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Alumna Abroad

A Q&A with Hana Joohyun Kim '97

Alumna Abroad

Kim with life-size R2D2 in the offices of Disney Korea.

Where were you born? What do you consider your home town?

I was born in Seoul, Korea. I immigrated to the US, particularly, Northern Virginia, when I was 10 years old. Then, after William & Mary, I moved on to law school in California and then ultimately back to Seoul in 2002. So, considering this background, my hometown choice is really split between Seoul and NOVA. But I think now, I feel much more grounded and comfortable in Seoul.

Why did you choose to attend William & Mary?

Thinking back, my choice was really down to W&M and UVA. Having 2 great institutions at in-state tuition cost was a great blessing. I knew my parents wanted me to go to UVA, so I had to tell a “white lie” to them and told them that I only got into W&M.  After campus visits, I think I just felt more at home at W&M campus.

What was your major?

My major was Chemistry.

Did you have a favorite course and/or professor while you were at W&M?

Despite my being a Chemistry major with pre-med credentials to fulfill, I took a sociology class, thinking it would boost my GPA. But I remember how I ended up really enjoying the class and I think perhaps this was the beginning of the realization that my heart may not be in the hard sciences, but more in how people interact in social environments and other social and political issues. 

Did you study abroad during college?

I took Japanese during college. During my summer vacation between 3rd and 4th year, I was selected to participate in an internship program with Canon Corporation in Tokyo, Japan. This experience really opened my eyes, and I began to open up to the idea of working abroad.

Why did you decide to pursue a law degree?

Well, with my Chemistry background, I had initially prepared myself to go to dental school. But after volunteering and working at a dental office, I quickly learned that it was not the career aspiration I wanted to pursue. I realized that I enjoyed working in business and negotiating and wanted to travel the world. But having focused fully on the sciences in college, I started to investigate what would be the best option for me to change career direction and not feel like I’d wasted my college years.

Then, my research revealed a special area of law called Intellectual Property (IP). IP Law covers patents, trademarks, copyrights and other areas where someone’s creation can be perceived as actual property. In order to become a patent lawyer, one must have a science or engineering background. I thought this was an area of law that was perfect for me, so I began preparing for law school and sought out the best school with a patent law specialty.

Where did you attend Law School?

I went to Santa Clara University School of Law. It is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and has a wonderful IP and patent program. Also, having grown up in the east coast all those years, I thought getting some California sun would be exciting.

How did you end up working for the Walt Disney Company?

After law school, I began my patent lawyer career, covering both patent execution and litigation, then slowly built my career as an IP specialist – covering trademarks, copyrights, unfair competition, IT, media, etc. I found my career and became comfortable as an IP Lawyer in a major Korean law firm. Then, one day, a headhunter called me about a position. I wasn’t looking for a change of job and I told him that I wasn’t really interested. But then he told me that the company was Disney. That changed everything.

I had always been a HUGE Disney fan and knowing how the company was built on its IP creations and protections, I could not let go of the opportunity. As they say, the rest is history.

Have you worked for Disney in other locations besides Korea?

No, but as a global company, we have ample opportunities to travel to other offices in other cities. After joining Disney Korea, I went to a week-long training at Hong Kong. I’ve been to various training sessions and meetings in the Shanghai and Tokyo offices. While traveling to the US, I had the wonderful opportunity to make office visits to Lucasfilm in the San Francisco area and of course, visit our headquarters in Burbank California.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Park perks!  I get super excited to claim that I’ve been to ALL the Disney parks – Orlando, Florida, Paris, Hong Kong, Japan and the most recent – Shanghai! But of course these park visits are not a “job” per se. These were just fun moments.

About the job itself, the best part is working for a company that you’ve always loved, and when you go out and pass out your business card and the recipient puts a big smile on his/her face after seeing our Mickey Mouse, there really is something special about that experience. I’m really proud of what the Disney brand stands for and what Disney does as a company for its employees and fans.

Is there anything that has surprised you in your career?

I had the exciting experience of participating in the actual movie production of Avengers: Age of Ultron, when a portion of the movie was filmed in Seoul, Korea. It was not “legal” work, but had a lot to do with government communications, managing a large group of people, etc. It was a very difficult, but very rewarding, experience. If you watch the movie credits to the very end, you might find my name!

Do you think international experience as a student is helpful in future life and career?

YES YES YES! The pond is HUGE and there are just so many opportunities out there in the world, waiting to be discovered. Learning and getting to know other cultures, learning how to have open-mindedness, having different perspectives, respecting differences and overcoming your fears by getting out of your comfort zone and surrounding yourself in a completely new environment… all these are experiences I’d highly recommend to any students.

Do you have any advice for current students?

What I stated above. Plus, enjoy your stay at W&M. Many of my mentors told me that “you’ll miss your days at W&M once you’re gone, and you need to appreciate the beautiful campus because it will forever be embedded in your mind.”  I remember thinking “yeah, sure” back then, but now, looking back, I can only repeat those valuable words, because they are so true!

Is there any advice you wish you’d received?

Hmm… maybe… instead of “study more or study harder,” I wish someone would have told me “study smarter.” Getting good grades does not exactly measure your knowledge, and spending hours and hours studying does not guarantee good grades. There is an art to getting good grades. But then, even if you master this and have a high GPA, it does not reflect how street smart you are and how compassionate you are.