So Yeon "Selena" Kim (she/her) shares her experience as a student in the Human Rights Studies M.A. Program so far.
In which program are you enrolled and when is your expected graduation date?
Human Rights MA, February 2023
What is your research focus in the HRSMA program?
My research focus is on the rights of refugee/migrant children. I plan to explore the effect of the 'refugee label' on the formation of identity by refugee/migrant children in South Korea. When I was working for an NGO that provided integration/resettlement support to refugees in South Korea, one refugee child told me he/she does not identify himself/herself as a refugee. We were shocked to hear this from the child because we wanted to congratulate the family (the mom) for being recognized as a refugee. Consequently, I became interested in gaining a better understanding of the lived experiences of refugee children and how they process/form their identities in South Korea.
Which class would you recommend to other students interested in the same issues as you?
Refugees and Forced Migration by Professor Lara Nettelfield!
Where did you grow up?
I was born in South Korea but I went to high school and college in the United States. For high school, I attended a boarding school near Boston and I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad. I also had an opportunity to live in Washington D.C. for a semester in high school. After college, I lived in Goyang (a suburb near Seoul), South Korea.
What is a must-read for a human rights student?
For people interested in knowing more about the European refugee "crisis," The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley provides an excellent, heart-breaking, comprehensive yet humanized overview of the "crisis." If you are interested in children's rights and women's rights, I highly recommend Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. For those interested in studying about genocides, I recommend Problem from Hell by Samantha Power.
Can you describe any volunteer or extracurricular activities that you have been a part of during your time at Columbia and how this experience has impacted you?
As a Christian, I joined Remnant Christian Fellowship and it has been great to have a support group and share the ups and downs of my spiritual journey with the diverse people in the group–undergrad students, people from other departments and alumni. I've also been attending various webinars hosted by ISHR, Committee on Global Thought and University Life. It's been so enlightening to hear from distinguished scholars!
What has been your favorite moment in the program so far?
Insightful discussion in classes have been my favorite moments in the program.
What has been the most challenging part of the program?
I am learning to better manage my time to make time to read additional books and articles for my thesis.
What are your goals (professional or academic) after graduation? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to have gained expertise in the field of refugee and forced migration through my academic endeavors as well as field experiences at NGOs, international organizations, etc. I would love to see myself back in South Korea, helping the government, refugee advocates, etc. with better structuring the refugee protection framework/system.
What is your favorite spot to study or spend time on campus?
The East Asian Library and Graduate Student Center.
What is one thing that your peers would never guess about you or might find surprising?
I studied Spanish and a little bit of Portuguese in college.
If you were to start a bookclub, which book would be first on your list? Why?
The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri would be first on my list. I started reading it (for fun) and I would love to discuss it with other people. Personally for me, I tend to look at human rights issues with a policy/implementation lens, and it's easy for me to overlook people who are directly affected by the abuses. As I've been reading the book, it's been giving me good insights on how not to overlook their individualized experiences and keep in mind to dignify/humanize them.