Calvin Chung the story behind my greatest outlier, my father.

I identify myself as an outlier. I am blessed with full access to high education, I have a roof over my head, and I go forth on my path to my dreams without major obstacles in the way. My parents, most importantly, my father, have taken the troublesome, rocky roads to raise my sister and I to a flat, smooth road. As all parents do, they have influenced me in great ways to get me to where I am today. But my father himself is an outlier, who was shaped by outside factors to direct his path according to his aspirations.

Like Father, Like Son

Calvin and his father at Wol jung sa, Kang Won Do, 1991

Photo: (Calvin and His Father at Wol Jung Sa. 25 June 1991.)

One of the biggest influencers in my father’s life is my grandfather, the man who helped shape his life today. As parents do, they taught Calvin important skills and to grow certain characteristics like competitiveness. Competition, hard work, and perseverance, which are all major factors to success, began to become engraved in my father’s mindset, as he grew up watching his father succeed in life. He was taught to be a winner and compete hard to fight for what he wanted.

Ho Gwang Chung Researching at Han Yang University

Photo: (Ho Gwang Chung Researching at Han Yang University. 12 Sept. 1962.)

“When I went to work, I always went earlier and left later than the others. I worked hard, and I was passionate in what I was doing. Because I always scored really well on my examinations all throughout my education, it helped me advance in my career. Before my job at daewoo, I worked at UNESCO, KAIST as an R&D researcher, Han Yang University as a professor’s assistant, Daewoo Electronics, then finally at Daewoo shipbuilding in Gojaedo, near Busan.” - Chung Ho Gwang (H. Chung Nov 1)

Calvin’s father was someone who worked hard for what he strived for. During his early 40’s he began to study English as he believed this would make him more advanced among the others for a successful job. Calvin would watch his father practicing English as the cassette tape played, and as a child, he learned the importance of working hard in order to compete with others. Later on, Calvin was passed on the cassette tapes, which he would listen over and over again when he grew up. Most Koreans at the time had a native accent when speaking English, and Calvin worked hard to master his English so he could be different from the others, just like his father.

When the Chung family went to Gojaedo over the summer, there were foreigners that worked at the Daewoo shipbuilding company, where Calvin’s father worked, as customers. Some were American and some were British, but their ability to speak perfect English is what sparked Ho Gwang (Calvin’s father)’s attention. “Dear, could you please cook up some fancy dishes? We’re having guests over”, is what Calvin’s father would say to his wife almost weekly. As a highschooler, Calvin was exposed to their stories of Europe, working in a global business. American pop was one of the few things that Calvin could connect to the British guests at the time, so they would talk about Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc. With the confidence and ambition Calvin had, stepping out of his comfort zone welcoming and talking to foreigners in his home was more than just an experience, it was crucial to his path to success. His exposure to internationality sparked interest in him, the idea of working in or with nations all around the globe fascinated young Calvin. If it wasn't for his father who wanted the best for his children, my father would have not received the opportunities essential to his dream. (H. Chung Nov 1)

My grandfather wasn’t blessed with being born into a wealthy family, but he had the determination to make himself get to the top. “He was a very successful employee in Daewoo Shipbuilding, was the best at his job, and he later became an entrepreneur”(H. Chung, Nov 1) . Simply due to Calvin’s admiration of his father, it was the one of the main factors that urged him to study long hours, work under pressure, and learn the importance of competition. Without my grandfather to look up to as he successfully did his job, my father would not have had as much motivation or ambition to strive for his dreams and fight through the hardships.

Late Nights

Korea’s current education system is infamous for its harsh expectations on students, and back before the 20th century, it was exactly the same. In almost all of korean high schools during 1986-1988 (high school is three years long), high schoolers including my parents were obligated to stay at school until 10 p.m. Once class ended, everyone stayed in the study hall to study daily, then went home, and studied even more.

Calvin at His High School Graduation, Kyungnam High School, Busan, 1987

Photo: ("Calvin at His High School Graduation". 3 Dec. 1987.)

An average school day was not the same for Calvin. His daily school routine consisted of waking up before the sun rose and coming home once the skies were pitch-black. All high school students were forced to stay after until 10, but Calvin would stay in the library for an extra two hours to study even more. As he saw the exhausted faces of the other students leave, he remained in his seat, and went back to his textbook. Studying was essential to my father’s success. By studying for extraneous hours, he would study more than the others. Calvin’s goal to get into the top 5% ranking for the nationwide, monthly performance tests (that enrolled 600,000 korean students) so that he could get accepted to the top universities in Korea. His competitive urge to be the best is what drove him to stay and study even more once everyone had left.

Korean children spend 220 days a year in school versus 190 in Finland and 180 in the United States. By some measures, the average Korean child spends 13 hours a day studying after supplemental class time is factored in. (Park, Education in South Korea)

Late nights were mandatory in the life of a Korean student. The number of hours spent studying exceeded way over the average American public school student. Like the 10,000 hour rule in the Outliers, the hard work that went into studying in school resulted in my father’s success and chances to get into a good college.

“We definitely did not have to ever force him to study, he was always a studious kid. We did help him and get him supplies like English textbooks and cassette tapes from the Incheon library since 4th grade. He was never a kid who read comic books, he would read proper, adult books unlike the others at the time.” - Grandma (H. Chung Nov 1)
Calvin's Academic Honors Award in Middle School, 1982

Photos: (Calvin's Award for Class Leader in 6th Grade. 30 Apr. 1981.) (Calvin's Honors Award for Middle School. 16 Feb. 1985.) (Calvin's Honors Award in 6th Grade. 17 Feb. 1982.)

Calvin’s studious trait was always a part of him, it wasn’t because he had a tiger mom, it was simply because he had that drive in him as he grew up under his father’s success. Studying was a daily ritual for my father, and the influence of my grandfather’s hard work that led to his success was the biggest factor.

Opportunities and Experience

Studying extraneously helped Calvin advance in school, and get accepted into Sogang University, which is ranked the 7th top college in Korea (Education in South Korea). During Calvin’s senior year in college, he decided to take on his second internship at the Daewoo Telecommunications Shipbuilding Company followed by his previous work at LG’s Research & Development branch. He decided to explore the global sales department, so for a month, he began his internship there.

Fun Fact: The current president of S. Korea, Geun-Hye Park, is also a graduate of Sogang University, in the same major as my dad

Calvin and His Colleagues at Daewoo, 1992

Photo: (Calvin and His Colleagues at Daewoo. 14 Aug. 1992.)

Heading to work everyday was enjoyable when Calvin worked at Daewoo, unlike the days at LG. Simply the ambience of smiles and chatter made the office lighten up. People were on their phones conferencing in english, discussing international deals, analyzing graphs; it was all a dream in which Calvin realized he adored. Korea was definitely not the most well-known, developed nation back then, and the fact that these fellow Koreans had the ability to travel out to exotic countries like Russia, Brazil, the Middle East, and make sales 24/7 was simply astonishing to my father. The month flew by as he grew more and more involved in the idea of international sales, so this led to his impromptu decision to backpack travel Europe for a month at the end of college. (C. Chung Oct 23)

He was exposed to the world and global business since he was a middle schooler due to my grandfather's work at an international company, Calvin's internship at the global sales department, and exploring in Europe. The vision became clear that my father wanted to pursue a career from more than a nationwide basis.

The Interview

Before the end of his senior year in college, my father received a recruitment letter to work at Samsung in the Research & Development division, which he happily embarked on to a journey that would lead him to a greater potential. In total, he worked for 8 years at Samsung, but for half of the years he worked in R&D, then transferred over to the sales and marketing section for the remaining four years.

Calvin Receiving an Award at Samsung 1993

Photo: (Calvin Receiving an Award at Samsung. 9 Nov. 1993.)

After working 8 years at Samsung, my father, along with two other colleagues (who went to Berkeley and MIT) were chosen for a Cisco Networking job interview. Due to his connections with Paul Zimmerman, another colleague of my father's who transferred from Samsung to Cisco, he was given the chance with three others to form a group of workers in the mobile internet industry. However, he was the only one chosen after the official job interview among the three to work at Cisco from Samsung.

Calvin and Paul Zimmerman (4th from left) at Cisco 2007

Photo: (Calvin and Paul Zimmerman at Cisco. 14 Mar. 2007.)

Calvin was flown in from Korea to Singapore by Cisco for the interviews. The next morning, he stepped into the office building with steady hands, and proceeded to the first of the five interview room. Each in one of the interviews he was faced with different interviewers and questions, from impromptu presentations, to questions of how he would benefit the company. Calvin remembers in one of the interviews, Gary Jackson ,the VP from APEC Sales, told him that “people like him were rare to find in the market.” He “was experienced and had enough knowledge unlike the others since this industry was still small at the time. He was a specialist unlike the others who were simply generalists.” Two months later, a mailman entered the office with a letter that would give him the chance to succeed at a greater level. (C.Chung Oct 18)

My father’s move to Cisco Systems to work in mobile internet networking was merited by his connections he developed at Samsung along with his unique knowledge and skill in electrical engineering and mobile networking. And it all began in the four years he was in Samsung R&D (research & development) where he studied these topics. In the last four years he worked at Samsung, he was also transferred to the Sales and marketing department which made him more qualified than the other two for the job in Cisco as a Sales Manager in mobile networking. Moving departments was not as easy, but my father had requested the company to be moved in order to work in a more competitive, global industry. His ambition and drive for competition is what motivated him to switch into the sales and marketing department which made him a special recruitment.

People often are illusioned with the myth that an outliers’ success is purely due to one factor. But once you break down the components of one’s path that lead to their success, there is simply so much more than what is there to the naked eye. We all must pay gratitude to the two main people who taught us how to live life and grow as a person, our beloved parents. Everyone has different factors to their success, but my father’s revolved around the influence of my grandfather, hard work ethic, and opportunity.

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