Dreams, Grit and the Miracle

Authentic Life Stories of Korean Americans

Editor-in-Chief: Eunsup Daniel SHIM
Korean Editors: Myung Jin Lee, Tae Jin Kim
English Editors: Kerry Kaltenbach, Richard Yun

Korean American Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst: Hae Ahm Kim, M.D. of Cornell University Weill Medical College
-who dedicated his life work in Cultural Psychiatry and Philosophy for the succeeding Korean American polity.

Dr. Hae Kim’s half century of New York Life: working, musing and strolling New York streets, taking many walking tours of the City as a hobby.

World Psychiatrist Seminar in Prague, Czech Republic, 2011

I have become a friend and admirer of Hae A. Kim, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University Weill Medical College for the past several years, and impressed with his life and work for the nation and our society, and my interest in him grew through this interview.

Haewol (pen name) started his medical career in South Korea during the Korean War in 1952, entering Seoul National University Medical College where he had tremendous interest in Western classics and philosophy in his pre-medical years. He also yearned for a democratic political government as he won a prize in an English oratorical contest. He was elected as class leader for the first two years, and also elected as the president of student body of medical college. He served as the Vice President of the University Student Body, and a Special Assistant to University President, Yoon Ilsun, for International Affairs.

Dr. Kim’s interests in psychiatry started in his pre-medical years, but the actual experience of performing Insulin shock treatment as a medical student guided his path to psychiatry in post-graduate study. He talked about a young student who became a schizophrenic patient in a catatonic state who responded beautifully to shock treatments. He also noticed the importance of culture affecting the human psyche in that student, and it became his secondary career of pursuing philosophy from a cultural point of view which eventuates to surmount all cultural barriers, transcending them all.

His inclusive conclusion is that all human society has to have guiding principles based on individual needs, inborn gifts and personal apportionment, regardless of religion, belief system or cultural bias, to attain happiness and stability in person and in the society. That, he contends, is modern philosophy which has become the pivotal importance for human survival. I noticed that his pursuance of Western classics and modern culture, and deep understanding, has made his stance so unshakably solid and convincing.

Haewol’s birth, developmental years and family background

He was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, and had his early education in Japanese school, and was exposed to Western culture through the Anglican Church in Pyongyang where he was baptized. His aunt supported his early schooling was a close associate of Bishop Richard Chadwell of Anglican mission. His family moved to Seoul near the end of WWII and settled in Incheon and Seoul before the outbreak of Korean War. His father, Bong Kug Kim, was born in Baechon, Hwanghae-do and made to go to Christian seminary in Seoul – he went to Tokyo, Japan in 1928 to learn Christianity through Uchimura Kanzo. Non-church Christianity inspired to rebuild Korea, which was annexed by Japan, by improving health and promoting farming such as dairy farm and products, chicken farming and corn and soybean farming to increase the protein diet. Thus, he became the pioneer of the introduction of Western diet and he was decorated by the Korean Agriculture Technician Society on his 80th birthday in 2007 in Seoul. His mother, Imja Ahn was the oldest daughter of a Traditional Chinese medical doctor and aspired to become a medical doctor, but too busy raising 10 children. However, when she and family emmigrated to New York in 1971, she once again invoked the dream of studying medicine at the age of 60, but a language barrier frustrated her, ending her life-long dream.

Haewol petitioned his parents and family for immigration, invoking filial duty, and his parents lived in Pearl River, Rockland County for 17 years before returning to Korea in late 1980. His parents lived with Dr. Kim’s brother for about 10 years before passing.

His parents’ contribution for posterity is born out of their experience of life in the New World and is as follows, “The Wisdom in their late life sojourn in United States in near 20 years” as it was titled in their memoir; Professor Kim said to me, “Please take a look of the footsteps my parents left in the U.S., and you can imagine a scenery of what they had to say about American life and the future of our Korean American children.”

First, American Society is cold and distant to those who are not accustomed to their way, and there’s no empathic dispensation like in the East which honors emotional factors as important as factual matters. Therefore, counting on special dispensation is not only pointless but also even dangerous. They advised to deal in a business-like manner and show no begging attitude. Follow the civic rules and be observant.

Second, American hospitality should be taken with a grain of salt and be careful taking second chance. It’s nice to take any kindness with gratitude but don’t expect that it will come back same way on the next round. Try to be alert always and take things as they watch you as a test case of an immigrant. If you get a favor from your neighbor, you should consider returning the favor in the future sometime. If your neighbor expects a return, sometimes, it is better not taking the favor. You must remember “one for one” type of transaction setting in your mind. If you get a ride, you can remember and offer a ride at an opportune time.

Third, “Please, don’t take praise as face value but try to figure out why the person is trying to please you by praising you. If it’s not clear, try to accept graciously and return the praise!”

Fourth, “Try not to raise you voice or shout even if you are absolutely right, just because it could develop into violence and you may get hurt and suffer damages. But compensation is slow or it never comes. You should back off from any kind of confrontations and avoid physical harm. Therefore, tolerance is a virtue and you should not try to carry out justice yourself – stay cool and be collected.”

Fifth, police in America are not to judge people and who is right and wrong because they must report to the court system. You can argue in the court, not with police or the opponent. It’s best not to show the feelings of unfairness openly or feel sorry for oneself because court is looking for cold facts and evidence. If you don’t have good evidence, stay quiet rather than trying to defend yourself.

This is the wisdom my parents learned from their life in America, which can be given anywhere in the world, but it is a bit of advice for our future generations as well as new comers.

What did Koreans learn from the Profile of Dr. Hae Kim

Dr. Hae Kim came to U.S. in 1959 and had his psychiatric residency at the N.Y. Downstate Medical Center and Kings County Hospital, and became a faculty member at the Cornell University Medical College (located in Manhattan) in 1969 and taught medical students and residents for many years.

In 1963 he married Haze Goodwin, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, who is of English descent, Anglo-Saxon of many generations. They have three children who are all married and have children. They have five grandchildren. They invited his Korean parents and unmarried siblings to immigrate to U.S. in 1971

Dr. Hae Kim has been engaged in private practice for general psychiatry and dynamic psychotherapy in Manhattan and Rockland county office while working half-time at the Community General Hospital Psychiatric Unit. He also worked as a consulting psychiatrist for Rockland, Westchester and Bergen County public schools, for children of Korean and Japanese descent.

Dr. Kim’s interests in Family and Group Therapy go back to early 1960’s when Group and Family Therapy Movements were in the early stage, and he holds charter member positions at the Academy of Family Therapy and a certified group-therapist. These qualifications put him on a rank of senior psychotherapist in Korea and he made many lecture tours to various medical schools and organizations.

Haewol’s Thoughts and Cultural Philosophy

Family Acting Competition in Seoul, South Korea, 2013

Family Acting Competition in Seoul, South Korea, 2013

He asks, what is Cultural Philosophy and its significance in current century? Professor Hae Kim emphasizes the need for “Cultural Philosophy” for psychotherapy because psychotherapeutic engagement requires deep understanding of not only the therapist and recipient, but also the world they are living in and the prevailing philosophy which will sustain them to float and navigate. It may require co-piloting and collaboration too. This kind of intervention should get started from early infant education to learn about life and death, joy and sorrow, power and weakness, hope and despair, greed and tolerance, love and hate, etc.

In our ever-increasing digital world, children and adults alike get lost in translation and in the midst of a digital deciphering process, questioning where we are going and what is the purpose for getting there. Since human beings cannot exist without human society and the natural environment in which he or she must have body and mind to navigate, finding one’s own position and in-born apportionment (boonsoo in Korean) and ability is difficult. Each person’s apportionment and talent must be considered to give an appropriate education and guidance in life and society in an ideal country and society.

The role of cultural philosopher is to use the cultural media wisely and guide the people in the society establishing with clear guidelines and clarify those confronting problems of humanity. The role of modern philosopher is indispensable and many such philosophers are so desirable that the world is awaiting a great philosopher or powerful group of philosophers speak out on many of the key human issues, like population, environment, peace and threatening war, economy, food and water supply, animal and plant sustainability and other current dire conditions of near-turmoil in many places on earth today.

His contention is that philosophers cannot afford to hide behind science, religion, economics or political diversity. They can be the most neutral and independent observer and umpire without resorting all the available knowledge and wisdom on earth.

Cultural Research Interests

Manhattan office near Central Park, NY

Professor Kim has been working in cultural research at the “Heyman Center for the Humanity” at the Columbia University for the past 27 years. The colloquium he has attended covers Eastern and Western classics, world literature old and new, musicology, history, various religions and core college programs on humanity. This colloquium was designed for Columbia graduates, and past and present faculty members. One of the colloquium was on Korean cultural history.

We were asked what the Korean Civil War experience was in Twentieth Century, and what are the implications for future planning of Korean peninsula?

Koreans believe that they had built a morally sound and upright Confucian society through the 500-year Yi Kingdom. Historians claim that it took nearly 200 years to undo Buddhist culture of the Koryo Dynasty which prevailed with shamanism, Feng suy and mystic belief system. The Yi Dynasty introduced Neo-Confucianism and produced world class Confucian scholars such as Yi Toegye, Yi Yulgok and others. They inherited the tradition of Chushi and Wang Yangmin of China. Learning these kind of works made them being proud becoming “Yangban”and they tried to keep the purity of Confucian ideal.

While Korea was concerned about the Confucian centered moral society building, the world had changed to industrial and mechanical society from an agrarian community in the Dark Ages. Confucian societies stayed in the old system while the Western nations ventured out to build empires colonizing the world around.

Dr. Kim has been keenly aware of this kind of backward East Asian situation and tries to understand the cultural meanings of the East and the West. He has studied culture from many perspectives at the “Heyman Center for the Humanity,” Columbia University over 25 years. The focus of his concern are the differences and similarities of thought and reasoning in the East and the West.

Dr. Kim wants to share what he has learned from these seminars with Korean Americans with the perspectives of thought and reasoning which is best summarized by the philosophical body of knowledge. This kind of approach made him aware of the fallacy of cultural omissions and detriments in the East and also in the West, notably British and Japanese imperialism manifested between colonizers and colonizes relationship and their mode of thinking and reasoning which are not the same at all.

Dr. Kim hopes that advancing neuroscience will help to clarify the nature of cognition and reasoning which is the basis of human culture and the goal and guidance from modern philosophy. He believes that we can find the ways of survival of human race in new ways of thinking since the decisive moments are rapidly approaching.

Cultural Philosophy is the ultimate view of the life and the world

The world has become smaller, and trouble at a corner of the globe affects the entire world in our digital society of today. We need to create a peaceful and stable culture to nourish the spirit of Twenty-First Century.

What do we need to establish such culture for the world? What is the mind set and what kind of tools do we need to achieve such goal? Professor Kim asserts that the world is so quickly changing that it won’t wait for us to figure that out in timely manner. We must come up with a dramatic approach and examine what it entails.

Psychiatry, Yesterday and Today: Cultural Philosophical Perspectives

Hippocrates described epilepsy as a mysterious illness and treated it as a sacred expression of unknown god, indicating mental illness existed in Ancient Greek World.
(Picture 4 – Certificate of Appreciation from Association of Korean American Psychiatrists)
Roman empires succeeded the Greek Culture to build an empire lasting almost 1,000 years, adopting Christianity as the state religion along the way. But politics couldn’t leave religion alone. They were interdependent through the Middle Ages. As we know, the work of Socrates’ philosophy has never been powerful appeal to people in real life. The reason is that people don’t want to think philosophically and simply do not know how to do it. Modern society is plagued with too many choices in almost everything. People are confused and don’t know how to navigate their daily life. Philosophy can simplify it and find the way like “Tao,” simple and straight forward. How can people can get to it? It is simple training of mind from as early as infancy. All the philosophical questions can be dealt with as a person grows older. Philosophy should be in school curriculum from kindergarten on. As young children are tackling computers with ease, philosophy can answer everyday issues and develop new ways of thinking and selecting out of tantalizing choices.

In comparison to previous 2,000 years, the past 200 years made a remarkable progress in the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Runaway culture of “Tower of Babel” effects on human civilization came to a full stop after the Industrial Revolution and began to make an effective and efficient treatment for mental patients, and also started examining the psychological and spiritual aspect of mental illnesses.

The stress of everyday life, despite the comfort and convenience and longevity of the modern culture, produces a new form of emotional illness in this environment of abundance. What is this “cultural illness”? We want to look closely and try to figure out what are the maladies and their efficient cures.

We have seen this kind of malady in South Korea where rapid economic growth and the living standard increased to that level of developed countries. South Korea is proud that its educational level and universal health care have surpassed many industrialized countries. Recent entry of mental health care specialist passing rate of physicians made close to 100%, indicating that psychiatric practice has improved in Korea and it has gained favorable reputation. However, South Korea has one of highest suicide rates and has 1/3 of North Koreans are living below the poverty level. There has been an increasing effort to improve North-South cooperation and awareness of a self-help solution for unification, rather than depending on the surrounding nations or superpowers. This kind of trend shows that effective philosophical awakening is occurring in Korean peninsula. This is a new trend equivalent to the history of mental health care. In Middle Age Europe, the mentally ill were kept in the monastery for their custodial care, the best. Philippe Pinel in France emancipated the mental patients from the asylums and started the so-called “moral treatment.” Charcot started to treat hysteria with hypnosis. Sigmund Freud began psychoanalysis to make a fundamental change of personality and its defense mechanism but largely failed. This effort of healing of emotional problems and culture related social and political problems may have to be confronted with dynamic and advanced philosophical reasoning.

Some people hope that the advance of neuroscience may bring a breakthrough in human thinking in terms of better and wise reasoning for conflict resolution and problem solving, but we cannot wait for such time to come but to try quicker resolution before too late for human survival on earth.

We need philosophy based on cultural experiences and tradition whatever that may be. Dr. Kim is advocating such movement to increase the awareness and promotion to exercise philosophical revival for modern society rather than relying on solely on religion, law and order or social coercion carried out by each government.

I have learned from my parents how to live and think and work in our modern world. Where and how do we begin? We must start to philosophize from the early age.

I must start to think, where do I come from, and how far have I come from where I started, and then try to figure out where I want to go. In fact, where do we all want to go?

In order to begin, I will bring out some questions I have created first. What is Cultural Philosophy? According to Ludwig Wittgenstein, it can be summarized as follows:

Where did I come from? For this I will show you the origin of my family and my parents’ life and career. Who am I, and what do I do now? What have I become and what have I pursued and what have I been looking for? What have I gained and learned and where do I want to go? Where, in fact, do we all want to go?

Dr. Hae Kim as student body President with President Il-Sun Yoon of Seoul National University (1957)

This is the fundamental basis of modern philosophy, a way of life like our Asian ancestors looked around in the name of Tao. Another word – the world is looking for a new and efficacious Tao which can save all of us from our own creation of potential self-destruction in physical and material senses. Let me give you a few areas we Korean Americans can contribute on this endeavor.

First, many Americans, missionaries and soldiers, visitors, travelers, government officials, etc. have written about Korea based on their experiences of Korea, while Koreans who have been in many places in the world but have sparse writings about America and the West. It is desirable to describe and philosophize our experiences in North America and beyond in the West.

Second, East Asians need to update Confucian Doctrine and Philosophy, and develop a revised notion on how they can be applied, if needed to suit our modern society and culture.

Third, Korean Americans need to focus to make a domestic mission working for our own unfortunate Korean Americans over and beyond the global missions. Korean American churches have started to make such a global outreach for the Christian mission, and we need to participate in domestic Peace Corp like works, which need wider support by all of us.

Dr. Hae Kim with his family (1975)

Korean Americans, including the citizens, residents and temporary residents, who desire to act first for the interests of America, and then for Korean heritage, must preserve its interest in America like so many other nationals have in this country of immigrants. We want to leave our heritage to our children and share the feelings among our friends and neighbors in this country.

Hae Ahm. Kim, M.D.

  • Seoul National University Medical College
Completed Psychiatric Residency at King’s County Hospital/New York Downstate Medical College

  • Completed Psychoanalytic Curriculum at the New York School of Psychiatry
  • Completed/ certified in American Group Therapy Association and American Academy of Family Therapy
  • 1965-present Private Practice in Manhattan, New York
1969-present Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Cornell University Weill Medical College

  • 1988-present Research on East/West Cultural Study at the Hayman Center for the Humanity, Columbia University

Dr. Hae Kim currently specializes in couples and family therapy.
If you feel stuck in your family relationships and are interested in receiving treatment, please call or write to Dr. Kim.