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Employee Profile: Jessica Yun Kim

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Jessica Yun Kim has faced many weighty challenges in her life, but through hard work, a strong hope for the future, and the support of her family and colleagues, she’s overcome them all.

“In my life, I made it through tough situations. My family has played a big role in shaping who I am. They have always been there for me,” says Jessica, Assistant Regional Inspector General for Audit Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG).

As she discussed her life, as part of OIG’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, Jessica started with the story of her tightknit immigrant family.

Jessica with her son, Wayne
Jessica and her son, Wayne

Jessica’s family moved from South Korea to the United States in 1984 to escape poverty and to find more opportunities. As a high school senior who spoke only Korean, Jessica was registered for the local California public school with help of her English-speaking cousin.

“It was a culture shock for me, but I made it through. As a teenager, it was easier for me to adapt,” she said. In contrast, her parents experienced more difficulties when coming to the U.S. in their 40s: her father haltingly speaks English, and her mother still speaks primarily Korean.

Jessica was put in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class and built her language skills quickly. After just three months, she transitioned to a regular English class, taking extra courses at night to be able to graduate on time.

Jessica’s parents worked just as hard to provide for the family; her dad worked as a janitor, and her mom worked at a dry-cleaning service during the day and as a janitor at night with her husband. The family’s first apartment was infested with bugs, but eventually they saved enough money to buy a house in 1998.

“Life was hard, but we had hope,” she says. “A lot of confusion at first moving here and then very hard work, but I made it through and here I am.”

After high school graduation, Jessica says, “nobody told me about college. Nobody in my family had gone to college, so I didn’t think of it.” Instead, she worked at her uncle’s office as a secretary for a few years. Then, after she got into a major car accident but miraculously survived in 1991, Jessica decided to pursue college education for “a better life.” She enrolled at a community college and then transferred to a four-year university, earning at BS in accounting in 1996. While studying, she got married, and had her son Wayne in 1993.

Jessica landed her first professional job at HHS-OIG after speaking with OIG leadership at a career day at her university. After quickly progressing through the application and interview process, Jessica was hired as an auditor in November 1996.

Jessica and her niece, Emily
Jessica (background), and her niece, Emily

At OIG, Regional Inspector General Lori Ahlstrand mentored Jessica, urging the young auditor to enter a master’s program to enhance her skills and opportunities and boost her abilities to further OIG’s mission. Jessica went on to earn an MBA at Cal State LA whose campus was conveniently across the street from the OIG office.

“This agency’s leadership has always been very supportive of me and I’m very grateful for their support and encouragement,” Jessica said.

During her tenure at OIG, Jessica has earned several promotions, from auditor to auditor-in-charge, to senior auditor, and now Assistant Regional Inspector General.

Jessica has worked on variety of audits, including on the Affordable Care Act, nursing home state surveys, opioid treatment services, and Provider Relief Funds.

Away from the office, Jessica’s focus has always been on her family. She shoulders the responsibility of navigating the medical system for loved ones, accompanying her parents to their medical appointments and other important meetings. Jessica also helps with the daily care of her 29-year-old niece Emily, who became disabled when she was hit by a car.

At home, Jessica lives with her parents and 28-year-old son Wayne, who works as a pharmacy technician.

Enjoying Asian food is a favorite shared experience for Jessica and her family, who often take the 10-minute drive to her brother’s Japanese restaurant, where she orders variety of seafood including sashimi and sushi made of albacore, salmon, tuna, fatty tuna, etc. Her and her family’s favorite Korean dishes are denjang (a traditional stew with tofu, vegetables, and bean paste); kalbi (a beef short rib dish); and samgyobsal (pork belly). The family has taken several trips over the years, including to South Korea, Hawaii, and Mongolia when her niece, Emily, was there serving as a member of the Peace Corps.

“I’ve always enjoyed spending time with my family, even when we all go to together to explore other places and cultures,” Jessica says. “Life is brighter around people you love.”