NEWSPAPERS CALLED her "flying Nightingale." When other nurses tended their patients on land, Han Hyun-mee ('83, Dept. of Nursing) literally flew as she cared for the sick. Formerly a flight nurse at Asiana Airlines, she steadily rose up the company's ranks to become its Senior Vice President. Han is currently one of only two women board members at the Kumho Group, and has been designated by Yonsei Univ. as one of its "100 Future Women Leaders." Slight in frame, meticulous, and often breaking into a warm smile, she gives off the confidence and soft ambience of a leader who truly cares for others.
How did you become a flight nurse?
My father's hometown is actually in North Korea. Like most Koreans who had left their entire livelihoods to start over in the south, he has always been fiercely independent. This was a trait he wished to see in his three daughters as well. Ever since we were little, my parents would stress how women should have independent careers. My father, especially, always hoped we would live in America. So naturally I had my sights set on studying abroad, and becoming a nurse was a popular way for women to attain such opportunities. After all, America was the nurses' hot spot at that time, similar to how hundreds and thousands of Korean nurses flocked to Germany in the 70's.
However, many things happened after I became an undergraduate. I met my current husband in an English study club, and, later on, a senior I knew influenced me to become a flight nurse. I never got to carry out my initial plan to study abroad, but things ultimately worked out.
How did you achieve your current position?
I am currently a Senior Vice President at Asiana Airlines, in charge of Environment and Customer Relations. In the environment sector, I monitor the airline's facilities, and also oversee environmental management, while in the customer section, I deal with customer satisfaction. I also preside over the medical section, which I have worked in ever since I first joined Asiana Airlines. Some of the things I do are to ensure all the facilities are properly managed, improve the quality of the various services we offer, routinely check how service-related research centers rate us, and strive to make Asiana Airlines more environmentally friendly.
I did not expect I would become a board member at first. But I always put my best efforts into whatever task I was given. Because nursing handles people's lives, honesty has always been important to me. Many people still tell me that I am a stickler for the rules when I work. For some people, no doubt, this is a pain in the neck, but I believe that, in the bigger scheme, honesty is beneficial.
Do you have any memorable episodes while you worked as a flight nurse?
Actually, the most "memorable" incidents are those I would prefer not to remember. In any airline, safety is always the foremost concern. As a flight nurse, I flew over 500 hours, transporting patients and nursing them inside the aircraft. There were all kinds of patients. I remember frail, senile American immigrants, who had struggled all their lives trying to make ends meet. Their last wish was to take a final flight back to Korea so that they could die in their homeland. Or there would also be patients who had gotten seriously injured while staying abroad, and were now being flown back to Korea. Allowing critically ill patients to fly can be extremely dangerous to the patient, but in such special situations, the best we can do is to be much more careful and attentive, so that they can be transported safely.
How do you balance work and home life? Is this still difficult to achieve in Korea?
I am very lucky. First, my husband has always been very considerate. We dated for seven years before we got married, so we naturally had many opportunities to discuss these problems with each other. He understands my work ethic, how I would just push myself forwards to attain a certain goal without paying attention to anything else. As for the children, my own parents took care of them. But even despite all that, it is extremely difficult to be a mother and a worker at the same time. I have witnessed so many bright, talented women give up their careers once they got pregnant because there was not a sufficient system that they could fall back on. This is something that must be provided at the state level if we ever want to become a truly developed nation. It is a great national loss to ignore the high-quality human resources that exist.
You are currently participating in our school's mentorship program for female students. Any insights gained?
I started participating last year, in 2008. Most of the students were near their graduation year, and all from different majors. They were intelligent, bold female students, and, as a woman, I could talk to them about things like marriage, family culture, and having children. However, one thing that strikes me whenever I encounter younger generations is that today's youths lack perseverance. Perhaps it is because these young adults are extremely confident; they are, after all, very skilled. However, I personally value those who pay scrupulous attention to small details. People often forget that small things can snowball into much bigger problems. I want to advise students not to worry about the future too much. There is no future without the present. Don't only think about tomorrow; think of the things you have to do right now, those you should cherish at this moment.
What would you do if you could go back and become an undergraduate again?
I would like to take courses from other majors. My department naturally had so many required courses and practical training hours that it was nearly impossible for me try out various classes. I personally believe that students should focus not only on their majors, but also on acquiring general knowledge during their undergraduate years. I think we tend to demarcate the Liberal Arts departments from Science and Math related majors too much. But Engineering students should know basic historical, philosophical, and literary knowledge, just as Literature majors should know the basics of Science. As a flight nurse, I first started my career in a very specialized field of nursing. As I got promoted, however, I found that my job required more and more general knowledge. Now, I oversee not only the airline's medical section, but also environment and customer satisfaction.
Do you have any last words for Yonseians?
Dreams are, of course, essential. But what is the use if you stop at only thinking about your aspirations? You need to take that first step forward. I hope Yonsei becomes that first step. Always be proud that you are a Yonseian. Truly take the university's spirit and philosophy to heart: you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Additionally, acquire the capacities necessary to be a leader. Most Yonseians, after they graduate, eventually become leaders. Your experiences and activities are important too, but, most of all, learn sacrifice and considerateness. There are so many smart people these days, but only a few people know how to bring the best out of a group. Take the initiative and set an example. Know how to give up your own time, to sacrifice what is your own, and realize that you cannot always have things work out perfectly for you, especially when you are working within a group.