Bomsinae Kim, the Executive Director of the Korean American Family Service Center (KAFSC) could easily be described as outgoing. But according to Bomsinae, this was not always the case. In fact, Bomsinae describes her younger self as “painfully shy.” KAFSC recently celebrated its 28th year in service to the Korean American community, particularly women and children. A former Board member, Bomsinae has now led KAFSC as Executive Director for almost two years. How did a painfully shy girl grow up to be the exuberant leader of one of the longest running Korean American non-profit organizations?
Bomsinae Kim was born in Seoul, Korea. As the daughter of a journalist for the Korean broadcasting network MBC, Bomsinae had somewhat of a globe-trotting youth. When she was ten, her father was made the D.C. correspondent for MBC and she relocated to the United States with her family. They stayed in D.C. for four years, after which her father was made the press attache for the Korean Embassy in Hong Kong. Her family stayed in Hong Kong for two and a half years before moving back to Korea where Bomsinae finished high school and attended college majoring in journalism. Her parents also had stints living in Beijing and Belgium. (Which is why Bomsinae is tri-lingual, as she speaks French in addition to English and Korean. When Bomsinae was 19, she took a year off to live in Belgium with her parents, specifically to learn the language.) “When I look back, I love the fact that my dad moved around so much. In hindsight, I think it was great and I really loved my experience growing up.”
After college, Bomsinae met her soon-to-be husband, a Korean American lawyer working and living in Korea at the time. In 2000, after they were married, Bomsinae moved to New York City with her husband and young son. Soon after arriving in New York, she stopped into a Barnes & Noble and found a book called, “Volunteering in New York.” “I still have it. There was only one Korean organization and it was called the Korean American Family Service Center. I called the number and they said ‘Come!’ When I got there, they said ‘Oh you speak Korean? Why don’t you sign up for the 24 hour hotline training?’ So I did. I was also a court interpreter.” The Domestic Violence 101 training given to volunteers, opened Bomsinae’s eyes to the needs of marginalized women and children in the community. The mission of helping women who are otherwise left silent and abused spoke to her heart. Thus began Bomsinae’s long term dedication to KAFSC, first as volunteer, then as Board member, and currently as Executive Director.
After doing more volunteer work, Bomsinae enrolled at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs where she earned a Master’s in International Affairs with a concentration in International Media and Communications.
Bomsinae’s decision to study journalism undergrad was clearly influenced by her father being a journalist. However, initially, she wanted to be an artist. Her mother, an artist herself, advised Bomsinae to be an artist on the side and to choose something more practical for a career. Her mother’s advice and her love for languages led her to the notion of studying French and literature but, again, she was given advice from an elder to study French on the side. This finally led her to journalism. Reflecting back, Bomsinae said, “If it were now, I think I may have gone into interior design or something similar.”
Luckily for the Korean American community, Bomsinae found her way to the nonprofit world. Her first foray working in the nonprofit sector was as the second Executive Director for the Korean American Community Foundation (KACF). Describing her time at KACF, Bomsinae recalled, “I really enjoyed it because it was in the startup stage so there was a lot to get done. Prior to KACF, Korean Americans didn’t have a lot of interaction and I knew there was a need for a forum where successful Korean Americans could come together. We did a lot of fundraising events and it has continued to grow ever since.”
Bomsinae still loves the job of Executive Director. “Being an E.D. of a nonprofit is like playing a video game. There are obstacles being thrown in your way, how are you going to make your move? Just do it and don’t get down about it. Just deal with it. The first time around, the people stress might be hard but the work itself, I have always loved. As you get older, you learn to manage people stress better and you meet great people.” Ever since her first volunteer days with KAFSC, Bomsinae’s heart has always been with the organization. She oversees a staff of about twenty people and together KAFSC helps roughly 1500 people per year through the hotline, after school programs, job training, English classes, housing women in shelter, and assisting with transitional housing. “The organizations you go back to are the ones where you like the people,” she said.
During her limited downtime, Bomsinae practices yoga to help her stay balanced. “Self-care is so important. I’ve learned to shut down, close the email, take time to care for myself. If you can’t take care of yourself (your well being) then why are you doing this?”
When asked about her sense of identity, Bomsinae shared that she never felt any real identity issues about being Korean or Korean American. Her identity issues were completely wrapped around her shyness. “I was so shy that I was in a shell.” How did Bomsinae break from being so shy? “I’m extremely goal oriented. So when I was in high school, I set a goal for myself to break out of the shell so I worked on it and I just did it. I still have an introverted side to me, you just won’t see it.”