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Under the skin - Robert E. Black award winners
by Markus Franke, editor
Elin Thormodsen and Aaron Kim proudly show their awards at HPU's annual Honors Banquet.
Photo by Karen N. Mirikitani, collage by Markus Franke

Aaron Kim - a raw diamond
by Markus Franke, editor

Mix a banana with a raw diamond, and Aaron Kim is what you get, or so he says. The 27-year-old undergraduate Robert E. Black award winner, whom some people describe as “the Korean guy who speaks English with a German accent,” has a heart of gold and a will to move mountains, according to those who know him.

All his life, he’s been on the move. He was born near Stuttgart, Germany, of Korean parents. When he was two years old, they sent him to his grandmother in Korea for four years, so he could grow up the Korean way. He then returned to Germany, where he had to learn German again in order to live a normal life. When he finally felt comfortable speaking German, his family decided to move back to Korea, and he was forced to move again. Four years later, they returned to Germany.

“I’ve lived a nomadic life,” Kim said. He’s moved all over the world, and has gained cultural experience from many different countries. That’s why he compares himself to a banana and a raw diamond.

“(A banana) has white flesh in a yellow skin; that best describes my multicultural unity,” Kim said. “I’m a raw diamond being shaped by my surroundings.” The surroundings that he speaks of have been many, as Kim is eager to learn.

Kim started studying at the Yonsei University – one of the top universities in Korea – where he learned Korean business language for a summer. He then moved to Salzburg, Austria, to study Hospitality Management at one of the best hospitality schools, a partner school of HPU. After two years in school, he felt the need to move and try new things. He moved to Montreal, Canada, where he spent two years learning French. He later returned to Salzburg and graduated in 1998.
Upon graduation, Kim was one of four students selected for Disney’s International Hospitality Program. He spent a year in the program, and then moved to New York City to work for the Regent Wall Street Hotel as an assistant guest service manager. Kim says a family friend in the city, and now mentor, taught him many new and important things.

“I think everyone should have a mentor,” Kim said. “My mentor keeps me on track, he keeps me focused.”

His mentor made him aware of the importance of finance, and Kim decided to give up the job and move, again.

Through the partnership between HPU and the school in Austria, Kim saw his chance of surfing and studying at the same time, and so he started his finance studies at HPU.
Once here, Kim started looking for an intriguing project. In summer 2001, Kim and his friend, Christian Roppelt, founded Aikane, meaning “friend.”

“Aikane is a service-learning/community service program by HPU,” Kim explained. Through tutoring, the program helps unprivileged youngsters of Hawai‘i to get a better chance in life. The program has done well so far, according to Kim, and they are now looking for more people to help out.

“We need people who are dedicated and interested in helping,” Kim said. “We need people to make it happen.” Aikane is an HPU liaison with Junior Achievement Hawai‘i, which was founded by Robert E. Black.

“All I remember was the pulse on my throat,” Kim said about his feelings before the announcement at HPU’s Honor’s Banquet. He said he felt honored receiving the award, the biggest award of his life.

When asked what he was thinking, walking up to the podium to accept the award, Kim sat quiet for a while, as if he was shy of showing what he felt. With a contented smile, he finally replied: “For the first time in my life, I felt I was actually giving something back to my parents,”

Kim recently landed an internship with Merrill Lynch, and he hopes to graduate in December. He has no idea where he’ll go after graduation, but he’s not worried.

“If you’re scared of the future, take a step forward and go for it; attack the problem,” Kim said about life in general.


Elin Thormodsen - telemark skier
by Jenny Lundahl, associate editor

In its last issue, Kalamalama summarized the graduate student who won the Robert E. Black Award at HPU’s annual Honors Banquet on April 7. But that description didn’t tell us who Elin Thormodsen is. An international student from Bergen, Norway, she is according to her friends both humorous and disciplined. “My social life is an important contributor to my academic achievements,” said Thormodsen, an organizational change major. “My friends are very important to me, and I would never have come this far without them.”

Thormodsen, 25, already has a degree in political science with a concentration in administration and organizational theory from the University of Bergen, in “The rainy city of Norway.” One dark, rainy day in Bergen at the end of her senior year, Thormodsen found out about HPU’s student exchange program and decided to come to Hawai‘i. “It was not a difficult decision to make,” said Thormodsen with a smile on her face. What made her decide to stay was HPU’s organizational change program, which was not available at the University of Bergen. “A couple classmates and I got together and we all joined the program and left Norway for the little Island in the middle of the Pacific.”

Now, two years later, she is graduating with her master’s degree but she is not finished with Hawai‘i, yet. “I’d really like to stay here and get a job if possible,” said Thormodsen. “But since the job market is so tough now, I might go for another master’s degree in information systems,” something she had always had an interest in.

The reason Thormodsen likes Hawai‘i, and why she would recommend HPU to anyone, is because of “the diverse cultures that Hawai‘i offers and the extremely laid back style that people have here,” she said. “Whenever I get stressed out, I just go to the beach and enjoy the beautiful weather, and it is just impossible to not be positive.” Thormodsen also thinks that HPU offers the ideal environment for anyone interested in different cultures and a global attitude.

Back in Norway, Thormodsen used to devote her spare time to Telemark, a combination between downhill and cross-country skiing. Since, there’s not too much snow here in Hawai‘i, she likes to go surfing and sailing every now and then. “Being a student, it’s important to exercise on a regular basis in order to stay healthy and to be able to deal with stress,” she said.

Next fall, Thormodsen will be in her second year as the president for the Graduate Student Organization, and she has big plans for the RIO. “I want the graduate students to be more involved with the club,” she said. “I want the connection between the local students and the international students to become stronger.” Thormodsen has been a member of several RIOs at HPU but has decided to be less active in those to be able to devote more of her time to the GSO.

Asked if there was anything that she didn’t like about Hawai‘i, she said: “Hawai‘i should be closer [geographically] to Norway, so it would be easier to travel back and forth.”



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