Soeun Lee is a first-year M.A. student in the Elliott School of International Affairs in the Asian Studies program, concentrating on Korea and International Political Economy. She graduated with distinction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Studies with a minor in East Asian Studies. She is currently working as a graduate research assistant at the GW Institute for Korean Studies. She focuses her study on political economy in the trans-pacific and inter-Korea relations. She has previously interned in Mayor’s Office on Asian and Asian Pacific Islanders Affairs in Washington D.C. and also has some working experience in Korea.
When did you realize you wanted an international career?
I have been interested in international affairs since I was young. I visited the demilitarized zone (DMZ) when I was twelve years old and became interested in inter-Korean relations. However, at that point, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. It was when I came to the United States in 2012 as an exchange student that I really specified my passion. I spent a year in Oregon as an exchange student and could experience the broader world. I decided to continue my studies in the States, so I finished high school in New York where I attended an international boarding school and met friends from all around the world, learning different cultures. I studied International Studies and Economics (with minor in East Asian Studies) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I took classes on international affairs from various disciplines, including history, political science, economics, geography, and education policy, and as I studied and engaged in student organization activities in Madison, I learned that I wanted to focus my study on political economy and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?
I am currently working as a graduate research assistant at the GW Institute for Korean Studies (GWIKS). It provides me with opportunities to attend Korea-related events and to explore other Asia-related events as I’ve been exposed to the events held by the neighboring suites. As my concentrations are Korea and political economy, I’ve been able to learn a lot from GWIKS events and to meet experts from various disciplines. Moreover, I am now conducting research on North Korean tourism industry. Although it has been only a few weeks since I started my project, I am excited to explore the new topic and expect to gain more knowledge about North Korea.
What has been your most rewarding academic experience (i.e., in-class, with an institute/office, at an Elliott sponsored on/off-campus event) at the Elliott School and why?
I serve as Director of Korean Affairs at the Organization of Asian Studies (OAS), a student-run organization at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Recently, I hosted a panel speaker event on the memorialization of comfort women in Asia with Prof. Mike Mochizuki and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, and Dr. Jungsil Lee, President of Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues. I was happy to see many students and guests come to the event and engage in a lively discussion. In addition, as I work at the GWIKS, I saw a boost in the number of GWIKS events and programs and growing Korean studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs. The Institute frequently hosts events and programs and I am happy to see it grow!
What advice do you have for first-year students who are starting their internship or work experience search?
I recommend students attend Elliott School or off-campus events, including events at think tanks, other universities around the D.C. area, and see if there are any organizations or people that they want to work with. Although I am not particularly a network-lover, I’ve been enjoying listening to panel speakers and talking to them when the topic is particularly interesting. I have seen and heard a lot about interesting research projects and organizations that I would be interested to work on. Also, I suggest students make their business cards (GSS makes Elliott School Business Cards for graduate students) and bring cards to the event; it has been very helpful when I meet new people.
If you could donate unlimited funds to any cause, what would it be and why?
I would love to donate funds to foster female education. Taking an education policy class during undergraduate study, I learned how girls drop out of schools in many countries and kept away from getting an education. Although female education and gender inequality seems to be resolved in a few developed countries, there are still problems to tackle in many developing areas. I also have benefited from the scholarship, when I was an undergraduate student, given to women International Studies majors who strive to promote understanding of different cultures in the service of the greater good, and it helped me a lot to complete my degree. Thus, if I could donate unlimited funds, I would donate it to promoting girls’ education.
The #WeAreElliott series highlights current Elliott School graduate students and seeks to answer common questions posed by prospective, current, and incoming students. The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs. Find out more about this program by creating a CustomViewbook!
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