Heemin Yang is part of the inaugural cohort of five McHenry Fellows. The Donald F. McHenry Global Public Service Fellows Program provides professional and personal development opportunities for exceptionally qualified graduate students who have demonstrated their commitment to pursuing careers in “transformational global public service. It is open to students accepted by any of the eight SFS Master’s degree programs and covers full tuition and fees.
We had the opportunity to speak with Heemin and hear about his experience receiving this fellowship and his journey to MSFS.
What did you study during undergrad? What was your academic and professional experience before MSFS?
I studied political science and international relations at Yonsei University. I was more interested in the international relations part and focused on Northeast Asia with special attention to North Korea. Outside of academics, I found myself doing work related to the area I am passionate about. I served in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps where I had hands-on experience in the Korea Conflict as I took on various roles such as facilitating ROK-US combined exercises and being an infantry squad leader. More recently, I led a team in Southeast Asia rescuing North Korean defectors seeking freedom; I learned a great deal about the North Korean people and their ordeal living under the most repressive regime in the world.
Why did you want to come to Georgetown? Why did you choose MSFS?
Honestly, when I decided to pursue a master’s degree, I did not know much about the different programs that were out there. However, after talking to a few students who have pursued a master’s degree in this field, I quickly concluded that Georgetown was the best choice. MSFS’s dual emphasis on both academics and practice was a huge pull factor for me because I see the value in both. I want to not only learn at an institute of the highest caliber but also be able to translate knowledge into meaningful impact in the real world. I also think that being in DC naturally opens up many opportunities for students – though, unfortunately, the usual benefits are not being fully taken advantage of due to the circumstances. Hopefully, this will change soon.
What do you intend to concentrate on while at Georgetown? What are your interests in your studies?
Until very recently, I did not give much thought to my decision to concentrate on Global Politics and Security (GPS.) However, after listening to Professor Wallis and alums who have chosen Global, Business, Finance and Society (GBFS), I decided to concentrate on GBFS. Although it is something that I have no background in, I want to challenge myself and fill that knowledge gap. Business and finance are crucial components of statecraft and international relations. If there is one thing I learned from working with North Korean refugees and listening to their stories, it is that North Korea is changing. Over the years, capitalism has seeped into the country and it has become prevalent, accelerating further change. Knowledge in finance will be a key tool in resolving potential crises and instability that might arise in the region whether they are caused by a regime failure or opening of trade in North Korea.
How was the process of applying to be a McHenry fellow? How does it feel to be named a fellow?
When I found out that the McHenry Fellowship was looking for people committed to transformational global public service I applied right away. As someone passionate about the North Korea problem I knew I could be challenged and supported to
accomplish my aspiration through this program. I am extremely honored to be named one of the very first McHenry fellows along with four other amazing individuals. I feel incredibly grateful for being able to directly engage with seasoned practitioners and other fellows who have incredible backgrounds. True to SFS’s emphasis on learning and doing, the McHenry Fellowship is designed to maximize this for the fellows. It is amazing to be the beneficiary of this program that is dedicated to supporting the fellows in their pursuit of positively impacting the world.
What do you intend to do after you graduate from Georgetown?
That is what I am here to find out. I hope to bolster my academic knowledge so that I can be better equipped in approaching the North Korea problem – a complex issue that will require an equally multifaceted and creative approach. Effective policies are
informed by practical experience as well as insight attained by academic rigor. Since I am only halfway through my first semester, it is too early to outline a defined career trajectory, but I am hoping that my time at Georgetown will expand my horizon as I actively open myself to various perspectives and insights from across various fields. Whether it’s working for NGOs, the Korean government, multilateral, or private sector, I want to be working towards regional stability in Northeast Asia by fully taking advantage of my skillset.
The McHenry Fellowship is open to all U.S. and international students from widely diverse backgrounds and experiences and all are encouraged to apply coincident with their applications to the MSFS Program. Application for the McHenry Fellowship is due January 8, 2021.