Sung Kim '85: U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea

As a college student, Sung Y. Kim considered several career options, including medicine and academia. But luckily for all of us, he chose to pursue his passion of public interest through government service, and that’s exactly what he is doing today. Kim is the first Korean-American U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, his country of birth, and for him it is truly an amazing honor.

The journey to his current role had several stops along the way, but Kim relishes the work he is doing. He recognized early on in his career “that diplomatic work and the lifestyle suited me well for many reasons,” he said. “And now, 25 years later, while at times I may miss some aspects of the legal profession, I have no regrets about my choice.” It was a choice he made as a student at Loyola, where he was excited to get involved in public service efforts.

Kim spent four years on the East Coast studying at the University of Pennsylvania. When considering his next step, he was excited at the prospect of returning to his home city of Los Angeles for law school. “I wanted to return to the West Coast,” he recalls. “Loyola stood out to me not only because of the quality of education that it offers but also its diverse student body and location.” He noted that Loyola’s close proximity to downtown Los Angeles was a draw, as well. 

As a student focused on a career in public service, Kim appreciated Loyola’s balanced approach toward public interest law and the support he received pursuing a career in the public sector. “Loyola’s support for public service work fostered values and skills that I took with me after graduation and still maintain today,” he said.

During his years at Loyola, Kim worked at the Western Law Center for the Handicapped, now the Disability Rights Legal Center. Among the projects he was involved in he conducted research  on a brief for a U.S. Supreme Court case and remembers how thrilling it was to be working on something that had far-reaching implications beyond the courtroom.

Kim’s involvement in public interest law grew throughout law school with cases he worked on as a student. This type of practical experience prepared him for one of his first roles as a lawyer. “Loyola was an excellent springboard into the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” Kim said. “Loyola’s practical and well-rounded education prepared me not only for my role in the DA’s Office, but also in a more general way for diplomatic service.” For Kim, the critical thinking and communication skills taught in law school are useful in many circumstances, “whether you are working on a case, advocating U.S. policy abroad or working on America’s important foreign relations.”

Kim enjoyed his time at the LA DA’s office and believes that being a prosecutor is a great way to serve the public. But when an opportunity to take the Foreign Service Exam presented itself, he wanted to explore the option of representing the U.S. abroad and the chance to work on foreign relations and advancing U.S. interests throughout the world. “I think my legal background and way of thinking are helpful in many contexts, including diplomacy,” Kim said. “My experience as a prosecutor has been quite useful in diplomatic negotiations.”

In his current role as U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Kim often uses his critical thinking and negotiation skills to promote security and free trade, as well as to encourage global cooperation and interpersonal ties. Prior to this role, Kim served as special envoy to the six-party talks over North Korean nuclear disarmament. Before that, he headed the Office of Korean Affairs at the Department of State from August 2006 to July 2008. Kim also served in a variety of positions in the East Asia Pacific region, including Seoul, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

Kim’s passion for public service is strong. He encourages young people to explore the many ways to get involved, including with the U.S. government. “There are plenty of interesting legal positions in the government, but there is also a lot of non-legal work that law school graduates might find rewarding,” Kim said. He is a big fan of public service and appreciates the important issues his work has impacted, from North Korean nuclear non-proliferation to the political-military dimensions of U.S.-China relations. 

His connection to Loyola remains strong even though Kim and his family have been living overseas for several years. Dean Victor Gold met with Kim during a recent trip to South Korea, and it was a great opportunity to discuss Loyola and several other topics – including public service. “That discussion helped me to remember my positive experiences at Loyola, and the legacy of public service that it passed on to me, coming full circle,” remarked Kim. And coming full circle as a leading public servant for the U.S. is exactly what Kim has accomplished.