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  • Writer's pictureAjumma EXP

Ajumma Julie Kim, how a book for Dummies set her on a path to help others

Updated: Feb 21

Tell Us About Yourself

I was born and raised on the east coast (New Jersey & upstate New York), with a brief stint in the Bay Area during my high school years, before moving to San Diego in 2007. After working in PR, marketing, and sales for a few years, a series of events led me to a Barnes & Noble cafe, sipping coffee and pondering next steps in the midst of my “quarter-life crisis” with a copy of Cool Careers for Dummies. The book’s description of speech-language pathology caught my attention, and this is how my 20-something self went from someone who had no idea 2-year-olds were expected to talk to working as part of an early intervention team at a nonprofit clinic and graduating from San Diego State’s MA program in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. I’ve been a practicing clinician for 14 years now, and it’s wild to remember how it all started! 

San Diego is also where I met my husband Dan. He was actually the first person I knew in SD, thanks to friends of friends who connected us through email before my move. Maybe it’s because we had talked on the phone a couple of times before meeting, but when we met for the first time in person, Dan went in for a hug while I greeted him with a handshake. Started with an awkward greeting … now we’re here, married for over 13 years! We love to travel and eat our way through whatever city/country we are visiting. 

Julie with husband Dan in Portugal

My parents immigrated to the US from South Korea in the 1970s, having a very limited grasp of the English language and leaving everything they knew behind. They both worked really hard to build a better life and future. My dad pursued higher education and earned his Masters in chemical engineering. My mom left behind a career in nursing, and once I was born, she poured her energy into me and our family. I grew up an only child, and while my parents never treated themselves to anything nice, they did their best to give me everything they could (yes, I admit it … I was spoiled). 

A younger Julie with her parents

I was a very shy and quiet child. I could usually be found clinging to my mom’s skirt. Our family moved quite a bit while I was growing up, requiring school transfers and making new friends. Considering I was pretty timid, I give my younger self a lot of credit for adjusting fairly well each time. Of course, there were certain moves where I felt misunderstood, judged, and very out of place, and I sometimes notice these scars still influencing my thought patterns to this day. 

I am an introvert and am generally far more comfortable in small groups or meeting up 1:1. Maybe it's the introvert thing and the only child thing, but I don't get bored being by myself and love time alone - reading, daydreaming, journaling, organizing, dabbling in various interests like painting or attempting to re-learn the piano using YouTube (sidenote: I have not made much progress, and I'd go back and tell my 10-year-old self not to quit), and more recently, crocheting. I have heart-eyes for sunsets, especially ones with varying shades of pink. I love noraebang (karaoke), but these days, I happily forgo driving around looking for parking and opt for our Amazon karaoke mic and soju in our living room. Last year, I completed yoga teacher training, specializing in trauma-informed yoga. As a yoga teacher, my intention is to provide a nurturing space where individuals feel empowered in their practice and leave feeling balanced, at ease, and at home in their bodies. 

What does being an Ajumma mean to you

Ajummas carry wisdom that comes with lived experience - through their greatest joys, deepest heartaches, and everything in between. They are RESILIENT. They are comfortable in their own skin and unapologetically themselves. They tell it like it is and do so lovingly. They give generously, celebrate others, and show up for those who are hurting. They have learned to be okay with uncertainty and not having everything figured out. They are passionate, driven, and don't shy away from hard work. They also play hard, laugh freely, and don't take themselves (or life in general) too seriously.

The Ajummas of Ajumma EXP come from such diverse backgrounds and are beautifully unique, yet they share in all of these qualities. I love hearing the stories and perspectives of these bright, fierce, kind, hilarious Ajummas, and it is incredibly inspiring to be among them. They are all so warm and welcoming, and it felt like home from the start.

Ajummas are known to have super-human strength and extraordinary abilities.  What is your Ajumma super-power?

I am introspective. I admit there is potential to move towards "over-thinking," but I have come a long way towards using my power for good! It has certainly played an important part in navigating my own healing and being intentional in my relationships and decisions. 

What is one of the biggest challenges you've overcome?

Losing my mom when I was 28 was one of the most difficult times in my life. My mom had a big heart and gave her very best in everything. She was an amazing cook, and there are certain dishes that I will eat and forever measure by the standard set by her cooking. She loved gardening, and beautiful blooms always remind me of her. When she was excited about something, she’d do a little hop with a big smile and twinkle in her eyes. She was my first karaoke partner, as we sang Korean oldies on our home machine.

Obviously, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We actually clashed quite a bit, which added to the complex thoughts and emotions I was left to navigate. I don't know that grief and loss are things one can overcome, but I have learned to ride its waves.

In the first few weeks, when everything felt so raw, I recall tearfully asking a friend who had experienced a similar loss, "Does it ever get any easier?" It seemed like a ridiculous question, and the answer I was hoping for seemed ridiculous as well. Still, a part of me desperately hoped that maybe it wasn't ridiculous at all. To this day, I appreciate her honest and thoughtful response. It doesn't get easier ... but you learn to live with it differently.

17 years later, I am still learning. Learning to allow the emotions and thoughts that seem to come up so randomly sometimes. Learning to release any expectations of how I'm "supposed to feel" or at what intensity I should be feeling them. Learning to be present with the many blessings that have come since. I think she would have gotten a kick out of Ajumma EXP and would be telling anyone and everyone that her daughter was one of the dancing ladies in short, curly haired wigs and pink visors from the news. 

Any sage advice to live by?

1. Be humble about what you know and confident about what you can learn; and 2. Follow your enthusiasm - There is a reason we each have something that lights us up. When you carve out a little time and space to nurture it, your eyes can't help but twinkle, your smile brightens, your mind, body, and spirit are re-energized. Often times, the responsibilities and demands of each day result in feeling like we have to cut that something out. I don't have time. I need to be productive. My to-do list is too long. I feel selfish, because my time and energy should be going towards ____. I struggled with this for a really long time, even getting to a point where I wasn't even sure what that something was for me! One of my mindful movement teachers (and one of the coolest, wisest Ajummas I know) helped me to rediscover dance as one of my enthusiasms. Simply turning on my favorite music and moving however my body wanted to move, whether it looked goofy or not. Nothing to necessarily accomplish, no one to please or appease. For no other purpose than because it feels joyful. And imagine how better equipped we'd be to show up for our families, friends, work, and community if we each followed our enthusiasm.

Any guilty pleasure that you can share with us? 

Chi-mek ... crispy Korean fried chicken (the "chi" part) + ice-cold beer (the "mek" from the Korean word mekju).

Also, I love a good Charcuterie board + wine. Binging Korean shows in my pajamas.

What is Your Favorite Korean food?

Kimchi jjigae with pork. It reminds me of visiting Korea in the winter as a child, and my grandfather preparing it in the old-school kitchen of his humble home.

It was the most delicious meal, and it remains my ultimate comfort food.

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