10 Things We Learned About Kim Jong-Un From His Classmates
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is one of the great agitators in modern political culture. Known for being temperamental—he is said to have executed his uncle for plotting a coup—and unpredictable, Kim has helped give his country the reputation of being a wild card that can capture the attention of the world’s superpowers.
Like any powerful leader, Kim was once just a bright young man with homework. At the behest of his father, former supreme leader Kim Jong-il, Kim was schooled in a Swiss boarding school between 1998 and 2000, and the media has often turned to his former classmates to uncover details about his teenage personality. No one has yet discovered his doodled-on yearbook or a prom photo, but his peers did have some other insights. Here’s what we know about Kim Jong-un’s formative years.
1. HE LOVED HIS AIR JORDANS.
Young Kim probably never dreamed he would one day be hanging out with former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman, but it must have been some kind of life goal: The 17-year-old was obsessed with basketball in general and the Bulls in particular, devoting an entire room in his apartment to memorabilia. Kim also spent time penciling sketches of Michael Jordan and was said to favor Air Jordans both on and off the court.
2. HE HAD AN ALIAS.
Not wishing to be identified as the son of Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, Kim registered with the Swiss school Liebefeld Steinhölzli Schule under the name Pak Un. He claimed to be the son of a North Korean embassy employee in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Both teachers and students alike noticed that Kim’s parents never showed up for school functions.
3. HE LIKED ACTION MOVIES.
In 2009, friends of Kim’s related to The Washington Post that Kim was slightly socially awkward, particularly around girls; when he wasn't watching basketball, he was usually watching action movies and using his Sony PlayStation. Kim played combat games and reportedly enjoyed the filmography of Jackie Chan.
4. HE HAD AN ENTOURAGE.
Kim’s presence was unique in the Swiss school for his entourage: At any point, a small number of Koreans appeared to be acting as servants, bodyguards, or assistants for Kim. Two employees would videotape his basketball games. Friends thought it was “strange” but wrote it off as “a Korean thing.”
5. HE OVER-SHARED.
Despite the lengths his family went to keep his real name a secret, Kim couldn’t always help but share that his father was the leader of North Korea. According to classmate Joao Micaelo, Kim once announced his heritage during a conversation with him. Micaelo thought Kim was lying. “Normally the children of people like this, they don’t go to a normal school,” Micaelo told CNN in 2010.
6. HE WOULD NOT TOLERATE COLD SPAGHETTI.
Friend Micaelo often visited Kim at his apartment, which was located at the Korean Embassy’s headquarters. While he noted that Kim was typically a little reserved, he didn’t see any flash of anger until the Embassy’s chefs served the two of them lukewarm pasta one evening. “He spoke to the servants in a manner that was quite sharp,” Micaelo told The Telegraph in 2010. “I was surprised because it was not how he normally was.”
7. HE FAVORED TRACK SUITS.
Like Tony Soprano and his father before him, Kim tended to dress for comfort, not presentation. His wardrobe apparently consisted heavily of Nike track suits, which he wore to class.
8. HE WASN’T THE SMARTEST KID IN CLASS.
Although Kim was two years older than most of his classmates because he wasn’t as proficient in German, he still struggled to keep up academically. In 2012, The Telegraph reported that Kim missed 75 days during his first year of school and 105 days his second, flunking natural sciences and getting minimum passing grades in most other subjects.
9. HE GORGED HIMSELF ON SWISS CHEESE.
Prone to bragging about how much he can eat and drink, Kim may have developed an appetite for gastronomic excess during school. He was reportedly so fond of Swiss cheese that he later deployed his personal chefs to a French culinary school to try and replicate the medium-hard Emmental he had enjoyed while he was a student. Kim is said to have gained 90 pounds from 2012 to 2016, though it's unknown how much of this was a result of his cheese intake.
10. HE TOTALLY VANISHED.
Kim still had a partial school year to finish out when he abruptly disappeared in 2000. He offered no forwarding address nor any indication that he might be leaving. “We thought he was ill or something and would soon be back,” former classmate Nikola Kovacevic told The Washington Post. “I hope he is a good dictator, but dictators are usually not that good.”
All images courtesy of Getty Images. This post originally appeared in 2017.