington Post. “But obviously I have a Korean face, and I feel like that’s just — you know, I can’t walk around people like I’m, like, straight-up American. It’s like, I’m Korean American. My parents are from Korea. I don’t know. It’s weird. I just grew up in the States, so I feel like I identify more with the American culture.”
Kim’s parents journey to America is one of the most inspiring stories you will hear during the Olympics.
Kim’s Father Moved to the United States With $800 & a Pocket Dictionary
Jong Kim had identified America as the place he wanted to be, and moved to Los Angeles when he was 26. According to ESPN, he came to the United States with $800, and was left with $100 after buying a used Nova then paying for a one-week stay at a local hotel. He took on a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant, and a cashier at a liquor store. After a few years, Jong Kim began college, and earned a degree in manufacturing engineering technology.
As an engineer, Jong Kim met his first wife, and had two daughters–Tracy (31) and Erica (27). The couple ended up divorcing, and Jong Kim moved to Switzerland to live with his sister. While in Switzerland, he started a travel agency for Koreans, and met Boran Yun while she was in town from Seoul. The couple got married, and Jong Kim would begin another American journey as they moved to California in 1998.
Kim began snowboarding with her father at the age of 4, and Jong Kim quit his engineering job to help his daughter when it became clear she had something special. The couple began home-schooling their daughter to give her schedule flexibility to attend training sessions. According to My Buena Park, Kim attends La Palma Christian School where she will graduate later this year. First, Kim has an opportunity to win an Olympic medal in South Korea in front of an extended family, and is encouraging both countries to cheer her on.
“The Koreans, if they don’t have anyone to cheer for in snowboarding, I want them to cheer for me,” Kim told Time Magazine. “Because you know what? I’ll do it for both.”