Hooked on Physical Activity: A Profile with Namjin Kim

From boxing to bulgogi, I’ve found Korean culture right in front of me here at Winona State University. Namjin Kim is a first-year, International student from South Korea. Namjin and I met during a boxing class provided through WSU, and he’s the instructor! I told him how I kickbox when I’m at home, and we immediately hit it off (pun intended). I wanted to know more about him and his boxing experience and writing a profile on him was my matchless opportunity.


Gretchen Leif (GL): Tell us a bit about yourself! Major, year in college, campus/ community involvement, hobbies, fun facts.

Namjin Kim (NK): I am a freshman and I am from South Korea. I completed two years of college in Korea, but I still have four years of college here. My major is Biology. I love working out, especially through dance and hip hop. I actually used to dance competitively!


GL: If you could describe yourself in one word/sentence, what would it be and why?

NK: Active— I’ve always played outside since childhood. I was always competing with friends in PE or just physical activities. I’m very competitive and I always wanted to win!


GL: What is your family dynamic like?

NK: My family likes indoor activities, not as exercising though. They are more of the studying type, but I am not—I am more of the moving type! I have two older sisters.


GL: Tell us about your military experience.

NK: I was drafted into the Korean Army when I was 18—20 in Korea—and graduated from high school. The Korean Army requires 21 months of commitment. When in Korea, military commitment is two-three times per year for eight years as military reserve forces. Right now, I am 26 years old in America, but 28 years old in Korea! In Korea, we are born as one year old.


GL: Do you compete in boxing?

NK: Yes, I did in high school.


GL: Why did you come to Winona, MN?

NK: I really wanted to study English. I was first in Vancouver for 10 months. I got to Winona State University by Googling biology programs in the US, and I found WSU! I studied microbiology in Korea for two years. My coworker back in Korea got promoted because he was fluent in English, and I wanted that. I might go back, but I want to live in the US forever. I don’t like the working culture in Korea because everyone usually does overtime—work in Korea is from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. usually.  


GL: What do you miss most about home?

NK: The food! Raw and fresh foods like raw beef. I cook rice and bulgogi (pork, chili paste, sugar, soy sauce, onions, green onions, and garlic) while I’m here because there are not a lot of Korean options.


GL: How would you describe South Korea to an American?

NK: It’s super convenient and fast— there’s public bathrooms, WIFI systems, and underground trains everywhere. All stores have cell phone chargers to use for free while you’re there. Documents and such (like getting my Visa and paperwork) are usually just a few days, never more than five days to process. Korean culture is always “hurry up”!


GL: Do you have a nickname/ is there a meaning behind your name?

NK: My friends back home call me Sim Pan Ja. Sim Pan means judge, Ja means for a person. Sim Pan Ja means someone who judges people. They called me this because I usually won in my boxing matches. It’s a funny nickname, even though it’s hard to understand in English! My name Namjin means to grow as a big and tall tree. Nam is tree, derived from China. Jin is always polite, always good, always right, always positive—this means I am on a straight path upward, just how a tree should grow. When we see really big, absolutely straight trees, we think the trees grew right, so my parents want me to grow like these trees! So I am Nam Jin. Kim is our family name, in Korean it’s Gim.


GL: What’s your favorite thing about America so far? What about Winona State?

NK: The gym! In Korea, you have to pay for the gym as a student. In Korea, slim women are beautiful, but in America, it is curvy. My favorite thing about WSU is the nature and the sun to get tan. I like that we have lakes because I don’t have those in Korea, I can just lay out and tan!


GL: Do you practice a religion or faith?

NK: I don’t believe in a God, I am an atheist. My grandparents practiced Buddhism. Our family exercises the Buddhism process when someone dies. I don’t believe in anything I cannot see. I celebrate Holy Day (Christmas), it is one day. It is spent with a significant other, not family like it is here. Christmas is the biggest couple of days, everything is really expensive and there’s long lines to wait in for restaurants and shops. I went to church in Korea when I was a child (5 years old), but it was just to gather people. There were no parents, they didn’t know. It was on Sundays for one hour, we all went there for the snacks.


GL: What style of music do you listen to?

NK: Justin Bieber! I discovered him three-four years ago. Aside from JB, I listen to hip hop music or American music.


GL: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

NK: When you see someone Asian, don’t assume they are always Chinese. If we are asked, “Oh, are you from China?”, that is uncomfortable and offensive to us. Do not say, “Are you Japanese or Korean?” to Chinese. All Asians want to hear their nationalities.


Namjin is one of the coolest guys I’ve met! He is very open about his culture and he isn’t afraid to admit when he doesn’t understand something. This brief interview with Namjin has opened my eyes to Korean culture and it has stirred a curiosity in me to continue to get to know international students. I encourage you to reach out to a study-abroad or international student, despite how nerve-wracking it may seem! I am so thankful I’ve met Namjin, my creative and fascinating friend. The diversity of the entire world is a lot closer than it may seem.