Charlie Yim came to America empty handed.
The son of South Korean parents, Charlie arrived in 1968 with no money and speaking only a little English.
To most, those would be insurmountable obstacles. To Charlie, author of the book I Will Work for Nothing, they were simply temporary challenges.
Despite a lack of financial support and a limited knowledge of the English language, Charlie found a pathway to opportunity. Following his job training volunteers and evaluating Peace Corps volunteers, he was set to travel to University of Michigan to study anthropology on scholarship.
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Little did he know, life was about to throw him a curveball.
Classes at Michigan didn’t start until later in the month so he decided to stop over and visit his cousin in San Diego on the way. That quick family visit was one that would change the trajectory of his life forever.
During the trip, Charlie’s cousin challenged him about his future. He said that if Charlie was going to live in America, he should study business, not anthropology at Michigan. That stuck with Charlie.
After a couple sleepless nights, Charlie walked onto the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus and spoke to the international student advisor about his options. The advisor told him he could forego his scholarship at Michigan and attend SDSU, if he wanted.
So despite no money and no idea how he would pay for schooling, Charlie took a leap of faith. That day, he enrolled in business school at SDSU.
But Charlie lost his scholarship and now needed to pay his own way through school.
The next day, Charlie visited the Aztec restaurant on the SDSU campus and told the manager he would like a job and would work for nothing.
“At the time, my English wasn’t good and I thought it was the only way I could get a job,” recalled Charlie. “I wanted to show the manager what I was capable of. For me, it was just who I was and the attitude I always had.”
This was one of the first moments people started to realize Charlie had actually brought a lot with him to America.
“I have always been a self-sufficient guy with a positive attitude,” explained Charlie. “For me, I just wanted to work hard and serve others with a willing heart. I never cared how much money I made along the way.”
That positive, entrepreneurial spirit is what propelled him through many years of schooling and helped him build more than 30 businesses and a real estate fortune.
Today, Charlie looks back at those early days as the building blocks for his current success.
“I have always believed in trust and treating people right,” emphasizes Charlie. “I think that by having a positive outlook and giving heart, the world has returned a lot of good fortune to me.”
Paying it Forward
For decades, Charlie and his wife Gloria have given back to those less fortunate.
As Charlie did in his early years in the U.S., Gloria worked hard on her own to contribute to the community. She spent countless hours and days reading the Sears catalog just to learn English, and later became a teacher herself to give back to youth. As a result, the couple recognizes the value that teaching and mentoring provides children, particularly those who face challenges similar to theirs early on.
As Charlie explains it, “Just as I was the day I came to America, I know when I die I will do so empty handed. That is why, while Gloria and I can, we want to share our wealth and good fortune with those in need.”
“For us, loving and serving others is something that we always believed was a core aspect of life.”