My journey to the United States started in Uzbekistan where I was born and raised in an ethnically Korean family with Russian as my native tongue. To provide some context, my great grandparents have at some point crossed the border from then unified Korea into Far East Russia where my grandparents were born. Fearing that ethnic Koreans would aid the Japanese, Stalin forced the entire Korean population out of Russia and shipped them like cattle to Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries.
My grandparents were fortunate to survive, giving life to my parents who experienced the worst of the Soviet Union and always dreamed of coming to the United States. In 2002, they paid ten thousand dollars—their entire life savings—to an American lawyer who promised to arrange legal papers to bring our family of five to the US. When we arrived at JFK airport, we were shocked to find out that we were victims of an immigration scam.
Facing deportation, we asked for political asylum and spent the next seven months at an immigration shelter in Pennsylvania awaiting our trial. It was a long and painful process filled with fear and uncertainty over our future.
The timing of our immigration was especially challenging. It was two years after 9/11 and anyone coming from a country like Uzbekistan was immediately put on terrorist watch. On July 9, 2003 my family received asylum in the US and moved to Queens, NY. Despite the joy of being free, in some ways, life became even more difficult in the ten years after our release from the shelter.
We struggled a lot, but what kept us going is that same promise of an American dream that had brought generations of immigrants before us—it is the promise that with strength, perseverance, hard work, and education, you can achieve anything.
How did you decide you wanted to pursue an MBA?
I decided to pursue an MBA for a number of reasons. Primarily, I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself in a completely new environment surrounded by exceptional people from the most diverse backgrounds. Coming from the nonprofit sector, I wanted to learn the skills and knowledge that would empower me to make a difference not only for NGOs but also for any company or industry that needed help.
Getting my MBA from the Yale School of Management (SOM) was the best decision I have ever made—from the fantastic faculty who truly care to the most diverse, high-achieving, and down-to-earth classmates, to the outstanding learning in and outside the classroom—I could not have asked for a better experience.
In what ways has your experience as a woman enhanced your ability to contribute to your class? As a New American?
I consider myself fortunate to have been a part of the inclusive Yale SOM community that truly values the experiences of every person regardless of gender, skin color, beliefs, or country of origin. With women and foreign students each representing nearly half of my class, I always felt welcome to express my opinions in a safe and intellectually stimulating environment.
In fact, one of my most memorable MBA experiences was during a night of Voices (a student run club where people share their most intimate life in a safe space), when I shared my immigrant story in a room full of friends and classmates some of whom I didn’t know personally but I knew I could trust.
Another experience that I found inspiring was co-leading a professional development committee for the Women in Management club whose leaders and advocates never ceased to amaze me with their passion for the advancement of women in all areas of business in and outside the classroom.
What has the MBA meant for your career aspirations?
The MBA gave me the skills and the confidence to go after career options that were otherwise unattainable to me. More than that, the MBA opened my eyes to the numerous opportunities that lie ahead of me, thanks in large part to the shared knowledge and experiences that come from a class that is as diverse and impressive as the one at Yale SOM.
What advice would you share with other women applying for business school?
I would advise women to talk to other women to learn about their experiences throughout the application process, during their MBA, and in their post-MBA careers. These conversations will offer a range of perspectives that will help you to find your own voice and be more authentic in your application.
Lastly, no matter your professional background—whether a teacher, a banker, or a dancer—remember that you belong and that your experience is an integral part of your classmates’ MBA experience.
Evgeniya Kim is a 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow and a Senior Consultant at Deloitte’s Denver office. She received her MBA from the Yale School of Management in 2016. As an undergraduate student at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY in New York City, she pursued international relations and interned at the Open Society Foundations, helping to address the very human rights issues that her family faced in Uzbekistan. She supplemented her studies with real world experiences by volunteering abroad and traveling to more than 30 countries around the world.