Story of a girl who was fascinated by airplanes

Posted September 25, 2013 from United States

I really don't know where to begin. Last year, I was interning for Intel in Oregon as a graduate intern while I was working on my doctoral degree in industrial engineering. During the internship, I attended the Women at Intel Network conference, which is a one-day conference offered for women working at Intel. World Pulse brought many inspiring stories to the conference and that's how I learned about this place. I still don't know what kinds of stories get on here, so I'll just start with how I grew up and how I got here.

I grew up in a small town, Youngdeok, South Korea. In 4th grade, I followed a friend of mine who entered a competition for making model airplanes. My friend soon lost her interest in it after the first session, but I fell in love with building model airplanes. It was refreshing to find out that I was good at building tiny airplanes with small parts. I was cutting bamboo parts to measure, sanding balsa woods to get smooth curves, and bending wooden ribs over a candle to that perfect angle. I joined the after-school program, and I was at it every evening. I loved making things with my hands, and I was beating all the boys who were on the school team. ;)

So my love for airplanes started there. And then ever since, I was so certain that I wanted to become a rocket scientist (which didn't quite happen, I work at Intel, not so rocket related). So I went through my entire junior high and high school thinking I was going to be a rocket scientist. I applied for a college in Korea that specialized in aviation studies as an aerospace engineering major, I got in, and spent my freshman year taking engineering foundation classes and building solid propellent rockets (with motors made out of sorbitol, industrial sugar) with buddies in an amateur rocket club.

It was still fun making things with my hands, but I was not finding the engineering foundation classes interesting at all. Then I started thinking, maybe- engineering side of aviation is not for me. Okay, I still love airplanes, maybe I should go study the operational side of aviation. And then, it hit me. South Korea is such a small country, the longest domestic flight you can make within the country is an hour max. No wonder not much action happens with aviation in this country. So I became so desperate to get out of South Korea, go to the states and study somewhere more exciting. I was very fortunate that my father agreed to lend me money to put me through college in the states.

I got on the plane from Incheon to Seattle on June 11th in 2003. I still remember looking at the flight progress in the little monitor in front of my seat and wishing the plane would never land in Seattle. It was my first time going to a foreign country ever, not to mention to move there to live there. I was terrified that no one would understand my English, I wouldn't be able to understand anyone.

Somehow, 10 years, 3 months, and 2 weeks had passed since then, and I went to 3 different colleges and then graduated, put myself through graduate school and finally got out of school, and joined the tech industry as one of the 25% of women who work at Intel.

I know I had been extremely fortunate. I had parents who offered me great educational opportunities, had teachers who mentored me, and met amazing friends who connected me to things that I would have never dared to do on my own. I would have never made it to where I am, if it wasn't for the parents and teachers who didn't push me into more "girl-appropriate activities." This is not the case for a lot of other girls in Korea. Conforming to the social norm is so important, many girls turn away from science and engineering. I hope more teachers stop pushing gender biases on girls. I hope more parents let the girls wear blue.

Now I'm just rambling. In the next post, maybe I'll write about hiring practices in Korea I heard and read about.

Comments 4

  • mrbeckbeck
    Sep 26, 2013
    Sep 26, 2013

    Thank you for sharing your personal story... this is a great journal! It's interesting to hear where you've come from and what brought you here to World Pulse.

    Do you still make model airplanes for fun? Or, do you make other things with your hands now? Is that part of your work at Intel?

    I look forward to reading more from you, and hearing about how else you're pushing the boundaries on gender stereotypes.


  • sophiekkim
    Sep 26, 2013
    Sep 26, 2013

    I still make model airplanes every once in a while, and mostly now I obsess over LEGOs and Arduino boards. :) It's not quite part of my work at Intel, since my job is doing user experience research. I design experiments, run user sessions, observe people, do statistical & qualitative analyses, , etc. Making is mostly my hobby now.

  • mrbeckbeck
    Sep 26, 2013
    Sep 26, 2013

    Arduino seems so cool! What have you done with that?

    Legos are classic! Might have to break those out with my 5y/o niece and nephew soon... now they're old enough to not eat them!

  • Mauri Favaron
    Oct 01, 2013
    Oct 01, 2013

    Dear, I've read your story and while I did I remembered some moments in my past...

    To say the truth, during school years my interest were scientific, but maybe of a more conventional kind than yours: I had fallen in love with biology, and spent a lot of time looking leaf surfaces on the microscope, or breeding paramecia (they're nice puppies, by the way - and their life is no less intricate than bigger creatures, as I've seen).

    That I decided to study applied mathematics is the result of a very long chain of events. But once there I found out various things.

    First, most math students were women (mathematics, even the "applied" one, was the typical "teaching" course and this may explain our unusual demographics). But second, most of us craved for LEGO. It was a shared passion - sort of. OK, we "mathematicians" do not pass for great tinkerers (sure, I'm quite not). But the idea of combining the blocks in many ways, strange included, gave quite a thrill.

    I was wondering these past years, now far away, while reading your nice pearl of an article. And then I arrived at its last lines. Dear, I can tell you: I felt a resonance. We are who we are, even professionally, because of the love, time and committment we have received. Sometimes, even by the people we would have never expected. Isn't is true the texture of World is weaved by many wonderful people?

    I wish I'll ever remember them all, until I live. They're part of me - of any "us", quite sure.

    For you, my thanks and best wishes. May your determination, curiosity and desire to explore stay with you forever (but they will for sure)!




    We're in your hands, with the next processors! ;-)

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