Described as having “nerves of steel,” interpreter Yun-hyang Lee was President Donald Trump’s interpreter at the Trump – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un summit in Singapore.
“She doesn’t share much information about what happens in the meetings as she deems that to be unprofessional,” said Lee’s husband, Mark Menezes, a Luling native appointed as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Trump is the third president Lee has worked with. She also served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“She says that the three presidents have vastly different backgrounds, personalities and communication styles, which is important for her to understand in order to get their messages across,” Menezes said. “She also says that in diplomatic interpreting, nuance, tone, spoken and unspoken words are all critical elements to the message. In other words, ‘how’ it was said is just as important if not more, than ‘what’ was said.”
As interpreter for the president of the United States, he said Lee has to be confident in her skills and have nerves of steel to remain a calm, sound professional and accurately deliver the message amid all the cameras, flashlights and attention coming from all over the world.
“You cannot afford to falter at meetings between heads of states,” he said.
At the Singapore summit, Lee and Jong-Un’s interpreter, drew international attention as the only other two people in the room for the meeting.
Menezes said Lee has told him her job is exciting, but also demanding.
“She gets to play a role and witness the history-in-the-making just as she did during Pres. Trump vs. Kim Jong-Un summit in Singapore,” he said. “She has been a professional conference interpreter for over 30 years. But working as a diplomatic interpreter puts you on a different level as you are there to serve the country and represent the United States. Interpreters who work for her office in the State Department have a strong sense of duty and commitment as they understand how difficult their job is but are willing to accept the challenge.”
In 2009, she was hired by the Office of Language Services, State Department as the Staff Korean Interpreter. Lee’s father was a diplomat, which allowed her to attend international schools and speak English fluently, Menezes said.
Lee has an MA from a Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation in Seoul, Korea, and has a Ph.D from the University of Geneva in Interpreting and Assessment. She has been teaching interpretation and translation at the graduate schools of the U.S. and South Korea before joining the State Department.
Menezes and Lee fell in love over gumbo.
“She was sampling their gumbo when we got into a conversation,” Menezes said. “Being from Louisiana, I know gumbo and told her that no one else can match my own gumbo. She seemed intrigued. The rest is history….”
She says my gumbo is indeed much better than the one at the restaurant.”
They married on June 25, 2016, at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
“We ‘second lined’ behind a brass band through the streets of D.C. to our reception,” he said. “It was quite an experience for her family in particular who has never ‘second lined’ before.”