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Global Columbus: Jaehee ‘Jae’ Lee


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Jaehee ‘Jae’ Lee

Born: Busan, South Korea (moved to Singapore at age 7)

Age: 28

Primary Language:  English, also Korean, Mandarin

Work: I work at Cummins as a vehicle integration engineer

Education: Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Family: Single, parents and sister live in Singapore

Hobbies: I like golfing and bouldering, which is a form of rock climbing. Otter Creek has been the most fun course to play so far.

● Why did you come to the United States?

At first, it was exposure to the culture. My dad always wanted me to have a different view of the world, not just be in Singapore because it’s a really small country. I personally wanted to just see what the United States is like. I also came for an education. I started at the University of Illinois in 2007.

● How and when did you come to live in Columbus?

Three years ago, I came to Columbus to work for Cummins. It was my first job out of college. I hear people say I am lucky to be working there, and I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I like it.

● Tell us about your work.

I work for the ISG engine team. It’s part of the Fit-For-Market program for Cummins and it’s a pretty intensive team. I think we managed to develop this engine from scratch in about three years. I work with the vehicle integration team and my supervisors, Rick Mason and Steve Bellinger, have really helped me a lot. We basically integrate the new engine into the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) chassis.

● What do you like best about your job?

This team is really flexible and the people are dynamic. It’s not a (business) silo. I have something of a three-role job scope, I get to touch almost everything from design to development and problem solving. I get more insight and exposure to the chassis and the stuff on the truck. I’ve always been interested in the automotive industry and I have learned a lot.

● What were some of your first impressions of the U.S.?

It was a new place, but the only culture shock was the language. Singapore was a British colony, so we more or less use the British slang, and the terminology and vocabulary is sided to the British-English. For example, petrol versus gas was the first one. I asked someone where the petrol kiosk was and they had no idea what I was talking about and they explained that here it is called a gas station. People were generally really nice and friendly. In Asia, you don’t walk up to someone and say “how are you doing,” or “nice day isn’t it?” You don’t say that to a stranger. But it was really awesome being in the states from the beginning.

● What were some of the most difficult things to adjust to?

For the first year, I got stressed out a little bit trying to fit in and make sure people were understanding me. Eventually things got more open, more candid but it was still hard to fit in. Singapore is really Westernized and we know a lot about the world and the United States, but it is all through the media, so when I came here it was a little bit different and you do have to adjust. Now I call the U.S. my home and I feel like this is where I belong.

● How have people reacted to you in Columbus?

Initially, it was kind of with caution. It seems like three years ago, Columbus wasn’t as familiar with the Asian culture as it is now. In Illinois I lived in a campus town, so people are used to seeing people from all over the place. The first time I came to Columbus, it seemed people stared at me a little longer than they should, but nothing bad ever happened to me. After the first year, it started getting much better and people started getting much more friendly.

● What do you miss most about your home country?

When I think about home, which is Singapore for me, it’s the family, my parents and my sister, that I miss the most. It’s also easier to have a social life in Singapore because it’s a big city.

● You have been in this country for a long time. How do you stay connected to your home culture friends/family?

I’m Korean, but I’ve been out of the country for a while now. Singapore is more of a harmonious, multicultural place. It has a lot of Malays, Chinese, Europeans, Australians, Indians — really people from everywhere. I try to get in touch, or stay in touch, with my friends in Singapore by using my hand phone or Facebook. With regard to the Korean culture, I try to stay in touch by hanging out with Koreans in Columbus. Initially, we didn’t have a lot of people my age in Columbus. Whenever we had a Korean gathering, I would go to try and stay in touch with my culture, but there weren’t a lot of people my age to hang out with. In the last year or so, we have had a lot of people come through that are around my age and it has been really great. These guys came in and right now I am really close to them and that’s how I try to keep in touch with Korean culture. Since I have not grown up there or gone to school in Korea, I get a lot of information from those guys.

● What advice do you have for people coming to Columbus?

It’s a lot more diverse and the feel of it is a lot more open-minded, maybe because I got more comfortable. For people coming here from another culture, keep in mind that we are in a different country and we can’t expect people to perceive us as we see ourselves right away. Every country is the same, and some people are never going to be happy if someone comes from another country and takes a job. It happens in Singapore as well, and that’s understandable. How you react to that is the important thing.

● What places do you like to visit and why?

The good thing about the United States is that you can travel wherever you want because flying isn’t too expensive or you can get in a car and go wherever you want. I’ve been to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and other places and I like it a lot. Weatherwise, California is awesome. I’m not sure I want to live there, but they are all great places to visit. Just stepping outside of Columbus once in a while to travel and meet people has been really great. I also try to collect all of my leave and go home once a year, because it’s about a 30-hour trip.

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