David D. Kim, a professor of European languages and transcultural studies in UCLA’s humanities division, is the perfect embodiment of today’s global, multicultural scholar. Born to parents of South Korean ancestry, Kim spent the first five years of his life in Caracas, Venezuela, before moving to several countries around the world, including South Korea, Germany, Spain, Holland, Mexico and, finally, the United States.

Not surprisingly, Kim chose a profession befitting his youthful experiences as a global citizen. His ability to merge multiple cultures, languages and religions is one of the reasons he was named the recipient of the 2024 Gold Shield Faculty Prize, which rewards mid-career faculty for exceptional contributions to teaching, research and service to the university. Given annually by Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA one of UCLA’s oldest philanthropic groups the award comes with a $30,000 prize.

“Professor Kim is so accomplished and is clearly an invaluable asset to UCLA,” said Michellene DeBonis, chair of the Gold Shield Faculty Prize committee. “Our selection committee felt wholeheartedly that he exemplifies everything this award is about a great teacher, scholar, thinker and contributor to the community who shows unwavering dedication to his students and his field.”

David Kim stands in front of several video monitors while lecturing.
Courtesy of David Kim
David Kim teaching in the classroom.

In his nomination letter recommending Kim for the Gold Shield Faculty Prize, Todd Presner, UCLA’s Michael and Irene Ross Professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature and chair of the department of European languages and transcultural studies, or ELTS, wrote, “In my 22 years of teaching at UCLA, I consider Professor Kim to be the most accomplished mid-career faculty member I have ever known … His teaching, research, service and leadership are woven together in profound ways that bring together intercultural citizenship with an ethic of mentorship, social justice, equity and activism.”

Maite Zubiaurre, a professor in the departments of Spanish and Portuguese and ELTS, had equally high praise for her colleague: “If I ponder or discuss with colleagues what undergraduate education is or, rather, should be, I immediately invoke the name of David Kim. He is the point of reference, the colleague who inspires not only me but many of us … What is truly inspiring is Professor Kim’s steadfast idealism, his unshakable belief in the ethical relevance of teaching well, of teaching with generosity and selfless devotion.”

After receiving his doctorate in Germanic languages and literatures from Harvard University in 2008 and serving for six years on the faculty of Michigan State University, Kim came to UCLA as an advanced assistant professor in 2014. He quickly found his place as a scholar of world literature, German intellectual and cultural history, postcolonial studies, memory studies, global studies, and human rights. Kim received the UCLA Academic Senate’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2020. He has taught courses for both undergraduate and graduate students, including ELTS’s first senior capstone seminar, titled “The Activist University.”

David Kim discusses his passion for learning and his deep commitment to students and teaching upon receiving UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award for 2020.

A UCLA transfer student who took Kim’s capstone seminar wrote, “It’s an incredible and transformative experience to have a professor who so clearly believes in the ability of his students and constantly expresses his amazement at our ideas … I’m happy to say I’m currently completing a fellowship at a state agency in a field I’m extremely passionate about, and I know Professor Kim’s impact on me is a big part of what got me here.”

Kim also serves as associate vice provost of the International Institute, where he helps to lead 27 research centers and eight interdepartmental programs. Cindy Fan, vice provost for international studies and global engagement, has praised Kim as a “tireless champion” of the institute’s mission to enhance the global perspectives of research, teaching and service at UCLA.

“Professor Kim brings a valuable transnational and transcultural perspective to everything he does,” Fan said. “He singlehandedly created the Summer Travel Study program at The Hague during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has in a very short time become one of the most popular Travel Study programs at UCLA.”

Book cover featuring black-and-white photo of Hannah Arendt
Book cover design by Gabriele Wilson
(Stanford University Press)

With a long list of publications to his name, Kim will release his newest book this fall, “Arendt’s Solidarity: Anti-Semitism and Racism in the Atlantic World” (Stanford University Press). His subject, German-Jewish refugee and American philosopher Hannah Arendt, is considered one of the most influential political theorists of the 20th century.

Although Kim speaks three languages fluently — English, German and Korean — and has studied several others, including French, Latin, Japanese and Spanish, he and his Japanese-born wife, Eriko, speak English at home with their 9-year-old daughter, Iris. Eriko and Iris joined Kim at Rieber Terrace in 2016–20, when he served as faculty-in-residence and developed programming, outreach and workshops for undergraduate students living in the residence halls.

“When Todd Presner, my department chair, told me two months ago that he was going to nominate me for the [Gold Shield] prize,” Kim said, “I first thought that he wanted me to submit a letter of support for someone else’s nomination. It took me a few seconds to understand that he wanted to nominate me. I was speechless, so thankful, elated and even a bit embarrassed. It meant the world to me when he said that he thought of my work highly enough to submit a nomination for the Gold Shield Faculty Prize.”

As for the $30,000 prize money, Kim already knows how he’ll spend it.

“Both the department of European languages and transcultural studies and the International Institute are deeply committed to strengthening Goal 2 of UCLA’s Strategic Plan. One way to do so would be by offering more students the opportunity to study abroad during the summer or an academic year,” Kim said. “I would like to support the generous spirit of Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA by contributing to student scholarships for travel study. The rest I will gratefully use to conduct archival research and to host international community partners on campus.”