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Kim Jong-un loved basketball, drawing, and tracksuits in Swiss grade school

By Lily Kuo
North KoreaPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Little is known about the personal life, much less the childhood, of the youthful North Korean despot Kim Jong-un—even his age is a state secret. But in a great new PBS documentary about North Korea, a former classmate of Kim’s during the time that he was sent abroad to Switzerland provides some insight. (Here’s a clip of the interview.)

“Nobody knew why he was here—he just appeared,” the anonymous classmate said. “He was fairly isolated due to the language barrier, this guy was on his own most of the time.”

Kim studied at a public school in Bern, Switzerland for three years, starting in six grade. He used a pseudonym and posed as the son of a Korean diplomat. In a harbinger of his future friendship with ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman, Kim was fond of basketball—a photo of him as a young teenager shows him in a Chicago Bulls jersey and other former classmates have described Kim as competitive and pretty good on the court.

PBS Frontline
A former classmate of Kim looks at photos of him as a teenager.

One new insight into Kim is that as a teenager, he had an artistic bent. “He was very good at drawing. You could tell him something to draw and he could just draw it out of memory,” said his classmate, who asked to remain anonymous. A former teacher of Kim’s in Switzerland described Kim as “well-integrated, diligent and ambitious” who quickly learned German and also knew English.

There was little to connect the quiet Korean boy with his true identity as the secret heir to hermit kingdom. But, according to the classmate, Kim Jong-Un could always be seen wearing a Nike tracksuit—a fashion choice his father, Kim Jong-il, famously favored.

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