Korean Student Thinks of Family Back Home As She Prepares to Earn Her Nursing Degree

KIl Hyon Hwang

Nursing student KIl Hyon Hwang left her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, in 2009 when she was accepted into Lehman College’s competitive Korean exchange program. Although she already had 33 years of experience as a licensed nurse, she hoped that earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) would perfect her medical skills.

“The program is very famous in Korea,” she says. “A lot of Korean nurses who graduated from this program had great careers in Korea and in the United States.”

Before Lehman, Hwang worked as a nurse for six months at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio as part of an international training program. Her experience inspired her to come back to the U.S. and earn her bachelor’s degree. After less than two years at Lehman, she became a presidential scholar in 2011 and is about to graduate in August.

Kil Hyon Hwang’s nursing vocation came as a revelation. At the age of 16, she took her ailing father to a local hospital where she discovered a whole new world.

“The nurses wore light uniforms, and I thought they were angels and they helped my father,” Hwang says. “I decided that I wanted to be a nurse and help sick people, too. I wanted to relieve their pain.”

Lehman’s exchange program in partnership with Sungshin Women’s University in South Korea currently enrolls 28 Korean nursing students. After checking her transcripts, physical abilities and motivation, Hwang was selected for the program, but going to New York meant leaving her 25-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter at home with her husband.

“They study English and want to follow my footsteps, but I am here by myself and all of my family lives in Korea, so I miss them very much,” says Hwang, who lives in the Co-op City section of the Bronx.

Hwang attended the Counseling Center at Lehman to get advice on how to adjust to her new life in the United States. She also struggled with her English and the requirement to write essays for her classes, but visited the tutoring center before each of her assignments, which helped improve her skills.

“To date we have had over 200 Korean nursing students come to our program,” says Prof. Catherine Alicia Georges, chair of Lehman’s nursing department. “Some have remained here, others have returned to Korea.”

After graduation, Hwang plans to work for a year at a hospital as part of her Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and then return to Korea to work in a hospital there as a nurse educator. She said she hopes to use her new knowledge in her country to help improve medical assessment and nursing diagnosis — the nurse’s clinical judgment about actual or potential problems of the patient or the patient’s family.

“I learned a lot from the faculty who taught me nursing theory and diagnosis,” she said. “Right now, it’s still new in Korea, and not many hospitals use it. When I come back to my country, I would like to apply this knowledge in a hospital.”