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Published: 16 Apr, 2021

Ready to take on environmental and globalisation issues

PROFILE Korean alumna Dohee Kim arrived at Umeå University in 2016 as an avid fan of the Scandinavian way of life. After earning a master’s degree in tourism, she left Sweden as an independent entrepreneur, jammed with ideas and ready to take on environmental and globalisation issues.

Text: Max Härstedt

When I get a hold of Dohee, the clock has struck 9 p.m. in the blistering city of Seoul, Korea Republic. It has only gone a couple of minutes since her workday at H&M Korea finished.

“I work as a copywriter, mostly writing copy texts and creating online content for our campaigns. And since H&M is a leading fashion company when it comes to sustainability, that is the main subject in all my work.”

Dohee tells me that Korean companies are usually very hierarchical. The flat organisation of H&M Korea is an exception – one that suits Dohee perfectly. Why? The fashion company’s non-hierarchical way of doing business reminds her of Sweden – the country where Dohee indulged in the master’s programme in tourism, at Umeå University between 2016 and 2018.

I have always felt curious about the social welfare state and of the independence and work-life balance in the Scandinavian countries. And of course – the snow and the cold. It is all so different from Korea. At the same time, the socio-economic system in Sweden is quite similar to Korea since we also are very dependent on big companies. I like that kind of mix.

Though there are similarities between the two countries businesswise, the competitive structure within the Korean school system differs from the mainly standardised system of Sweden. The Korean way is proven to be successful, though not suited for everybody.

“As a Korean student, you are always encouraged to study hard until you go to university. Then everything will be okay. But then comes university, and even more competition for getting the best jobs. I needed to surpass that and find my own way of living and studying.”

Independence, culture clashes and fashion

The casual and equal relationship between students and professors at Umeå University was tough to get used to, but it made Dohee feel more independent than before.

“The professors didn’t imply that they knew better than the student. This made me more open-minded to ask any questions, and to challenge others. And during the high level seminars, I was challenged to develop my own ideas about certain topics that I was interested in, rather than collecting knowledge from a book.”

The choice of programme came natural as Dohee has a degree in Hospitality Management from Korea. Both programmes deal with globalisation and mobility.

“Back home, the courses were more about generating revenue through tourism, with the examples of Disney World or Universal Studios. At Umeå University, we dealt with questions on the other side of the spectrum such as sustainability, immigration, migration and other globalisation issues. It was more about human behaviour and less about corporate development, which suited me very well.”

After two years of studying, networking and contemplating in Umeå, Dohee moved home to Korea. Her aim was now set on the metropolitan city of Seoul.

The newfound focus on sustainability drew her to the H&M fashion concern. After an interview, it was clear that Dohee had the skill set needed for the role of a copywriter, focusing on environmental aspects of fashion.

Even though there is no direct connection between my master’s programme and the fashion industry, the values I learned in Sweden helped me to get a higher understanding of what my employer is doing. I acknowledge what the company really values – sustainability, being open minded and straightforward, and to treat everyone equal.

This mindset turned into a full-scale entrepreneurial voyage.

“That is right! Currently, I am working as an employee but at the same time I am sharing my adventures in Sweden through my blog. I have already published some articles, with topics like the non-conservative way of being “sambos”, how easy it is to be vegetarian, and of course the equality spectra. Thanks to my experience I have had opportunities to do seminars online where I can discuss these values with other people.”

The blog initiative sums up Dohee Kim’s life philosophy:

“Some people choose a master programme because they are so into their field. In my case, I utilised my studies as a channel to experience the whole spectrum of the Swedish culture. And isn’t that what traveling is all about?”