When Debbie Kim, a rising junior at U.C. Berkeley, began her summer internship with the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter, she knew little about the inner workings of the organization.
Then, on June 6, the Asiana Airline Flight 214 crashed at the San Francisco International Airport, and Debbie quickly became a key member of the Red Cross disaster response team.
As part of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, the Red Cross is responsible for providing emotional support, health services, and other services as requested by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The Red Cross is also responsible for coordinating with partner agencies to provide additional support services including, but not limited to, translation services and childcare.
Debbie is a bilingual Korean-American, and the Red Cross asked her to be a Korean translator for those affected by the plane crash.
"Although I'm not fluent in Korean, I decided to put myself out there and try my best," the 20-year-old said.
While translating, Debbie said she observed interaction of the different cultures, some confused glances, some giggles, and a lot of compassionate care.
Debbie said that her ethnicity made the experience personal and it gave her a rare opportunity to meet Yoon Young-doo, the CEO of Asiana Airlines, and to speak to him in his native language.
The CEO arrived in America the week following the plane crash and met with investigators and survivors. He also met with the organizations assisting those affected by the response, including the Red Cross.
"[During the meeting] the CEO solemnly apologized and thanked us for our hearty work,” Debbie said. “He then went around and shook the hands of the organizations’ leadership. But as he was going around, he stopped, glanced at me, and shook my hand. And in his eyes I saw a glimmer of recognition. Maybe it was in the way I had instinctively bowed when I saw him, or maybe Koreans just have a knack for recognizing other Koreans, but when I saw that glance, I could not help but speak to him in my native language."
The CEO then declared to the group that Debbie was Korean.
“Kind of like a proud father,” she said.
Though Debbie spent much of the day out of her comfort zone, it was an experience she is thankful for–she said it made her realize how important it is to take chances and take initiative.
"When you're uncomfortable, that's when you know you are growing as a person," she said.