Kim settled in Vermont, planning to open a taekwondo school. First, though,
she had to learn English. All she knew were the well-rehearsed lines:
"Hi, my name is Tae Yun Kim. Can I be your friend?" She also needed
cash. She had just enough for a rundown apartment and cheap food.
She got work cleaning bathrooms at a Howard Johnson's.
While scrubbing the toilets and sinks, she would visualize taekwondo
moves, her future plans and her dreams, as the monk had taught her to
After six months, she saved enough to open a taekwondo
studio in an old garage and teach students when she got off work. Her
classes grew slowly. She was invited to give a workshop at the University
of Vermont, which led to a teaching assignment at IBM.
Four years passed in the garage before she had saved
enough to open a school. It proved a success, her reputation alone drawing
enough students to fill the classes. As the school launched, Kim's personal
life zigzagged in and out of turmoil. She married and divorced. She
had two miscarriages, a life-threatening bout with cancer and a near
fatal car crash. Once she nearly fell into bankruptcy after paying thousands of dollars to a con artist posing as a computer parts dealer.
She rebounded from each disaster, and by the early 80s had a following of loyal students. But her ordeals convinced Kim to relocate to California's Silicon Valley.
One night in 1982 she had a dream involving a computer.
She dismissed it, but for weeks the same image of a computer recurred
She discussed it with friends, and they concluded
it was a sign to start a computer company. Kim invested all her savings
into starting up Lighthouse Associates, a software design firm.
Lighhouse has since grown steadily, now with 45 employees,
and its profits have funded Kim's Jung SuWon Academy in nearby San Jose.
Lighthouse hit paydirt in the early 90s by designing
a specialized system to monitor cleanroom environments and manage data
to maintain product yield. The company's annual sales are projected
to reach $1 billion within the next five years.
Kim, as Lighthouse CEO, provides space for those who
choose to practice taekwondo on their lunch hour. And she doesn't discourage
them from taking up Jung SuWon.
Without its guidance, Kim feels, she would have ended up barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen of a ramshackle hut in rural Korea.