“For those who want to live, the sky is the limit”. ~Dr. Jin Kyu Robertson
Anyone who has had the pleasure and privilege of being around Jin Kyu Robertson has often been impressed by her warmth, strength, determination and ability to inspire others through her example of leadership. She is a rare individual who makes everyone around her want to be a better person.
From inauspicious beginnings, her story is about the power of perseverance. She was the child of a tavern owner, and neither of her parents ever attended school. During her early teen years, she helped her mother with endless house chores. She also had to look after her baby brother who was a special child. She said that her brother’s condition caused her mother to turn to drinking, and that added more nightmares to her childhood. Reflecting anger for her sad fate of being a woman, mother used to yell at me, “Girls are useless! You are useless!” Over mother’s heartbreaking wails, I heard the louder voice of my silent anger: “Why? Was it my fault to be born a girl?”Despite all of this troubles and mental stress, she excelled in her studies, and her parents agreed to let her complete middle and high school. There was no money for college, so she worked in a factory, as a waitress and housemaid. One day, she saw a newspaper ad for a housemaid in America. She decided to apply for the job, over her family’s objections.
I was 22 years old, and I didn’t speak much English at all,” she said. “So what I did was, I practiced words, like ‘good morning,’ ‘good afternoon,’ ‘this way please,’ and ‘enjoy your meal,’ and those were all the words you needed,” she said. The job she came for had been filled by the time she reached New York, but she eventually found work as a waitress and moved on to become a hostess in a Jewish restaurant in Wall Street.
She eventually met and fell in love with a guy from Korea, got married and had a kid. But, she later found out that he was an abusive husband and she was a battered wife. With all this trouble around her, she chose to escape to the US Army and ended up becoming a private.
Her English was poor and she was 10 years older than most of the other recruits. Basic training was grueling, but she persevered, and finished first in her class of 200. She says she has always confronted her weaknesses head-on. She was afraid of heights, so she enrolled in an Army Airborne program that forced her to parachute from a helicopter. She found other opportunities in the military, and she pursued one she thought was tailor-made for an immigrant from Asia.
The Army employed regional specialists known as foreign area officers, and needed one in Japan. She applied, but was rejected. She says that did not stop her. ” But I liked the program. I wanted the program so bad, so I went to Washington D.C., the decision makers, and I asked them, why was I turned down?”She says, Army officials worried a woman officer would face problems in a male-oriented country like Japan. She disputed the idea, and asked if Japanese officials looked down on Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Britain. Of course not, was the reply. “So it took me one day, and they reversed the decision,” she said. Because of her perseverance, Jin Robertson is the first woman to represent the U.S. Army as liaison to the Japanese Self Defense Forces.
She also kept her focus on education. She decided early that the key to her dreams was education. She started college while working in New York. While in the Army, she completed a master’s degree at Harvard University in East Asian studies, and enrolled in a doctoral program, focusing on relations among the United States, Korea and Japan. After retiring from the Army with the rank of Major, she returned to Harvard to finish her Ph.D.
After she finished her doctorate, she started getting requests to give motivational speeches. “I didn’t know I was able to speak in public, really,” she said. “Always, whenever I thought about speaking, even giving briefings in the military, my heart was pounding so badly and I was so nervous, I couldn’t even drink water.” She says again she persevered, and found her confidence growing as the audiences responded. “I found this amazing great exhilarating feeling, and I said, wow, I love this public speaking,” she admitted.
Jin Robertson says one of her proudest accomplishments was raising her daughter, Jasmin. Also a Harvard graduate, Jasmin has followed in her mother’s footsteps and serves as a captain in the U.S. Army.