Foreign Student at a California graduate school, Park Eunhye
Education is Investment and a Catalyst for Social Understanding
Having been repatriated back to the North three times since leaving North Korea in her teens, Park Eunhye went through much to come to South Korea in 2006. Her dream and volunteer activities were shared in the 38th edition of ‘Dongposarang (loving compatriots)’ in 2012, while she was attending Yonsei University. In 2014, after graduating, she received her Master’s at Yonsei University Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, and to quench her thirst for knowledge, she started her academic journey in the US.
In the fall of 2019, Park Eunhye started her Doctorate in Politics at the University of California Graduate School in the US. However, her life abroad as a student wasn’t smooth sailing from the start. When she started her doctorate program, the COVID-19 pandemic started as well. Lectures for the first semester were held on campus, but they were online from the second semester.
The loneliness of life abroad can be overcome by a passion for learning
“It was frustrating going through the process of doing lessons, debates, and presentations virtually. First of all, to study in the US you need to be good in English. Because I stayed in the same major from Yonsei University until graduate school in the States, writing in English wasn’t that difficult. But speaking it is hard, so I had to overcome it by reading things repetitively and through memorization,” she said, recalling the difficult times.
Getting the funds for studying abroad wasn’t easy. To solve the problem, she worked as a teacher’s assistant in graduate school. There’s a program in the graduate school to cover school costs for foreign students if they work as a teacher’s assistant.
It was a relief to receive stable income for the work and cover the minimum costs, and to be in an environment that allowed one to focus on school. It was lonely being away from family and friends, but she said it was nice to be able to focus only on studying. She expanded by saying that the happiness and support a family can give is great, but the fastest way to achieve your dream is to learn when you’ve come to learn.
After going through the tough doctorate program, she’s preparing her thesis nowadays. Her topic is largely related to her experiences related to the process of leaving North Korea.
Being inspired by her vivid experiences of leaving North Korea, she’s researching the unstable sense of belonging that minorities feel, the similarities and differences between North Korean refugees of ethnically Korean Chinese people, identity problems, social integration problems, and more.
Education is investment for growth
“I see education as investment in growth. I don’t think that working for 4-5 years will suddenly make you rich, so I boldly pursued the path of education and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of value out of it. If you give up learning, you stop where you are and you lose the chance to learn about society,” she said, explaining the meaning of learning.
Her dream is to give lectures in universities and to conduct research in her areas of interest. Her asset is her confidence that if she takes one step at a time without giving up, as she’s done until now, there’s no mountain high enough.