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Student Stories Yoon Choi

From Seoul, South Korea to Nike

Tell us about your educational background:

I earned my bachelor's degree in fine art at Ewha Women's University in Seoul, and then I went on to earn my Master's in textile design at RISD.

BA in Fine Arts from EWHA Women's University

Seoul, South Korea

MA in textile design from Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island, US

Footwear Concept Designer at Nike

Oregon, US

Tell us about your career path:

I interned at various design studios during and after grad school. I worked for two years at a small design studio that focuses on non-residential interior textiles before I came to work in Nike’s Innovation department 6 years ago, where I’ve been ever since.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

A couple of months after I submitted my H1B application, I received a letter from an immigration officer saying that textile design isn't an H1B-eligible career as it doesn't require a bachelor's degree. As such, I was asked to provide a set of letters by professionals in my industry to confirm that a degree is in fact required for my career. It was sad to get that letter at that time but I turned on “problem solver” mode reaching out to professors, mentors, and friends. They all helped me by providing letters that support my statement of qualification. Another Challenging part was getting to know that the US had hit its H1B limit and was going to resort to a lottery system. I was confident that entering the process with a master's degree meant I would be placed in a higher probability pool, but in the end, I saw friends who didn’t make the lottery despite successfully securing visa sponsorship and having graduated from top American universities. I feel lucky that I survived the lottery system. My letters were accepted and qualified my career as skilled labor, but shortly after, a rumor emerged that the US had hit its H1B limit and was going to resort to a lottery system. I was confident that entering the process with a masters degree meant I would be placed in a higher probability pool, but in the end, I saw friends who didn’t make the lottery despite successfully securing visa sponsorship and having graduated from top American universities. I understand that the process has only become more competitive since then.

What was your most valuable resource during this experience?

Having a community that shares a list of companies that sponsor the visa is so valuable and also being able to use that community to share each other’s journies in the legal process. This was the first time in life that I met with a lawyer. Doing research on your own is valuable, but connecting with people who already have gone through this would help a lot. My friends educated me about how to work with lawyers and walked me through the process which was super helpful.

Any words of advice for other international students?

I would say understanding the immigration timeline is important. Even after you find an employer who will sponsor you, there are lead times in processing the visa that you need to understand. People think you have a full year after graduating, but the reality is it’s actually more like 7 months when you consider how long it takes to complete and submit the H1B application. I learned this from friends who had gone through this process. Another piece of advice would be to stay positive. The whole process and be exhausting, but it only made me stronger and more confident in myself. It will all work out eventually!

#internationalstudents #diversity #nike #RISD #design

February 3, 2021