In recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, we sat down with Calendly’s Technical Project Manager, Jin Sol Kim, as she candidly shared her immigrant story and how she learned to accept herself as a part of the AAPI community.
Tell us a little about who Jin Sol is?
“I’m Jin Sol, and I’m a Technical Project Manager at Calendly. For the past almost two years, I’ve been working with our engineering team. I am a proud Korean-born citizen, and now a proud US citizen.
My family and I emigrated to the United States when I was 3 years old. My parents wanted to give my brother and I a better life than what they could in South Korea. In order to do so, my dad went to get his second Masters Degree, so we could come here on his student visa. When we first came, we had little money and moved in with my cousins. My parents worked multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I vividly remember my parents skipping out on meals so that my brother and I could eat. They were extremely selfless to have left familiarity just to give us a better life, so I feel like I owe my life to them. I wouldn’t be sitting here today with such a fulfilling job if they hadn’t sacrificed everything for me. Now, my mom works in a high-end hair salon just buying her dream car, my dad works in Human Resources thriving in leadership positions, my brother works at Delta just married and having bought his own house, and I’m here helping lead processes and software execution at an industry-leading scheduling company, Calendly - proud is an understatement. We tirelessly and fervently chased the American Dream and thinking back on it today, it's like, ‘we did it.’ We made the American Dream our reality.”
What are some of the common stereotypes and/or many common cultural traits of the AAPI community?
“One of the biggest stereotypes we face in this community is The Model Minority Myth. This myth presumes that we’re all smart and successful, so we don’t struggle with challenges other underrepresented groups struggle with. Due to this, many of us are less likely to speak out when faced with discrimination.
Being thought of as a very successful group of people, there are less resources to set us up for success. Many communities that are marginalized tend to have more resources and NGOs that support them than AAPI because of this assumption. Thus, it can also result in us gaslighting ourselves to think, ‘I should be able to do this. I don’t struggle as much as XYZ group, etc.’
I’d say being overly accommodating is something I personally have struggled with and is sometimes prevalent in my community. For most of my teenage and early adulthood life, instead of going by Jin Sol, my birth given name meaning honest leader, I went by Jin to make it easier for other people. Reflecting on that now, I get angry at myself for being so accommodating to others when I should have been more assertive in getting people to learn my name and say my name correctly when it has such a powerful meaning.”
Knowing this exists, what challenges have you faced as an AAPI community member?
“I’m the only one in my family who kept their Korean name because it's easier to say than the others. Not having an American name on my resume when applying to jobs has led to biases and microaggressions like ‘Will they have an accent?’ Or ‘Do they have citizenship? Will we have to pay to sponsor their visa?’ In college, I actually went through an internship interview, and I spoke the way I naturally do, and the interviewer said that they were surprised that I didn’t have an accent during the phone interview. I was like ‘how do I react to that? [Thanks?]’
[I also think that as AAPI community members] we tend to be more reserved as a culture. Personally, it has been hard to know or feel comfortable speaking up on issues for myself. Living in the southeast and particularly in Atlanta, where there is a rich history of slavery, racism, and the civil rights movement, I find I ask myself, ‘am I being insensitive to the Black community by raising issues within my own community? Nothing myself or my family went through comes close to what the Black community has been faced with when it comes to slavery and racism, so can I even speak up about the discrimination and microaggressions I face?’ Basically I often find myself minimizing my experience for the sake of another community because I don’t want to be viewed as insensitive.
It’s something I’m trying to be better at by working on overcoming this irrational fear of being insensitive to other communities because I’ve seen and experienced the beauty in marginalized communities coming together to stand in solidarity. It’s a daily pursuit & challenge!
Another challenge and something I am continuing to work on overcoming is overcompensation. Perhaps it stems from childhood trauma as being labeled as weird or different. Growing up, I was told that what I ate or what I did or how my house smelled was weird. I basically try to overcompensate, so people don’t see me or label me as different. In the workforce, I find myself setting up 1x1s with a bunch of colleagues and leaders to make myself known and to show people that I’m just as capable and just as good as anyone else in the room - basically to show them that I’m normal. I know it's totally unnecessary, but it is something I still struggle with.”
As a member of the AAPI community, how do you advocate for yourself?
“This is really hard because there are very few AAPI people in leadership positions - even less when it comes to AAPI women leaders across the marketplace. When you don’t have someone to look up to, who thinks like me, looks like me, who went through similar experiences and discrimination as me, it is challenging because you don’t have a role model to look up to. You start to think ‘Should I be advocating for myself? Do I deserve that?’
I feel like I’ve been very lucky at Calendly with such a strong AAPI community of women leaders and team members like Karen Shih, Candace Napalo, Linh Phan, and Sam Gabales that I can tap into for guidance and advice on situations and how to advocate for myself. I don’t ever want to come off as boastful, so I always try to get perspectives from the community I have around me because they know me and they know the struggles that we all face as AAPI community members. I’ve learned to really lean on the community I have here at Calendly and the community built from college.
Growing up, I didn’t have the luxury of extended family around. I actually avoided the AAPI community because I didn’t want to be associated with the culture and labeled ‘weird’ or ‘different’ living in a culturally homogenous community. That changed when I went to Georgia Tech, an extremely diverse community. I took the introductory Korean language class to get back in touch with my culture, and when I looked around and saw all the different types of people who were there to learn MY language, to learn about MY culture, It made me realize I really needed to lean on this community because only they understand all the things I went through, how I feel, all the stereotypes etc., on a level that others cannot.
I try to do that for my career as well. This community helps me have a level head and push me to advocate for myself. A lot of Asian values, family, community etc.,. we just really have to take in and connect with those around us in our communities. Since I don’t have the luxury of having extended family close by, I’ve learned to make my own family in the communities around me.”
How can others be allies to AAPI and support self advocacy of individuals in this community?
“I really feel like education is the biggest piece of it. When I say education, I mean self-education in our history, culture, and the unconscious biases. The extra effort is important and means a lot to our community. Sometimes just checking in with AAPI community members around and asking things like ‘Am I on the right track here?’ goes a long way. Even just wanting to learn more and know more about the differences within the AAPI community itself speaks volumes.
When it comes to being an ally in the workplace, I’d say for me, when there is the Model Minority Myth in play, it sets unrealistic expectations. By seeing me as any other person and having the same expectations you would have for anyone else, will help me be successful rather than me trying to reach assumed and unrealistic ones.
In addition, if you’re a manager, continuing to hire diversely and giving each and every candidate the same equal opportunity is the best way to build diverse communities within the company. I am so lucky that Calendly is one that intentionally hires & can lean on the already established AAPI belonging group!”