Hyelim Koh, portrait by Katie Kaufman
Hyelim Koh, portrait by Katie Kaufman

MCAD is home to studying artists from all over the globe, from China to Germany, and even South Korea.

I recently chatted with Hyelim Koh, who graduated last spring with a BFA in Graphic Design. We got to talking about how she came to the States and her cross country education, as well as a favorite memory from an MCAD class.

Hyelim Koh

/THiNGS/ zines, by Hyelim Koh

Hi Hyelim! So, where are you from?

I am from South Korea, in Seoul.

How did you hear about MCAD?

When I graduated high school, I wanted to go to a design school. However, design school was expensive. So I ended up with going to a university and then moved to a design school. While I was in University, one of my professors mentioned MCAD to me, and he suggested that I apply to MCAD, so I did it and I got accepted.

How did you decide which school to go to?

The main reason is because of living expenses. Like in New York, their living expenses are the same as school tuition. I couldn’t handle that. Also, I got a better scholarship opportunity from MCAD.

MCAD Bistro cards, designed by Hyelim

You said you went to high school in Wisconsin, did you come to the states for high school?

After I graduated middle school in Korea, I came here to the United States for high school. I came as an exchange student for the first year. So, I went to Kansas, and I know, everyone laughs at this point like, “really, why Kansas?” It was because the government chose where I went, so I didn’t have any choice for that. But I really had a great time in Kansas, everyone was so nice and I learned English a lot there. Then I moved to Wisconsin to a high school called Xavier high school, it was a Catholic school, and finished high school there.

What was it like coming to the States for school?

I would say there’s not a really big difference between high school in South Korea and high school in America. I just decided to come here because, and my reason is so simple, but I felt like I had to. When I was in sixth and seventh grade, I felt like I really had to go to America. So, I started talking to my parents like, “Mom, Dad, I need to go to the United States.” And they were not really surprised by it, so here I am.

Identity Poster, designed by Hyelim

Do a lot of South Koreans come to the United States for school?

It really depends. If they want to experience another culture or study abroad, then they come here or go to other countries. Or they stay, it’s really just a personal choice.

When you were applying to all those art and design schools, did you know that you wanted to study graphic design?

Yeah! It’s really funny, at the university my major was mass communication. It was so different from a design major or art field. I really loved art and making stuff like that, but then I thought maybe going into the art and design fields might not be a good decision. So, I decided to go into mass communication because I thought I would enjoy that area of study. I was taking the mass communications classes for a month, and then I realized, “Wait, I don't think I can handle this, I don’t like this.” And even before I finished the rest of that semester I had changed my major to graphic design. And I am satisfied with that decision!

Who was your favorite professor at MCAD?

I have so many favorite professors! I cannot pick only one. So, because I’m a graphic designer, I love Kindra Murphy, Jan Jancourt, and Erik Brandt. Kindra and Jan supported me a lot, and encouraged me. I had such a hard time when I was a second-semester junior and first-semester senior, and they were always encouraging me and telling me, “You can do it!” They really helped, and all of the skills I have now I learned from them. They always respected my work, and they helped me figure out how to bring my style into my work, and put it in a better direction. And Erik Brandt, he helped me to think about myself and my graphic design more philosophically. My design style kind of changed after I took Erik Brandt's classes, and then I started thinking more deeply about why I decided to become a graphic designer, and what is the purpose of my work. You know, that kind of “thinking” stuff. I just can’t pick my one favorite professor because they’re all amazing.

Independence Manifesto Poster, designed by Hyelim

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at MCAD?

During one of Kindra Murphy’s classes, we were all a little moody and sad. So, on that day during class, we went to buy ice cream and take a walk in the park all together to refresh ourselves and feel better. It was a really good moment that I had with my classmates and my professor, we had a really good time together. It’s still one of my favorite memories.

So, you graduated this past May, what have you been doing since then?

I got an internship before I graduated. We graduated in middle of May so I had two weeks until my internship started, and I used all of that free time for moving. After I moved to my new place, started my internship, and when my internship finished, I got a full-time job with another company. I’ve been very busy since graduation!

Do you have any advice for international students at MCAD?

Deciding to come to MCAD was one of the best choices that I’ve made. I had spent a pretty decent amount of time in the United States, and there were definitely people who were not friendly, and there was some racism in my high school and university, but when I moved to MCAD I definitely felt that people here were more open to everything and respected everything. MCAD feels so homey and friendly, and the people here love to talk with you. My favorite thing while I was going to MCAD was none of my friends or other people made me feel like I was from Korea. They all treated me just as me, they treated me like Hyelim. That’s really amazing, and I made a lot of good friends here. They never made me feel embarrassed, like when I made an English mistake or something, they never made me feel bad about it. They would help me fix it and help me out, and they just respected me a lot. Workwise and curriculum wise, I love how MCAD is strong in both art and design fields, I would say that they teach design in an artistic way. They helped me to think about my work philosophically, like why I am making this, what is the purpose of this, what kind of information do you want to convey and professors always asked how I came up with this idea, what is the story behind these thoughts. MCAD will teach you responsibility of your work, your thought, and building up your pride.