I arrived on my first day of work at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea expecting to gain a deep understanding of the complexities of Korean politics and the legislative process. Specifically as an intern in the Committee of Foreign Affairs and Unification, I looked forward to viewing international relations from the perspective of a foreign country while at the same time pursuing my interest in inter-Korean diplomacy. All of these expectations were not only met—they were exceeded.
My main project during the summer was organizing and leading the 2015 U.S. Congress-Korean National Assembly Exchange Program. I was in charge of overseeing the program, making the itinerary, and ultimately leading delegates from both the U.S. and South Korea as we attended briefings with government officials and visited important sites related to Korean international relations and public affairs. Because I can speak both Korean and English, I was especially useful in translating and getting to know all the delegates on a personal level. On campus, I am involved with the student group Human Rights in North Korea, so I especially enjoyed visiting the Ministry of Unification, the DMZ, and a North Korean refugee training center. I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak with government officials working on plans to unify the peninsula, and I enjoyed spending time with refugees who were learning how to adapt to life free of political repression.
The delegates and I also visited places like Samsung Electronics, Gyeongbok Palace, and the Korean Folk Village to help acclimate us to Korean culture. As a Korean-American, I felt so proud of my heritage after learning about everything from the artisanship of the Paleolithic potters to the aggressive expansion of the Three Kingdoms to the present day global success of Korean companies like Samsung and Hyundai. Being able to share my culture with the American delegates and seeing them admire Korea made me feel even more proud.
When I wasn’t working on the Exchange Program, I was back in my office at the National Assembly where I was at the forefront of all the latest political developments. Even though I was only an intern, I could sit in on various subcommittee meetings discussing interesting topics such as the MERS outbreak and Korea-Japan relations. Even my first day on the job was a historic one for the nation: President Park vetoed her first bill ever just two hours into my internship. I truly appreciated the dynamic nature of my job and the ability to have a behind-the-scenes view of the intricacies of Korean politics and international relations.
Although I had been to Korea in the past, I was never able to stay for a period of more than a couple of weeks and my activities were limited to visiting family and going to popular tourist sites. Living in a local college dorm and working for the Korean government allowed me to become exposed to a side of Korea I had not experienced before. After work, I also had time to meet new friends through a local church and I was able to learn from their unique experiences while also sharing my own. During free times, I would mostly spend time with these friends doing things like visiting cultural museums, going to K-Pop concerts, riding bicycles along the Han River, attending baseball games, and even taking day trips to different provinces throughout the country (like Yeongnam and Gyeonggi).
As I get ready to start my third year at Harvard, I know that I will be able to successfully apply everything I’ve learned this summer. I can now use Korean in a professional setting, I have a new appreciation for Korean culture and history, I am versed in Korean politics, and I am more confident in my ability as a leader. For all of this, I am grateful to the Korea Institute and the Institute of Politics for making my internship possible.