Variety shows and the spice of life
The founder of an ISB Korean Alumni Society on how his time at the school inspired him to find an unusual job in Asian TV, and how a "just start doing it" approach is best for students to take advantage of the diverse experiences ISB offers.
What's your hometown?
I was born in Busan, but moved to Chicago when I was young, and spent my childhood there. I moved around a lot and actually went to middle school back in Korea. I moved to Beijing and started ISB my sophomore year.
So what are you doing now?
Right now, I'm leading a team of content designers for a company called Imagine Square. It's a fairly new start-up, two or three years old, and I've been working with them for about half a year. We plan a lot of variety shows for broadcast in Korea and China. We come up with new characters, icons and emojis and try to research how to tailor our content for different audiences and different marketing needs.
What did you think you'd be doing as a career while you were at ISB, and how is it different from what you're doing now?
I honestly had no idea what I'd be doing for a career while I was at ISB. I wasn't even thinking about college. But I had a great academic advisor, and she started to straighten me out – [told me] maybe you should start thinking about your life, and your choices, starting with what school you want to go to.
She started with a simple, key question: What do you like to do? And what would you like to do? I was very much into drawing characters and comics, and she said, "Why aren't you taking art classes?" That was a good question – she kind of pushed me into doing that. I also told her I liked computers. I've had one since I was about 9, my father always had one around the house. And she said, "Would you like to make something of your own on the computer, using software, or maybe creating your own software?" I said, "Yes... that sounds awesome." So I kind of had two paths there – art, or computer engineering. And I actually applied to schools for both, and got into good schools for both. But I ended up choosing the Art Institute of Chicago, where I studied 3-D animation.
What did you do after college?
After college, I moved to Seoul and started working as a game animator, which I did for about six years. I really loved it, it was a very young field, very fresh. But there are a lot of political issues in the gaming field here in Korea, so I decided to move on.
What do you like most about the job you have now?
I love that, because the company is so new, I'm involved with all aspects of the business – the creative side, the marketing research, the shaping of the show and the product. There are a lot of commerce aspects to it, but it's fun to come up with a totally new type of show.
I think the thing I like most about my field, new media entertainment, is that if people don't understand what you're trying to do, that usually means it's just new to them. It's your job to shape the idea or the product so they can understand it. And it's cool to watch, once they see the picture, once they get it, you see their eyes open up. That's the goal.
How did ISB help to shape you?
When I first started ISB, I was very shy and unsure. My self-esteem was very low. And that's mainly because I'd grown up going to school in Chicago, and then when I went to middle school in Korea, I just didn't adapt back to Korean society. I had a hard time, my grades went down. But then when I came to ISB, I was kind of back in a Western education environment. Things clicked back into place. My grades went back up, I was doing great in school. I had a lot of fun. And I was open to the challenges the school presented me with. So, by the time I graduated, my self-esteem was in a good place. I felt like I was capable of doing whatever I wanted to do.
What are some fun memories from your time at ISB?
My senior year, I was in a musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I never thought I'd be doing acting or theater, but it was a really fun experience. I was originally cast as one of the brothers, but something happened with one of the cast members, so I stepped into one of the lead roles, the Pharaoh. I think I pulled it off OK. The school just opened up a lot of opportunities for me, things I would never have done otherwise. I cherish my time there.
Tell me about the alumni society you've set up.
Around 1999, a few alums and I set up an ISB Korean Alumni Society based here in Seoul. In the beginning, we had monthly meetings, and now it's about one or two a year. It's been a great way to stay connected to the ISB community. So many alumni have such interesting lives and career paths, and you get a chance to meet people from different classes and hear about what they're doing.
What advice would you give to current students about maximizing their time and their opportunities at ISB?
When I think back on my time there, I don't ever regret doing anything, or saying yes to any opportunity that came up. I did so many things there, not just academic – I was very involved in the culture of the school and the community. And if there's anything I regret, it's not doing more. There were so many programs that I just passed on because I thought it would be boring. The truth of the matter is, you don't know what you like or don't like until you actually experience it. A visit to an art gallery might sound dull, it did to me – but I ended up going to an art school!
The teachers there will guide you towards things, they'll open up choices for you – listen to them, follow it. Don't shut any doors. Just stay open to it all. Experience everything, every chance you get, because your future goal or dream just might be there.
And explore the country. It's China, it's a huge country, and it's very closed in a lot of ways, but there's a lot of new stuff there. The school opens up a lot of opportunities, so explore the country and the region as much as you can.
Are there any warnings you'd like to give to students to avoid common mistakes or traps in post-high school life?
Yeah, I'd say, just start. Whatever it is, just starting doing it. The absolute worst thing you can do is "thinking." I'm not saying you shouldn't think, let's just get that clear. But I've seen so many people who tire themselves out thinking, that's all they end up doing. Meaning they have actually done nothing. There's a quote in the movie Finding Forrester where Sean Connery says, "You write the first draft with your heart, then you rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write. Not to think." So just start. Don't be afraid to fail or be afraid that your output might be bad. Expect it to be just that. You learn by doing and you improve through your discipline.
So – Dream Big. Start Small. Don't Give Up. It's OK to have an outrageous goal as long as you're serious about it and you have a realistic plan to achieve it. Even the best have to start somewhere.