By Lindsay Wong
Jonny Kim has become an internet celebrity because of his multiple achievements that basically showcase him as every Asian parent’s dream. As if becoming a high-ranking Navy SEAL and Harvard Medical School graduate wasn’t enough, Jonny has recently added NASA astronaut to his list of achievements. But these feats did not come easy to him. There were obstacles and it took some time for Jonny to find his true calling.
Coming from an Immigrant Family
Like many Asians in Western countries, Jonny is the son of immigrant parents who came to the US from South Korea in the 1980s in search of a better life for their children. They settled in south central Los Angeles and opened a liquor store, just like many other Korean immigrants in California. It was a highly competitive market as there were 625 Korean-owned liquor stores in the area by 1992.
Jonny’s father grew up in a rural and impoverished town with no formal education. He made up for his lack of education by working six days a week. Unfortunately, he died when Jonny was 18. Jonny’s mother worked as a part-time substitute teacher at an educational school while she raised him and his younger brother.
Jonny noted that his parents were hard immigrant-workers who sacrificed a lot to migrate to a brand new country and start a new life.
A Tough Decision to Join the Military
In high school, Jonny was an insecure teenager who struggled to make friends. He would spend his lunchtimes alone and mindlessly roam around the hallways because he didn’t want others to see that he was lonely. Although he played water polo and swam and (not surprisingly) received good grades while taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, he always felt like there was something missing in his life.
Jonny’s lack of self-confidence when growing up motivated his decision to join the military. His only goal as a teenager was to join the Navy and become a SEAL. Navy SEALs are the navy’s primary special operations force who undergo rigorous training and difficult missions.
Breaking the news to his mother was difficult. There were cultural differences to take into account as a second-generation Korean-American. Many immigrant-parents who migrate under difficult circumstances may feel like their sacrifices would have been made in vain if their children join the military straight after high school. As such, some parents would prefer their children pursuing professions in law or the medical field so that their children can achieve the success that they never had. However, Jonny was adamant on enlisting. Eventually, his mother supported his decisions and attended his graduation ceremony from the navy.
According to an official demographics report, Asians represented only 4.4% of American service members in 2017. After initially joining as a Seaman recruit in 2002 and undergoing a tough training process, Jonny obtained the elite military status of a Navy SEAL and served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator and point man on at least 100 combat operations in two deployments to the Middle East. Jonny thrived as a Navy SEAL; he earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star with combat V (with valor). Now, he holds the title of US Navy lieutenant and is currently on active duty. Serving in the military gave Jonny courage and confidence.
Looking Forward and Further Accomplishments
Jonny pursued an undergraduate degree at the University of San Diego in mathematics and graduated at the top of his class in 2012, summa cum laude, while still with the Navy. He decided to attend Harvard Medical School, specialising in emergency medicine. This decision was motivated by his feeling of helplessness that he experienced when he was at war in the Middle East and two of his friends were killed. He promised them that he would do everything in his power to make the world a better place. After graduating in 2016, he worked in a hospital in Massachusetts.
Jonny was chosen from a pool of more than 18,000 applicants by NASA to join astronaut group 22 after completing two years of training. On January 10th, the 35-year-old Korean-American, along with 12 other outstanding individuals, graduated from NASA’s Artemis program, making them eligible to go to the International Space Station, the moon and even Mars.
Achieving Meme-worthy Status from the Asian Community
Soon after graduating from the NASA program, Jonny became an internet celebrity as his multiple accomplishments became known to the rest of the world. Going along with the Asian stereotype, netizens joked that he still lacked other professions like being a lawyer or a classical musician. Others wanted to hide his accomplishments from their own parents.
Jonny stated that he loved chasing adventure and getting out of his comfort zone, which is demonstrated by the fact that he changed his career path three times. His career aspirations were never motivated by seeking approval or obtaining medals. Now a father to three children, Jonny wants to encourage them to chase their dreams and follow their hearts. Jonny is proof that it’s never too late to try something new, no matter how daunting it may seem.