“Glass Ceiling,” a metaphor used to point out the social barriers that keeps women from reaching a higher place within the society, reflects what women in South Korea, a nation with the thickest Glass Ceiling among the OECD members face today. Along with the Glass Ceiling, high unemployment rate and low wages, many are dreaming of overseas employment. Although it has become an option that many consider for their future, there is a considerable gap between fantasizing about living abroad and actually preparing for a job overseas. To deliver up-to-date information from work fields, Ewha Voice reached out to Ewha alumnae successfully pursuing their career in multi-national corporations. In this issue, Ewha Voice reached out to Park Bo-young and Helen Chung to deliver their stories and tips on working and preparing for multinational corporations in California.
Surviving in the engineering field through audacity, Helen Chung
Alameda, San Francisco. Helen Chung graduate of Office Administration. On Alameda, an island in the San Francisco Bay area, Helen Chung works in Wind River Intel as a senior contract negotiator. As a non-engineer working in an engineering field for the past decade, Chung emphasizes that her experience in Ewha has brought her to where she is now.
With a father who worked in a Korean bank that had international subsidiaries, Chung spent her childhood in five different countries. However, her father insisted she attend a university in Korea, concerned the constant immigration during her childhood would loosen her identity, resulting in an “international orphan” in his words. Coming from a family where most of her relatives were Ewha graduates, she decided to enter Ewha in Korea.
When she first returned to Korea to get ready for the university entrance exam after staying abroad for a long time she had difficulties in school as some of her classmates would consider her exotic, making it harder for her to get used to school. However, she states that her childhood in diverse backgrounds turned out to be a blessing.
“Granted the opportunity to experience different cultures was a great gift for me as a negotiator,” Chung emphasized. “Ewha helped me build professional capabilities on top of my understanding of cultural diversity.”
Never staying in one school from the beginning to the end before she entered Ewha, she claims that the time she spend in school took a big part in shaping her character. Besides participating in club activities and obvious tutoring, she actively participated in various activities from cartoon voice-overs to announcer at a gymnast Olympics in Asia.
“One of the most memorable job experience is when I worked for Korea Trade Center(KOTRA),” Chung added.
“With the English and my understanding of the Korean culture, I helped small businesses, not knowing how but wanting to penetrate the U.S market. It was very fulfilling when small business owners would come up to me and thank me for the support.”
Chung first got a job as a contractor when Wind River was acquiring a software company in Korea, looking for a negotiator who could understand both the culture and business matters. It was the first merger acquisition project that she experienced and what eventually led her to the U.S.
Despite her successful beginnings, once she set foot in the real business world, she came face to face with her true weakness and shortcomings, her lack of studies in practical business. Finding herself lacking experience in corporate finance, accounting, and economics, all of which are fundamental in business, she decided to return to school via the UC Berkeley Extension Program.
“I often find students looking forward to getting out of school and settling in a decent job,” Chung said. “But once you step out into society, you have to be ready to constantly evolve to compete with professionals with years of experience in the field.”
Chung was driven back to her studies upon realizing what she needed to survive in the competitive world and the ever changing business environment. As she was not a professional in the engineering field, she has never stopped studying, attending seminars and reading up on marketing material to continuously expand her expertise. Although there is a product manager overseeing the technology aspect of the negotiation, Chung asserts that it is crucial to know the current trend of the field to understand the company agenda.
Also, Asian women may have to deal with the stereotype that Asian women are meek, and silence their thoughts or opinions, when they are abroad.
“I loathe hearing any comments about submissive Asian women,” Chung remarked. “It is important to portray your assertiveness and be confident so as to successfully rebut this stereotype.”
Settling in the U.S. not only as a successful career woman but also as a mother of two children, she spoke up about finding the right balance between the two roles. Losing her mother to cancer 10 years ago taught her that you cannot turn back the clock neither for your family or career. Even though she is working hard to find the balance between family life and work, she admits that she often finds herself tilted towards her career.
“I try to make a conscious effort to spend more time with my family,” Chung said. “Our flexible working hours allowed me to be present for my family both physically and emotionally.”
What may be an everlasting quest for many people has been easier for Chung, thanks to the working conditions in the U.S., which encourage such balance in people’s lives. She is now moving towards the balance, but there were also times when she struggled to manage the two roles, especially when she had her first child. With all her friends and family in Korea, she had no one to ask for help.
“I had to bring my infant son to the office because I could not find anyone to take care of him,” Chung remembered. “Fortunately, our company had private working spaces and did not have set office hours, so I somehow managed to complete as much as possible at home. As long as you can deliver your output, the time and place you choose to work are considered to be your rightful decision.”
Chung wrapped up her still on-going story at Intel with a word of advice for students who are dreaming of overseas employment.
“What I am about to say applies to whichever country you are aiming to work for,” Chung said. “Do your best in whatever you do and treasure the experience regardless of the pay or appreciation, since it will all turn out to be the stepping stones to reach your goal.”